Hacking the FLAP Bag!

This is part of an ongoing series of posts on the FLAP bag project, a collaborative effort by Timbuk2, Portable Light and Pop!Tech. We at AfriGadget are helping to field-test these bags that have solar power and lighting on them, and get interviews of the individuals using them.

I was a little concerned when 5 of the 10 FLAP bags that I received before I left for Africa weren’t assembled – just fabric, thread and electronic components. It would mean that I’d have to find tailors in each country to put them together. However, it turned out that one of my favorite parts of getting the FLAP bags to Africa has been working with the tailors.

What I end up doing is explaining the bag and how it works, then showing them the one that isn’t put together and asking them if they would be willing to duplicate. If so, they can keep the bag. Then, I offer a challenge, taking the two-paneled Portable Light Kits from KVA, I then ask them if they could make something from their own materials, with their own designs, from it.

They had 2-3 days to come up with an idea, pick the fabric and create the bag. I then bought it from them for $20.

Kenya Bags

Kenya bag 1

Kenya bag 2

Kenya bag 3 - AfriGadget

Ghana Bags

Ghana bag 1

Ghana bag 2 - mud cloth

It should be noted that the gentlemen working on these had very little time to come up with their ideas and then implement them, as I was very much on the move. The local cloth use in Ghana was amazing, and I only wish the Kinte cloth (orange) one was done with real Kinte cloth instead of a print. The Kenyans used more ordinary fabric, but they were ingenious with the details around use, size and practicalities around security.

To really see the creativity at play in the Kenya bags, you have to either see them in person, or a video. Since I don’t have the bandwidth for a video now, that will have to come later.

A Kenyan Designer and Tailor with the FLAP Bag

This is part of an ongoing series of posts on the FLAP bag project, a collaborative effort by Timbuk2, Portable Light and Pop!Tech. We at AfriGadget are helping to field-test these bags that have solar power and lighting on them, and get interviews of the individuals using them.

Stephen Omollo and Erik Hersman

Jericho Market is a small market tucked away behind the industrial area in Nairobi, Kenya – near to Buruburu. It’s where you can find a lot of artisans who work on cloth-based projects, from clothes to bags and everything in between. I took off with David Ngigi, a local videographer friend of mine, to see who we could find. I brought two of the unstitched bags, two Portable Light kits and one completed bag as a sample.

The first person we spent time with was Joseph Muteti, a soft-spoken, 18-year veteran of the tailor trade in Nairobi. He specializes in making school bags for children and messenger-type bags. His bags are generally sturdy, with an added flair of embroidery to set them off for his customers.

Next up was Stephen Omollo, an energetic young designer who works on textiles ranging from shirts to bags. Style and usability are both important to Stephen, and his primary desire is to create items that people are proud to wear.

Interestingly, both Stephen and Joseph thought the bags were too large. Stephen wanted to cut in half, and Joseph by about a third.

Joseph Muteti - a tailor in Kenya

Fish ‘call’ the Fisherman

Pascal Katana, a Fourth Year student at the Department of Electrical and Information Engineering at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, developed an electronic device that ‘automates’ fishing. The trap employs amplification of the sound made by fish while feeding. The acoustic signals are radiated and attract other fish who head toward the direction of the source thinking there is food there.
Once a good catch is detected by a net weighing mechanism, it triggers a GPRS/GSM device attatched to the system and the fisherman gets a call/sms informing him that his catch is ready. Pascal is in the process of developing a by-catch control system which will ensure that his contraption doesn’t cause overfishing.

Simon Mwaura’s Mobile Remote Control Inventions

Simon has hardwired a way to open and lock his door remotely via his phone, as well as get tea brewing and other manual and remote tasks. The video speaks for itself, so I’m not going to say anything other than to link you to my past thoughts on challenges for tech entrepreneurs in Africa.

Paraffin Lamps and the Informal Recycling Industry

Franco Mithika works in Gikomba, an industrial area in greater Nairobi. His job is to take scrap metal tin cans and a soldering iron to fabricate paraffin lamps. Paraffin lamps are used by millions of Kenyans, especially those who cannot afford or get electricity into their home for lighting.

Creating Paraffin Lamps in Gikomba

It costs about 110/= Kenyan shillings to make, and it sells for around 150/= ($1.90). You can buy them wholesale for 1550/= ($20) for 24 pieces. It takes about a minute to make one (less for the truly gifted fabricators).

Here is a video of him making one:

Thinking about the unofficial recycling industry

What’s particularly interesting here, is that this scrapes the surface of a rather larger recycling industry that hums beneath the surface of the city. How it works is this. The youngest and poorest go around the city and collect scrap metal of all types. These are then taken to a buyer who sorts them into their different types. This is who people like Franco then buy from and create their wares.

The scrap metal picked up gets sold for just a few shillings per kilo. When sorted, the tin cans that Franco buys, are sold for 300/= ($4) per kilo.

So, there’s a rather efficient system at work. It’s run by entrepreneurs who figure out a way to make things work. A byproduct is that everything (metal) is used, and much less waste than there would be otherwise.

Gathering and transporting the scraps:
Informal Recycling Industry

The scrap sorting place (Kawangware):
Informal Recycling Industry

The cans for the paraffin lamps sorted:
Creating Paraffin Lamps in Gikomba

Other “sorted” scrap metal items:
Informal Recycling Industry