Last September at Elle we came across an incredibly cool invention: a messenger bag outfitted with a small, flexible solar panel, an HBLED light, a rechargeable battery pack, and a USB port. Called the Flap Bag, (short for “Flexible Light and Power”) it was the brainchild of the brilliant architect Sheila Kennedy, who directs the Portable Light Project, a non-profit initiative that provides solar textile kits to empower the world’s poorest people who do not have access to electricity. Kennedy’s team works with nongovernmental organizations, providing training to women so they can integrate the technology into local textile materials using commonly available materials and their sewing and weaving skills. The results are surprising: a culturally diverse range of blankets, bags, and clothing that generate clean, sustainable energy and light, while supporting local economies.
For those who live far from power lines in Africa, Central America, Haiti, and beyond, a Portable Light Kit can charge a cell phone, so a shopkeeper can order supplies and transfer savings to a bank account, or provide light for children to study at home. Without this small portable source of clean energy, women and their families would be literally living in the dark with little chance of breaking out of an endless cycle of poverty. Reading about this gave Elle an idea. We called Kennedy and asked if the Portable Light team would collaborate with major fashion designers to make one-of-a kind solar-powered bags, which we would then auction, with the proceeds benefiting Portable Light’s charities. We called designers and asked the same question. Everyone replied with an enthusiastic Yes, and thus was born the Elle/Portable Light Project.