endeavors, product design
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The Secret Life of Teabags

Is there life after the spa? As an avid guest of Korean spa facilities, I find myself standing in a little shop located in Cape Town’s bustling Bay Harbour Market, wondering about the secret life of teabags. Think about it, a teabag lives a quiet existence, nestled with its family of teabags in a Lipton paper carton or Chinese tea can. Perhaps it is individually packaged, dressed in little white sachets. It leaves its sleepy brethren, and perhaps joins an intimate conversation between friends or a solo afternoon reverie. Sitting in a tiny porcelain tub, hot water is poured over. Depending on the treatment ordered, our teabag might enjoy an added milk soak or light sugar scrub.


For most teabags, skinny-dipping is the pinnacle of their existence. But for some, there is a life after tea time. Particularly those that make it to Original T Bag Designs, where they find a new existence in the hands of Hout Bay artisans. Bringing art and prosperity to previously disadvantaged residents of South Africa’s Hout Bay, each bag is uniquely hand-crafted into a new creation – stationary, cushion covers, table decor.

This follows along the theme we’ve seen with yak hair and bamboo, taking previously low or no-value materials, and using design aesthetic to turn into high-end luxury items. These products can then command higher market prices to create a sustainable living for poor communities.


The business was conceived by Jill Heyes, an UK expat who settled into Hout Bay with her family in 1996. Originally intending to help a few individual local women to learn handcraft skills with which to earn income, Jill quickly found that the paper mache products they were creating weren’t selling. However, with a creative stroke in development, a greeting card featuring a decorated old teabag found its way into consumer hands. Soon, the concept took off and Original T Bag Designs was born. Today, they have a retail location and workshop filled with employees, some who have been able to purchase their first homes thanks to the extra income earned at this company.

The part that is most interesting is that you can help support this ingenious effort by sending used teabags! We always love efforts that involve a community partnership dimension. It helps create an ongoing, keeps-on-giving cycle of dialogue, goodwill and most importantly, marketplace presence. This is an enterprise worthy of applause. Expect a few post-hot bath jasmine sachets in the mail from us!


This entry was posted in: endeavors, product design


Social entrepreneur with international expertise building rapid scale-up businesses in startup, NGO & Fortune 500 settings. Believes that people, work, fun, winning and societal impact all go hand-in-hand without compromise. Passionately committed to proving that businesses can achieve exponential market success by driving authentic social impact.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Upcycling to Uplift | The Social Entrepreneur Lifestyle

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