Husband-and-wife duo churn out treasurable bags from the city's trash.
What it is Tree Theory, an ecofriendly bag line by Sharon and Ted Burdett of the newly launched, locally-based Strand Design.
Who they are After earning their respective degrees—Sharon a master’s in graphic design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Ted a bachelor’s in industrial design at University of Illinois at Chicago—the couple spent the past few years flexing their skills in the retail industry. Ted made lunch bags and backpacks for Arctic Zone, a company that sells to big-box shops such as Walmart and Target, and Sharon most recently created the graphics for retail design firm RGLA Solutions. Last winter, after Sharon was laid off and Ted was offered a teaching position at UIC, they decided the timing was right to start their own company.
What they make During the course of their six-year relationship, the couple has tinkered with various design projects—constructing everything from carbon fiber jewelry to a butcher block (composed of parts salvaged from Ted’s parents’ old kitchen) for their home. “[Through our experience,] we learned how dirty and wasteful the retail industry is,” Sharon says. “You create something, and as soon as you let it go, it’s bound for the garbage. We thought, How can we still do design without designing garbage? Now we’re designing with garbage,” she says. Inspired by Tim’s work with Arctic Zone, they started working on bags. Their challenge? Making a product they could price competitively and make locally, as well as responsibly. Their answer: eliminate the sewing, which often requires expensive skilled labor. After a few months of geeking out on origami-folding techniques, sourcing materials (digging through the junkyard for seat belts and discovering a secret billboard-disposal spot) and connecting with a local manufacturer to produce their hardware, the couple nailed down the design. Using the seat belts for the straps, billboards for the body of the bag and stainless steel for the hardware, they settled on three versions: a satchel ($56), a messenger bag ($65) and a backpack ($95). Next up: a few more styles of bags followed by electric and bass guitars (advanced prototypes live in the woodshop adjacent their showroom).
Why we like them Not only are the bags easy on the eye and wallet, they’ll last a lifetime. When the fabric wears or you tire of the pattern, you can buy replacement “skins” at a discount.
Where to find them View the whole collection online at treetheorybags.com or at the couple’s new showroom (1008 W Randolph St, 708-309-0069, stranddesign.org); call in advance to make an appointment. Otherwise, find Tree Theory bags at a handful of stores around town, including Greenheart Shop (1911 W Division St, 312-264-1625) and Pivot Boutique (1101 W Fulton Mkt, 312-243-4754).