SIOUX CITY — The old adage “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” certainly applies to Chris Wilson’s zippered business bag.
The Dakota Dunes woman takes candy wrappers and even the labels from plastic soda bottles and transforms them into trendy zippered purses in which to store makeup or coins. She also makes wine bottle totes and crossbody bags for cellphones.
“I just started doing it because it was fun. I like to do crafts,” Wilson said as she stood in Sioux City Gifts, a quaint shop on Pierce Street that sells Wilson’s creations and the wares of other local artisans. Wilson’s most popular item — the Twin Bing coin purse — is also available for purchase at Palmer’s Old Tyme Candy Shoppe. Original (chocolate covered cherry), patriotic, Christmas, s’mores and pineapple-themed bags are available, too.
“The Twin Bing ones have taken off big time,” said Wilson, who now gets rolls of Twin Big wrappers from the candy company’s store. “I knew the manager at Palmer Candy and, then, they started selling them there as well.”
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Fashioning bags has proved to be quite a lucrative hobby for Wilson, who also sewed tons of masks during the pandemic, crocheted dishrags and made fleece blankets and heat packs, or what she likes to call “boo boo bags.” Wilson’s sales even covered the cost of a Caribbean cruise.
“Palmer Candy, at Christmas time, they, a lot of times, order 100 at a time,” said Wilson, who noted that Siouxlanders love the “nostalgia” associated with Twin Bing. She said she would love to get her hands on some Blue Bunny wrappers, as well.
Wilson’s son actually taught him how to make the basic zippered bag, which he added along the way.
Her crossbody bag features straps from tablecloths that she braids.
“I try to make everything as recyclable as possible,” she said.
Roughly a decade ago, Eric Wilson was serving in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica educating kids about the environment and recycling. Sewing the bags became part of an after school club.
“There just wasn’t a way for waste management to happen in the village that I was living in,” he said. “We started making these bags by ironing together the different plastics that we found — plastics that can’t be recycled there or sent to a dump station. They burned plastics in their backyards, so we started doing an after school club and also started working with some of the moms in the village, as well, to sew all the plastics together.”
On a visit to Sioux City, the owner of a store in the Ho-Chunk Centre, which specializes in imported products from around the world, asked Eric Wilson to host a workshop to teach others how to sew the bags. It was during that workshop in 2015 that his mother learned how to make them.
“I thought it would be cool to have name brands — things from around the city,” Chris Wilson said.
Friends and family members save candy bar wrappers for Wilson and other plastics.
“I’ve done sodas, things like that off the two liter bottles. I’ve made things out of a Mylar balloon. I’ve made bags out of rain ponchos,” she said. “Pretty much anything that someone’s going to throw away, I can make a bag.”
It takes Wilson exactly nine minutes to make a bag (She timed herself). She places clear plastic on the wrapper and tops that off with a piece of paper, before ironing in order to get the plastics to fuse. That’s also when she sews in the zipper.
“I sew in spurts. Sometimes, I’ll sew all night long. It depends on if I have a big order that I’ve waited too long to do,” she said.
Wilson also does her share of custom bags. She once made a bag out of a race bib. People have also been known to send her bags they got when purchasing souvenirs on a trip. She made a coin purse out of a Beatles bag from Las Vegas and an Elvis-themed one from Graceland.
“They purposefully keep the bag to bring back to my mom. And, then, my mom will make the bag and send it to me,” said Eric Wilson.