The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

January 10, 2011

Ambatalia Handmade To-Go Bags, Furoshiki Napkins, & More!

Molly de Vries lives just across the bay from me in Marin County and is the owner of Ambatalia, a company producing beautiful cloth to-go bags, napkins, and other reusables.  Her story is inspiring. Please enjoy her story in her own words.

My name is Molly de Vries, owner of Ambatalia, textiles for a non-disposable life, and The Fabric Society Shop.

My Story

I grew up amongst 7 brothers and sisters in downtown Mill Valley, California…

Molly de Vries of Ambatalia

and am now raising my own three kids with my husband Willem in the original house my mom and dad bought back in 1955.

Molly de Vries of Ambatalia

Mill Valley was much different than it is today. Lots of artists, musicians, and incredible places like the unknown museum, a magical spot filled with what some people might call junk or garbage. It was inspiration to me.

Molly de Vries of Ambatalia

Molly de Vries of AmbataliaI grew up with a kitchen wall filled with beautiful old utilitarian hand tools and a large house furnished with found objects collected by my mom and dad. Also shopping at the Marin City flea market really influenced my aesthetic and the way I see things. My Mom sewed for a living and my dad always made things out of stuff he got that somebody was tossing out. I really had this love for well-made useful objects. I was taught from an early age to be a huntress, and I guess it taught me to be resourceful. I am always looking at garbage (treasure) wondering what I can make out of it.

I started noticing and thinking about garbage more and more after seeing the movie Sex, Lies, & Videotape in 1989, where Andie MacDowell couldn’t stop thinking about where all the garbage went. (It’s weird how that one little part of that movie changed my life.) I became a bit obsessed with garbage myself and started noticing how no one else seemed to see it or care about it. I did my best at the time, knowing something was brewing in me to take action someday in a much bigger way. I was a hair dresser in those days and didn’t like the chemical part of the business and the waste of the plastic. I started a refilling station at my shop in the 90’s where you could bring your old shampoo bottle in and fill it. Even though I tried to do small things like that, people really didn’t get it enough to support it.

My True Passion

After turning 40 and a lot of soul searching, I realized that my true passion was in things that were made by hand. I focused on authentic, sustainable textiles. I wanted to change what I was doing for a living and to make a difference in the world. I will never forget the day I was standing in line at Jo-Ann’s Fabric, baby on hip crying. I looked around and saw many other Mothers with crying babies. In this huge store, there was nowhere to put your baby down. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and then I started researching their fabrics: from China, India, and more plastic fleece than wool. I started researching the pesticides and the sweat shops. I knew there could be a way to bring community, sustainability and beauty together. So one year later I opened Ambatalia fabrics, focusing solely on environmental and cultural sustainability. It was a life changing adventure and one of the most meaningful and magical times in my life. Because I pushed my self so deeply into my passion, I just couldn’t stop even though I closed Ambatalia in November 2008.

Molly de Vries of Ambatalia

Molly de Vries of Ambatalia

A Non-Disposable Life

After closing I had to refocus my dream. On Earth Day 2010 I made a commitment to start on a non-disposable life journey for myself and hopefully with my family. That’s when I really focused my line around non-packaged local food, the kitchen and shopping. Through the process of this journey I learned how to make my own laundry detergent, all purpose and window cleaner. I learned to make my own bread , yogurt and ice cream. I really started to learn what was seasonal and the importance of that. I also really started to learn the importance of our daily work as humans and how it brings health in so many ways that we have lost along the way. I feel the luxury of having that choice, almost like an art form for me. simplifying my life was the key.

My niche was unique and I knew that I had to bring it to the market in a different way than usual. I was not only bringing a product line to the market, but it was about sharing ideas and solutions to get out of the habit of using plastic and virgin paper. I knew I needed to be in a public setting demonstrating different ways of using textiles as an alternative to single use disposables. I thought the farmers market would be a great outlet to engage with people around healthy local food, while leaving the plastic bag out of the purchase, after all it is one of the best opportunities not to use packaging, ya know from farm to table.

I would spend a lot of time at Whole Foods, Rainbow Grocery and my local farmers market, and I was shocked at how so many people were still using plastic for bulk and produce shopping. I thought it would be the last place to see that. Is it that hard to bring your own bags? I did find these challenges in my own life, so I think it just takes time to learn new habits even if the intention is good. I also noticed for the most part as a society we get the reusable market bag, but we don’t seem to get that we can use it in other kinds of shopping: shopping for clothes, take-out, vitamin store, ice cream, gift shops, pharmacy, etc.

Molly de Vries of AmbataliaI see plastic every where. Its not just the produce, market and bulk bags. I also see the crates of merchandise that are wrapped in many layers of plastic being delivered to a store from the distributor.  I see the dozens on dozens of small plastic bags that were used to create a snow hill in my town for a few hours of fun around Christmas. I also saw the huge semi that brought the ice in and was shocked. I see every single person walking out of a store, whether it’s a pharmacy or mall, with all of those plastic bags carrying just a few things. But I also see the beauty, like the gardener that does furoshiki and doesn’t even know it.

