What occurred on this trip happened because Watkins is, as she says, “a perpetual optimist.” Her year of adventure started in Cambodia, just after the country’s civil war ended. But Watson noticed that, due to this circumstance, one of the country’s problems in the aftermath was managing garbage—particularly used plastic bags. Although Cambodians are great at recycling and reusing most of their garbage, millions of plastic bags were always left behind. Consequently, Watson wondered about possible solutions to the problem and started researching recycling ideas.
“I stumbled upon a website where a grandmother in Arkansas was crocheting plastic bags and making these homemade handbags,” she said. “So I was playing around at home and thought ‘We can do this.’”
That was how Watkins and her husband Marc Lansu started the idea of Funky Junk Recycled, and today they’ve sold over 300,000 tote bags, crocheted pillows, coasters and other items for the home made entirely of recycled plastic bags. The most important thing for Watkins was to come up with designs that would work with the material, but didn’t look too “homemade-y.” She decided to go with big, bold designs and spent a lot of time trying out color combinations to make her products look appealing to a Westerner’s eye.
This is just one of the reasons why the Funky Junk Recycled line has become so successful worldwide.
“You walk into a mid-range shop, and go ‘Oh, that’s nice’ and then you go ‘Oh! It’s made out of recycled plastic bags, but I’m going to buy them because the pillows, for example, will look terrific in my living room,’” Watkins said.
Today, Watkins and her husband have two children, Jared, 13, and Connor, 10. And during those 13 years, this globetrotting family has lived in Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia and Bangladesh before moving to Holland last summer.
Creating a social enterprise—that is chic and for a great cause—while also being a full-time mom can’t be easy.
“It takes one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,” Watkins said, explaining that when she is at work, she focuses exclusively on work, and when she is at home, she focuses on her family life. “It takes a lot of discipline to do that, but it’s really important in order to have a balance in life.”
Without a doubt, it was a cultural shock for this well-traveled family to move back to Europe and reside in Holland. After all, the children grew up in Asia and were used to adventures such as trekking in Nepal and swimming the Thai island waters. But, living by the mother’s motto of “work hard, eat well, buy art,” this family’s journeys are probably not stopping anytime soon.
Debbie Watkins, founder of Funky Junk Recycled
Photograph courtesy of Funky Junk Recycled