Duct Tape Fashions

Dec. 22, 2004 — -- Those popular iPod minis aren't the only hot holiday gifts arriving in a rainbow of colors this season. Why not pair up that pink high-tech gadget with a rosy-colored duct tape handbag?

It may sound like a joke, but plenty of folks are snapping up these durable versions of accessories from companies selling their wares in boutiques and on the Internet.

"We've had really good results for the holiday season," said Duct Tape Creations founder Scott Howard, who said his products are sold out until the new year.

The comedy writer works with designers to turn rolls of the colored tape into backpacks, wallets, belts and even handbags. "They really are functional," said Howard. "Real purses that are well-designed, some of them are almost like Kate Spade knockoffs -- in duct tape."

That's quite a transition for the material, more typically a Mr. Fix-it than a fashionista fave for its ability to hold just about anything together. But Howard says his products are more than just sticky throwaways.

"We don't just slap together a couple of pieces of duct tape," said Howard. "Some of these bags take literally two hours of work to put it together … folding and creasing and making sure all the edges are tight … adding details like grommets, leather, lace and cutting out patterns."

And they'll last for more than one fashion season. Howard said they're so durable, "you could, like, take a bath with your purse and it would be OK."

Museum-Quality Designs?

Duct tape, traditionally found in silver and used to bind together old bikes, suitcases and even cars, is now available in a range of colors, including pink, red and purple.

Howard said the products have a "hipster quality" that's appealing to college kids, punk rockers and anyone looking for something with a more industrial edge than a standard leather wallet or bag. They're even headed to the red carpet -- Howard is negotiating with film studios to use duct tape bags for gift items at Hollywood premieres.

But do they have a place amid fine art prints and sculptures? The Milwaukee Art Museum is giving them a nod of approval, selling silver wallets from Ducti in its gift shop.

"If you think about it, the gallery wants to present unique items, so that's the pull there," said Ducti founder David Pippenger.

He started the company from his Colorado home when his son brought a duct tape wallet to school and his friends hoped to also get one for their back pockets.

"Kids have been making stuff out of duct tape for years," said Pippenger, who then "guessed" he could sell 100,000 of them if he came up with a product line. He's hit that goal, after starting the design process on his kitchen table.

When Pippenger noticed the silver tape tended to smell and ooze glue when assembled, he worked with a manufacturer to produce a specially designed type of tape he thought would be better suited for fashion hounds.

When he brought early versions of his wallets to trade shows, Pippenger knew he was onto something when a sample billfold was nearly stolen at New York's Jacob Javitz Center. "Usually if you're chasing somebody for your wallet in New York you might want to let them go -- but we didn't have any choice -- we didn't have any more [samples]."

Do It Yourself

For those who are accustomed to using the tape to patch holes, you might consider using the leftovers to make your own wallet. The practice is apparently so common that duct tape maker 3M posted directions for crafting wallets on its Web site.

But don't be fooled by what may look like some simple folding directions. Howard warned it took his designers some time to master the art of working with the material. "It's not like sewing a cloth," said Howard. "Once it's stuck, you can't unstick it. It's unfixable."

Howard said he welcomes competition, but said for the duct tape purist Ducti's custom-manufactured tape may not do the trick. "It's not duct tape. It's only cool when it's duct tape," said Howard. "It's like being a poser … it completely takes away the effect of the hipster rebel."

Pippenger said his tape is just as durable as the industrial version. And he offers a lifetime warranty, although he said a lot of his customers just slap on some extra tape if they notice a hole in the product.

Wear With Caution

If you have a duct tape wallet, and a duct tape bag, why not consider a duct tape jacket? A quick search on the Web will reveal a lengthy list of sites devoted to the tape's merits, including encouragements for high school students to try out a duct tape prom dress.

But teens should think carefully about this fashion choice if they live in a warm climate. As a California resident, Howard said, he stays away from the clothing market.

"We don't make duct tape clothing because it is the most uncomfortable thing you could wear," said Howard. "Duct tape does not breathe for clothing, you just don't want to wear a duct tape tuxedo to your prom."

But you can bring a duct tape rose. Howard also offers fabricated versions of the flower and finds women buying them for their guys who may not typically gush over flowers. "If they're made out of duct tape somehow they're OK."

And the duct tape rose will certainly last longer than a real flower.

What else can the tape do? Howard said everyone should try and see where it goes. "It's a great craft, " he said. "[it's] fun to see what you can create."