Mary Carr has always been aware of the impact humans have on the planet. She has empowered two young ladies from a rural township to also help reduce other women’s footprint on the planet.
“I have always been acutely aware of my footprint on the planet,” says Mary. “This comes from a remote and very simple upbringing in some of the wildest places in Africa. My parents always instilled in their children that we are custodians, not owners of the planet. A love for nature grew in me from a very young age. As a teenager I marched in London against the slaughter of seal pups for fur coats!”
Mary and her husband Dick moved from Pretoria to the Klein-Karoo in 2004 and bought a farm, Rolbaken, in the Kammanassie area near Dysseldorp, which is situated halfway between Oudtshoorn and De Rust.
With their passion for the environment, the couple farmed organically raised lambs and chickens. The mutton, chickens and eggs were sought after as far afield as Cape Town. They sold the farm in 2021 and in 2022 moved to a farm in the Blossoms area on the way to George. “We are very happy here and I visit the ladies in Dysselsdorp about once a week.”
Dick, who has worked in conservation his whole working life, is at the age of 74 still involved with stewardship for the Eden to Addo Corridor Initiative, a non-government organisation.
Given their passion for the environment, Mary founded Rethink Bags in 2017 to create an awareness about the quantity of plastic we are pumping into our environment in the form of plastic bags.
“I began a small business to teach township women to sew and make reusable parachute material shopping bags. The focus was two-fold, namely, to provide work and purpose to ladies who could not go out to work, and to provide an alternative to plastic shopping bags.”
The original-named, the Pocket Bag, was made from parachute material that can fold up to the size of a R10 note and takes almost no space in a handbag, but that can hold as much as any plastic shopping bag, carry up to 12 kg weight, and is reusable for years.
Other bags followed, like the reusable and strong netting bags called Veggie Bags, to hold loose fruit and vegetables bought from vegetable stores. Laundry Bags for underwear followed to use up extra netting materials.
Then followed bags made of offcut upholstery materials that were destined for landfill. These beautiful, strong materials were turned into a variety of other bags, including small vanity bags and strong and durable handbags.
Inevitably, cooking bags followed. “Some of the ladies were involved with CapeNature and the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve (GCBR) to make cooking bags, called Wonderbags.
“These bags were distributed to families in the GCBR to help women to cook using less electricity or firewood collected from areas that are already overgrazed and depleted of sizable trees. This was all part of a climate change workshop initiative. Since then, we have developed our own Thermo-Bag which, due to loadshedding and the expense of power and fuel, have become very popular with ladies in townships.”
In December 2022, Mary transferred the ownership of Rethink Bags, which belonged to her and Yolandi Kiewiets, to Yolandi and Jessica Malgas.
Yolandi and Jessica rent premises from the Catholic Mission in Dysselsdorp, from where they run the business.
“They do everything themselves and I serve as mentor and operations manager,” says Mary. “At present, I help with client liaison, fabric purchases online and bookkeeping. They run all the day-to-day business without me.
They undertook and managed a stall entirely on their own at the Klein-Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) this year, and they made good money too!”
Mary is full of praise for these two women. “They are wonderful young women, and I wish the country had more of them. They are honest, hardworking, and committed to the success of their business.
“They create their own success through hard work. They learned how to sew and moved on from being farmhands to businesswomen. They have received no grants, besides two in the early stages, which funded four industrial sewing machines and material for manufacturing the bags.
“The women have been promised computer and financial training by the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), so I hope they come to the party.” SEDA is responsible for the implementation of the small business plan of the national government.
“We are looking for opportunities to brand shopping bags for businesses and large corporates. We were doing that very successfully before the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The ThermoBags are made of 100% cotton fabric. It consists of a base with pockets attached to it, which, when open, resembles a flower with petals. The base and pockets are filled with polystyrene balls, and so is the ‘lid’, a bag also filled with polystyrene.
Once the pot is put inside the bag, the lid is put on top and the bag is closed with a drawstring, which then resembles a big pumpkin. The bag is provided with two sturdy handles for carrying it around if necessary.
Using the bag
The bag is manufactured in two sizes, one to take a 6-litre pot, and a bigger one for a 10-litre pot. When you want to cook rice, bring the pot to the boil on whatever heat source you are using, whether it is an electric or paraffin stove or brushfire. Simmer for five to seven minutes, then take off the heat.
Place a dishcloth in the bottom of the bag to protect it from stains on the pot or any spills. Put the pot inside, put the ‘lid’ on top, and, using the drawstring, pull the pockets of the bag up around the pot with the drawstring before securing the two ends of the drawstring in a bow.
“Set it aside, and an hour later your rice is cooked by the time you have finished the chicken curry to go with it…” suggests Mary.
Chicken, mince, stew, beans, and maize porridge, can be cooked in the bag, depending on how long a dish needs to cook. The principle applies to all food, but some foods may need a longer cooking time, such as samp (stampmielies) and beans, or tougher cuts of meat.
“The bag can keep food hot for hours to allow the contents to continue cooking,” explains Mary. “This saves a lot of energy cooking things like rice and beans.”
With this bag, you save fuel, whether electricity, paraffin, or wood, and in addition there are much fewer toxic fumes from a brushfire.
The bag can also be used to raise bread dough or to make yoghurt or cheese, as it keeps the heat at a constant temperature.
Where can you get yours?
The bags can be ordered from anywhere in South Africa. At present, they are not selling in neighboring countries, but a bulk order could be more cost-effective as far as courier fees go.
The bags retail for R300 for the 6-litre size and R450 for the 10-litre size. They make use of regular courier services, the cost of which is extra.
For more information and to order bags, sent an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Mary at 072-248-4830.