As America prepared to invade Iraq in 2002, artists Jane Palmer and Marianne Fairbanks identified with a healthy segment of the American public: they felt discouraged, frustrated and powerless. One thing they did not feel, however, was ready to back down. The artists attended as many protests as they had vocal chords to shout with, all the while racking their brains for alternative ways to make their voices heard. “We didn’t just want to point out problems,” Palmer says. “We wanted to find solutions.” Disturbed by America’s reliance on conflict-ridden sources of energy, Jane says she and Marianne started looking into solar power “as a way to create change and bring power back to the individual.” After discovering a company in Iowa that sold solar panels, Palmer and Fairbanks devised an experiment: they sewed a panel into a jacket and found that—with the help of a little wire—the jacket became a perfectly good Gameboy-charger.
These days, Jane and Marianne continue to find novel (and stylish) ways to harness the sun’s power and keep techie toys naturally charged. Their just-launched line of bags, designed under the name Noon Solar, was recently snapped up by Bucktown’s Robin Richman, 2108 North Damen, (773)278-6150, and Public I, 1923 West Division, (773)772-9088. Made of biodegradable, chrome-free leather that’s tanned with all-natural ingredients, the bags (each about 12”x 16”) are lined with 100-percent-wool felt. The front of the bag is spruced up with swatches of screen-printed cotton and hemp fabric that Jane and Marianne dye themselves. Inside, an external battery pack is connected to two cords: one charges iPods, the other hooks up to cell phones. The battery pack is charged by a solar panel sewn onto the back of the bag. “Our philosophy,” Jane says, “is that if we start small, we can show people how to use solar power on an individual scale. Then, people will get used to using that kind of energy and the industry will grow.” (Jennifer Berg)