The Genteel
November 25, 2017
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Marco Lai (Source: style.it).

The name "Hell's Kitchen" is famously attached to a neighbourhood in Manhattan (and to Gordon Ramsey's reality TV show), but it can also be found stitched on bags, stationary and jeans around Verona, Italy - and the rest of the world. 

Raviolo Small (Source: hellskitchen.it).

Hell's Kitchen is an upcycling design company founded in 2006 by Marco Lai, a Veronese designer who has worked with intimate wear brands, La Perla, Calzedonia and Intimissimi. In recent years, the world has become increasingly aware of its ecological footprint and much attention has been paid to waste recycling. Consumers are eager to feel and buy green, and retailers in all sectors are listening. 

But what about the fashion industry? The beginnings of "sustainable" fashion can be traced back to the 1970s. Wool and hemp-based tie-dye were the fabrics used, ancestors of the modern ecological fashion movement. Eco-fashion has made slow strides since then and, these days, fashion houses are demonstrating that going green can be chic and glamourous. Stella McCartney's polished eco-fashion has captured global attention, as has Vivienne Westwood's Ethical Fashion Africa collection. Both have given eco-fashion a wide and varied audience; the designs are sustainable, but also innovative, stylish and appealing. Stella McCartney bags are found on the forearms of consumers, not because they are staunch environmentalists, but because the bags are the season's hottest trend, proving that green fashion can be in style.

The seeds of Hell's Kitchen were implanted in Lai's mind while he was fixing a tire on his bike one day: he wondered whether the tire could be used for other purposes, and perhaps, to produce other objects. Lai started to search for inner tubes from tire dealers and repairers, then carefully cleaned and washed them. He then transformed the inner tubes into the most used and abused of all accessories: bags. What better material than notoriously indestructible and waterproof rubber to design an accessory that must be ready to withstand everything that is thrown at it? While rummaging for materials, Lai had the idea of using discharged seat belts as cords and handles on his bags. Vintage t-shirts lined the bags' insides. With these salvaged materials, finally after two years, in 2008, the very first Hell's Kitchen bag was created.

Hell's Kitchen's environmentally-friendly philosophy is also reflected in the sourcing (upcycling) phase of production: with his team, Lai created a special washing detergent to clean the inner tubes that doesn't contain chemicals or harmful ingredients but is, however, strong enough to sanitise rubber and other materials used for the company's products.

Stationary and helmut
(Source: econfashionworld.com).

Following the success of the bags, Hell's Kitchen extended its product range. Stationery was added to the brand's repertoire; agendas and notebooks need to have a long lifespan and thanks to their resistant rubber jackets, Hell's Kitchen stationary surely holds up to tough usage. Before long, the brand also introduced backpacks designed with eco-materials and an original line of jeans created with upcycled vintage denim. Bicycle helmets followed, with helmet shells made of specially bent and carved sheets of rubber, covered with inner tube sheets, equipped with transparent visors and special inner pads.

And the company isn't just about the product; packaging is as original and eco-conscious as the product. Hell's Kitchen draws inspiration from vintage pizza boxes and brown paper bags (for bread) as containers to wrap up their products, each making reference to Italy's culinary heritage.

When the time had come to choose the name of his company, the legendary Hell's Kitchen quarter in New York had seized Lai's imagination. The area had a gritty reputation until recently; quarter gangs in the district inspired the book, Gangs of New York, which was adapted into a movie directed by Martin Scorsese. Many decades later, the area was home to the legendary Hit Factory recording studio: Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon played there. In recent years, the neighbourhood has experienced a major boom in development, and has quickly become one of the hottest neighbourhoods on the island.

Lai's eco-friendly bags have found success among fashion-savvy urban "travellers": rough, easily washable and designed to last. Each product is adorned with the brand's symbolic rubber patch, catchy colours reminiscent of Hell's Kitchen logo, and is inherently a one-of-a-kind piece. Not to forget the names of the products: would you care for a Spaghetti or a Risotto (a small shoulder bag made with upcycled inner tubes, elasticated catch and adjustable seat belts)? Do you like Maccheroni (basic messenger bags with a resistant upcycled rubber outer lining) or do you prefer Ravioli (the larger version inspired by tennis bags from the 1970s, made from upcycled rubber, lined with vintage shirts)? Talk about meaningful consumption.


Hell's Kitchen: Via Monte Pastello 8, 
37057 San Giovanni Lupatoto 


+39 045 9612294

www.hellskitchen.it

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