Up, upcycled and away: Breathing new life into Virgin Balloon Flights' retired balloons
Each hot air balloon hosts 10,000 passengers and completes over 600 hours of flying before Virgin Balloon Flights retires it. But a balloon is made of 34,000 square feet of nylon fabric – enough to cover 16 football pitches. In the past, Virgin Balloon Flights has used the fabric from its retired balloons as covers for the balloon baskets, or as extra insulation for the walls of its barn workshops.
Now, thanks to this partnership with TERN, two refugee entrepreneurs have used the material to create upcycled products including picnic blankets, aprons, hair bows, tote bags, capes and bikinis – and you can use your Virgin Points to purchase them via Virgin Red.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, estimates that there are more than 100 million people worldwide who have been forced to flee war, persecution, oppression and other humanitarian crises. This partnership between Virgin Balloon Flights and TERN will help refugee entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and reach their full potential.
Maria, originally from Nigeria, is the founder of Maria Callisto Luxury Lingerie. Her mission is to empower women by creating bespoke lingerie for all shapes and sizes from sustainable fabric sources. She used the balloon fabric to create a bikini, hair bows, and heart-shaped quilted tote bags.
Teem is a fashion designer from Mauritius and the founder of gender-neutral label Teem Khan. He currently sells a collection of vegan-approved organic clothing. Using Virgin Balloon Flights’ retired balloon, he created a range of products, including aprons and capes.
“Upcycling is a hugely important part of all the products I create for Teem Khan, but I’ve never attempted upcycling a balloon envelope before. It’s been a great challenge – the picnic blankets are foldable and water-resistant, and the capes and aprons are gender-neutral like all of my products. I love the idea that this material has been flying for 600 hours, and now it’s going to be someone’s travel bag or favourite holiday bikini,” Teem said.
Both Maria and Teem currently sell their products via the ANQA Collective, Europe’s first online marketplace selling products from refugee-led businesses. The upcycled products are also now available on Virgin Red for members to buy using their Virgin Points, with all profits going to the refugee founders. Here’s what you points will get you:
Charlie Fraser, founder of TERN, reflected on the collaboration and said: “We believe that recognising and supporting the entrepreneurial talent of refugees is essential to building more inclusive societies, and we’re really proud to partner with Virgin Balloon Flights and Virgin Red to launch this special Anqa Collective range. Teem and Maria are both creative, resourceful and determined entrepreneurs and we’re so excited to share their creations!”
Try your hand at upcycling
If you’ve been inspired by how Maria and Teem have repurposed the balloon fabric, why not give upcycling a go yourself? Virgin Balloon Flights is looking to distribute as much fabric as it can. To apply, all you need to do is let them know how you’d like to use it via the Virgin Balloon Flights website.
Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder, who also completed the first transatlantic and Pacific Ocean hot air balloon flights, said: “This is a wonderful initiative by Virgin Balloon Flights. These balloon envelopes have been part of so many people’s adventures, and thanks to the creative talent of TERN’s refugee entrepreneurs, they are now given a second, meaningful life. I applaud the entrepreneurial spirit and skill of TERN’s Maria and Teem – and I urge anyone with an idea big or small to come forward!”
Visit Virgin Balloon Flights to find out more about upcycling its balloons.