Interview: Mat Dusting, founder of upcycled bags company M-24

Portrait of Mat Dusting, founder of m-24

When 27-year-old Mat Dusting graduated from university, he was on the look out for a durable bag that would transport his skiing and snowboarding gear without ripping. Inspired by some of the materials lying around on the family farm, he began experimenting. Fast forward four years and his business making bags from upcycled truck tarpaulin is thriving. Manufacturing everything in the UK, Mat collaborates with the largest haulage firms in the country and has a developed a line of colourful, durable, waterproof bags and accessories, all of which are one-of-a-kind.

Hi there Mat! First of all, can you tell us a bit about your background, before starting M-24?

I’m born and raised in rural Somerset, UK. Growing up for me involved making dens in the woods, building go-karts and constructing tons of stuff from Lego. From a young age, I always enjoyed seeing creations come to life and when I left school, chose to continue this journey by studying Industrial Product Design at Aston University, Birmingham. I loved it, but while working for a large company on a placement year, I learnt that working for big corporations wasn’t what I thought it was… so I decided to start my own business.

Yellow Weekender Duffle Bag made from upcycled tarpaulin by m-24

Where did the brand name M-24 come from?

M is my initial and I was 24 when I started the company. Plus it sounds like a motorway and there is no M24 motorway in the UK.

Where did you get the idea to make bags from tarpaulin?

After finishing university I went back to the farm in Somerset and started experimenting with random materials lying around. I found old sandbags, polythene, tyres and a piece of tarpaulin covering some hay bales in the field. I bought a sewing machine and before long, realised I couldn’t sew nor was the machine I bought up to the challenge! So I cut the patterns and worked with a few local sewing experts who were able to help me design my first range of products.

Red and white messenger bag made from upcycled tarpaulin by m-24

How much tarpaulin have you upcycled so far and where do you normally source it from?

We’ve upcycled approximately 10 tonnes of waste plastic so far. 80% of it has been turned into bags and accessories and the bits we can’t use are then recycled into traffic cones that go back onto the road.

Pile of truck tarpaulin being washed prior to being upcycled

How the bags are made?

All the bags are made in the south west of the UK. The tarpaulins are collected at the family farm in Somerset before being sent to a local recycling company who strip them down into smaller pieces and remove any scrap metal. All the metal bits we can’t use are sent to scrap metal merchants. The lorry tarp is then washed in XXXL washing machines using eco friendly chemicals to remove all dirt and grease. Once the material is dry it’s then sent 15 miles up the road to a leather factory who cut the patterns and stitch them into bags. I design the bags with freelance designers around the UK. I like the creative process of forming ideas on scrap pieces of paper then seeing them evolve into tangible, functional and desirable products.

Blue backpack made from upcycled tarpaulin by M-24

What do you think makes tarpaulin a good material to upcycle?

I think because customers can see where the material comes from. Letters and writing on the bags begs the question, what is it made from? Once people know what the material is, they often smile and say, that’s so cool!

iPad sleeve made from upcycled tarpaulin by m-24

What has been your most popular design?

The most popular designs are the everyday products like messengers, backpacks and wallets. But we find most people who buy one of these come back to buy the full range. Weekend duffle bags are also very popular, mainly because they can be used for a range of purposes.

Selection of bag designs made from upcycled tarpaulin by M-24

Where can we buy your products?

You can only buy M-24 products through our online store and pop-up shops. We believe skipping out the middle retailers helps us invest more in product quality and price because retailers take such a huge margin. Harnessing the power of the internet and social media is crucial for our success and growth.

Patterned brown and yellow backpacks made from upcycled tarpaulin by M-24

And finally, what’s next for M-24?

We’re currently going through a bit of a transformation at the moment and looking to refine our range but increase the quality and features of each product. The material is extremely durable and unique, so we’re always getting interesting requests to make lots of crazy products. Every time we make a bag, it looks different to the last. It’s like seeing a brand new product each time. It’s a very addictive process – I can’t get enough of it!

Images via M-24

Author: Antonia Edwards

Antonia is the founding editor of Upcyclist. Based in the UK, she is the author of two books: 'Upcyclist: Reclaimed and Remade Furniture, Lighting and Interiors' (Prestel 2015) and 'Renovate Innovate: Reclaimed and Upcycled Homes' (Prestel 2017).