Elanit Neutra at her sewing machine where she hand makes her line of bags and accessories. Elanit Neutra at her sewing machine where she hand makes her line of bags and accessories. Elanit Neutra at her sewing machine, where she handmakes bags and accessories out of rubber. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

Meet the designer who turns old tires into beautiful handbags

Elanit Neutra is committed to making each product with her own hands.

When Elanit Neutra was a young girl growing up in Haifa, Israel, she had a vivid imagination. It went well beyond that of her peers, with one childhood friend recently recalling how Barbie playdates would often become exercises in turning discarded household items into accessories for the dolls.

It's no wonder, then, that as an adult she abandoned a promising career in film production for the life of a designer. It's the materials she uses, however, that really prove her imagination has grown with her.

Neutra's eponymous label carries handbags and backpacks for women and men, as well as other household items such as vases and pen cups, all made from rubber, which is mostly sourced from old tires. It was a material she happened upon by chance but that she's made wholly her own.

Elanit Neutra makes handbags, backpacks and an assortment of other products from rubber.Elanit Neutra makes handbags, backpacks and an assortment of other products from rubber. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

"I found it on the streets. I found one inner tube and I said, 'OK, let's make a bag for tonight.' It happened just like that," she told From The Grapevine of that fateful day more than a decade ago.

Encouraged by a friend's compliments on the final product, she has methodically built a business for herself that is now headquartered in a small space in Tel Aviv, where she literally makes her items right next to the product showcase, and across from the little desk where she fulfills orders made through her Etsy shop, and soon, a redesigned website.

Her beautifully designed products are defined by their minimalism and functionality, an aspect of her craft she elevates above all else.

"It's very important to me that it will be practical. If you have a bag or whatever it is, it has to be useful," she said. "It's not so important to focus only on the beauty of the product. It's also very important to make it good quality so that it will live for a long time."

Elanit Neutra's wares extend beyond bags to wallets such as these. Elanit Neutra's wares extend beyond bags to wallets such as these. (Photo: Elanit Neutra)

Pass by her atelier on any given day, and you'll find laundry crates filled with dirty rubber, a stark contrast to the beautiful items for sale inside. But besides the odd accompaniment of leather or canvas, she's stuck with the material.

"It's hard. There's a lot of limitation I'm working with," she said, adding, "Every time I want to make it wild I continue with the rubber. I don't know what is the addiction of the stuff, but somehow I really really like this material."

It's certainly not because of the ease of use.

A model holds a handmade Neutra bag.A model holds a handmade Neutra bag. (Photo: Elanit Neutra)

"It's very hard. The production is very long," she explained. "You collect, then divide, then cut it, clean it — there are a lot of steps. And that's what makes it more unique. They're all one of a kind. They're all my sons."

With a devoted clientele in Europe and the United States, it would seem like Neutra could easily expand her footprint, but besides the odd side project – she recently collaborated with Israeli design label NuNuNu on a line of children's products that will be available at American department stores such as Bloomingdale's – she resists the temptation to grow beyond her own capacity to produce.

"I want to make it with my own hands. That's what's very important to me," she said.

"Everyone has to try to make something good for this world. And that's what I try to do."

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