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The Pilot Who Pivoted to Making the World’s Best Most Sustainable Bag, Orra

Built for performance and made from up-cycled plastic, ORRA bags are protecting our oceans and making travel more sustainable.

We are increasingly concerned about the consequences of our buying decisions, especially in regards to travel. We discovered Ryan Thompson, ex-military now flying big commercial jets, who had an epiphany: a single person with a vision can make a difference. The result is the first sustainable, high design, and socially responsible bag we have seen. The bag is a work of beauty, that falls into the “buy it once, buy it right” category. 

What is your background?

I am the founder and CEO of ORRA, an ocean-centric eco-travel-gear company dedicated to responsible travel and global citizenry. I am also a commercial airline pilot for United Airlines, operating international routes in the Boeing-787 Dreamliner. Prior to my airline career, I served in multiple overseas combat zone deployments with the United States Air Force, Security Forces. 

On a personal note, I have a deep love for the ocean, having spent my childhood in the Pacific, surfing in Hawaii and on the beaches of Southern California. 

“My experience with the best and the worst gear spans from war zones to the tarmac”

What was your motivation in making the bag?

At ORRA, we believe the world should be experienced and enjoyed, but we also know that we must collectively change our habits to preserve it and foster meaningful connections with our fellow earthlings.

That was the stark realization I made while sitting in the cockpit and gazing down over the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world’s largest accumulation of ocean plastic, located between California and Hawaii. 

Having lived out of a bag quite literally for decades as a combat veteran turned airline pilot, my experience with the best and the worst gear spans from war zones to the tarmac. I have fumbled with broken zippers, watched passengers struggle with overhead bins and too many of the airport re-packers who trade in their spinners for the next 6-month plastic case. 

Plain and simple, the world needs a better bag. Why not one that helps travelers carry a clean conscience — without sacrificing performance, quality, or style?

So, I turned this pain into push and the idea for ORRA was born. It has been called an innovative response in the fight against environmental decline that also helps people travel in a smarter way. That’s what ORRA is all about — our tribe is set on changing the way things are done, fostering sustainable methods of moving through the world.

What makes a perfect travel backpack?

When we look at “perfect” travel gear, the key elements come down to style, function, quality and performance. 

The ORRA backpack, for example, is built for utility, combining greater function and quality with styling that can seamlessly transition from urban workplaces to backcountry trek.

Efficient design is coupled with a robust set of carefully considered features that were sourced and tested among professional travelers, lifestyle experts and environmentalists to ensure more desirable, high-performance gear with absolutely no greenwashing.

Each ORRA product has its own set of features that serve a specific purpose — and we make note of them in the product pages on our website

On the Backpack, adjustable body-contoured straps and high-performance, plant-based EVA foam ensures comfortable carrying. The three-quarter clamshell opening offers a full-access main compartment that unzips from top to bottom with a separate, smartly-positioned laptop compartment and bevy of other interior and exterior organization pockets that makes packing and organizing simple. And the list goes on, making the ORRA Backpack perfect for keeping essentials organized, accessible, and protected while offering users a path to fulfill a personal sustainability mission, without compromise of performance and style.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world and is located between Hawaii and California”

What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? How big is it?

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world and is located between Hawaii and California. It is the largest of the five offshore plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans. 

Every year, more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans. 1) 1.15 to 2.41 million tons enter the Pacific, and more than half floats on the surface. 2) The dump now contains around 1.8 trillion pieces. 3) The stronger, more buoyant plastics show resiliency in the marine environment, allowing them to be transported over extended distances. They persist at the sea surface as they make their way offshore, transported by converging currents and finally accumulating in the patch. The GPGP covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers, an area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France. 4) Due to seasonal and interannual variabilities of winds and currents, the GPGP’s location and shape are constantly changing.

The mass of the plastic in the GPGP was estimated to be approximately 80,000 tons. This weight is also equivalent to that of 500 of the ‘Heavy’ commercial airplanes I fly. 

Up-Cycled Plastics

Why are you choosing to use up-cycled plastics?

The proliferation of plastic products in the last several decades has been extraordinary. It is an almost indestructible material and we are producing over 380 million tons of plastic every year, and some reports indicate that up to 50% of that is for single-use purposes — utilized for just a few moments, but on the planet for at least several hundred years.

There is absolutely no excuse for this waste. Our premium travel goods will have an immediate impact on our customers and the world they inhabit. 

Our line of sustainably-designed bags and accessories utilize the latest in creative sourcing, up-cycled and organic materials, including fabrics made with recycled plastic bottles and foam made with algae harvested from polluted waterways. 

Instead of synthetic or injection-moldable composite, these materials enable ORRA to create more desirable, high-performance gear that reduces plastic waste, captures carbon from the atmosphere and returns clean, filtered water to the environment.

Each ORRA product provides positive environmental impact with every purchase, with consumer-facing data such as the number of plastic bottles recycled in making each item as well as the amount of CO2 captured and how many filtered gallons of water that are returned to the environment. 

Orra Backpack

“Consumers are realizing that cheap goods aren’t cheap, when factoring in social and environmental impact”

What are the challenges you are encountering by choosing to use up-cycled plastic vs normal thread?

Consumers are realizing that cheap goods aren’t cheap, when factoring in social and environmental impact. Conventional business and manufacturing are devastating the planet and its inhabitants. Simply put, we are all paying the price of cheap goods. 

Fortunately, brands are beginning to respond to growing consumer demand for sustainable products — and until ORRA, the market for high-performance sustainable goods remained underserved. 

So, designing and manufacturing travel gear that is truly the highest quality and sustainable comes at a high cost. We had to validate sustainable materials and identify responsible manufacturers, too. 

Today, ORRA is one of the few brands in the industry that has adopted ethical sourcing and manufacturing as a core part of its DNA.

“I think of ORRA as more of a mission or a movement than a business, and it’s not mine; it is OURS, as world citizens”

How is it for you personally going from being an employee to now running a business?

The short answer is, it’s been an incredible journey, and I’ve really enjoyed the process.  

I am still actively working as a commercial airline pilot. This is a passion of mine.  I consider it a privilege to take part in other travelers’ journeys. 

My other passions include ocean life, world travel and community. ORRA is an impact driven and innovative response to make a mark on what I love.  I think of ORRA as more of a mission or a movement than a business, and it’s not mine; it is OURS, as world citizens.  

Can a single company make a difference?

Absolutely! We all have to do our part — and collectively, we will make an important difference. As mentioned above, brands are beginning to respond to growing consumer demand for sustainable products. When you buy any ORRA product, you can do so knowing you’re making a positive impact on our environment and oceans, and you’re taking a step towards sustainability. 

What does ORRA value?

Our aim is to inspire conscious travel and adventure, changing the way people consume goods and move through the world.  

When creating our line of high-performance, sustainably engineered bags and accessories, we engaged travelers directly and created so much more than a product: ORRA is a tribe of world citizens united by consciousness and respect for Earth and its inhabitants. 

The ORRA community empowers members to have meaningful social and environmental impact, both individually and through their interactions with us. Our tribe speaks with a powerful and purposeful voice that invites other brands to join in offering sustainable options for their products.

Ethically Sourced and Manufactured Bags

Where are the bags made? Who are your manufacturing partners?

Our bags and accessories are designed in-house by our team of skillful, impact-driven leaders who bring rich world travel experiences with extensive knowledge of soft goods manufacturing and sustainable materials for leading function, form, and purpose. 

The reduction of plastic is assisted by ORRA fabrics that use REPREVE® polyester made from recycled bottles, and BLOOM™ harnesses algae to transform air and water pollution into a replacement for standard petroleum-based foam plastics in ORRA bags.

ORRA gear is manufactured in Vietnam and we do our due diligence to ensure our workers are treated with dignity and respect every step of the way. ORRA is one of the few brands in the industry that has adopted ethical sourcing and manufacturing as a core part of its DNA.

“ORRA products…seamlessly transition from urban workplaces to backcountry treks”

Who are you envisioning as being your main customers?

ORRA products were designed for modern travelers and active lifestyles that combine greater function and quality with thoughtful versatility to seamlessly transition from urban workplaces to backcountry treks. 

Our bags and accessories are integral to keeping essentials organized, accessible, and protected while offering users a path to fulfill a personal sustainability mission, without compromise of performance and style. 

ORRA carriers are forward-thinking game-changers who want to make an impact and see themselves thriving and shaping the future versus merely surviving it. They have a sense of taste and style that sets them apart, demonstrating a fusion of humanity, awareness of nature, business savvy and technical know-how. Members of the ORRA tribe are change agents who are competitive, critical, sharp and dedicated to positive lifestyle design.

www.orra.co

  

  1. Plastic Oceans, The Facts (Online: https://plasticoceans.org/the-facts/)   
  2. The Ocean Clean Up, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Online: https://theoceancleanup.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch/)
  3. Physorg.com, Pacific plastic dump far larger than feared: study | Patrick Galey And Marlowe Hood, March 22, 2018 (Online: https://phys.org/news/2018-03-pacific-plastic-dump-larger.html)
  4. Laurent C. M. Lebreton, et al., “Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic,” Scientific Reports 8 | March 2018  (Online: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-22939-w

 

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David Stewart
David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

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