Local Culture

The other issue that is equally as important to me is our local economy. I am a collector and enthusiast of culturally sustainable textiles and goods. I believe it is important to honor the artisans that have been doing their craft for centuries.  One of my experiments this holiday season was walking into the store Anthropology because of their famously creative window. I noticed authentic looking textiles like Dutch wax, Indian block prints and batik from Indonesia. I kind of knew the answer, but I just had to officially ask the manager if any of the textiles were authentic to the countries they were supposedly from? She really wanted to say yes, but in the end she said no they weren’t. It reminds me of how that beautiful red apple is waiting for us at the market in March. It looks perfectly fresh off the tree. But its been in cold storage for months, using I don’t know how much energy and effort and than shipped across the world. All for an apple in March. There is so much visual manipulation in our society that its easy to get confused.

Because I design my goods here, I also want them to be made here with integrity and have connection to the people that help make them. I had been making all of the Ambatalia goods myself up until now. I envisioned a co-op close to where I live and work and began working with a woman who teaches sewing as a skill for making a decent living. I have been working with her group for two months now, and it’s working out very well. I hope to grow my business while keeping the work here in my community.

Of course one of my biggest inspirations is Beth. I know I can go to her site and not only get her support but her gentleness and truthful guidance. I could choose to be an angry control freak, or stay on a path of being nonjudgmental and at peace. Its a fine line. I go to life with out plastics to find that balance when I get overwhelmed about the whole thing.

Where you can find me

I do demonstrations at The Gardener stores in San Francisco and Berkeley, and I’m at the Larkspur farmers market every Saturday. I love to be a part of the community, and I love to discuss and share ideas about how we can honor our oceans and the health of our planet by just being a little resourceful and remembering our bags.

The Starter Kit

A starter kit from Ambatalia can get someone started on the journey towards a non-disposable life. The kit includes:

  • 1 set of Ambatalia kitchen furoshiki dish towelsMolly de Vries of Ambatalia
  • 1 set of 5 vintage kids no waste lunch napkins
  • 1 Ambatalia neck scarf furoshiki
  • 1 Ambatalia raffia produce bag
  • 6 Ambatalia linen origami bagsMolly de Vries of Ambatalia
  • 5 organic cotton (made in SF) produce bags
  • 1 set of 3 Chico produce bags
  • 1 To-GoWare set of bamboo cutlery
  • 1 Ambatalia denim market bagMolly de Vries of Ambatalia


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I only post ads for products I use myself. Your support helps to fund my plastic-free mission.

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Molly de Vries
12 years ago

Molly here,
I just wanted to share my gratitude for people like Beth and all of you that took the challenge or even on their way to taking some kind of challenge like this. I am so looking forward to sending off this package full of goodies. I am amazed at how much work beth puts into this whole thing. I come here to read all the comments and challenges every few days just to connect. I can’t even keep up with everything that beth writes about and then she keeps it all a flowing. love to her, right? lots of love to all of you too. Thiis has been a Wonderful connection for me. I’m looking forward to sharing in the fun of knowing who the winner of my give away. Molly

12 years ago

I live in a small town in a rural area where recycling is not practiced as a community. Whatever is done, is done by the individual however they can. I love this challenge and it will truly be one in this area! I have not used plastic containers or baggies for leftovers or packing lunches in a long time. I use canning jars. I had collected up a lot of these over the years and I use them for keeping fresh vegetables, storing quarts of tea, and yes, I will pack my lunch in one or two pint jars. I also take my own bags with me and when I end up with plastic bags, I take them to the local vegetable stand to be reused. I now pledge to do more and keep the plastic-free mentality and share it with others!

Crystal Sandoval
12 years ago

So the whole family has jumped into this challenge head on. Our family is mostly brand-spanking new to the whole plastic awareness awakening. I honestly felt a little smug the first week thinking I’d have hardly anything to show for ourselves- BOY was I wrong!! Even though we had prided ourselves on recycling and reusing things like bags and do our best to use non disposables for eating on the go… once we really started paying attention we realized even the packaging on some of the freshest organic produce is non recyclable and frankly unnecessary (and we didn’t even notice it!). After the third week in, I find the pile growing instead of shrinking! It’s almost maddening as we are trying to replace our habits. Truly we have found ourselves living in the age old ad lib- the plastic bubble. The blankets, the stuffed animals, the smooth grocery store receipts!! I have been made ever aware by your challenge and ever resolved to curb this poly-puke craziness. I’d post/link my photos, but I’m don’t have a blog. I’d love to still be considered for your contest- what a helpful gift you are offering up! At any rate, you have ushered one family into a change of course. We hope to make a small dent in the plastic kingdom by doing our part to abstain as much as we can (and we thought we were sooooo conscientious just because we reused our bags and didn’t buy water bottles! Thanks for the enlightenment!). -Crystal and family

Katie M
12 years ago

just found this contest (because i have been literally addicted to your site!) hope i am entered.

12 years ago

I have been working on eliminating as much packaging as possible from our home… count me in! I’ll be starting the challenge tally tomorrow (Sunday).

Benne' Rockett
12 years ago

I’m totally with you on this project and so are my students! I teach students about the impact of plastic on the life of the Pacific Gyra. This past Fall, 2010, my students collected plastic bags from their homes. We took those bags and turned them into beautiful plastic quilt murals. One hangs in the library, while the second hangs in a nearby apartment complex. Both murals are accompanied by a wall plaque that describes the Pacific Gyra issue.

We, my students, want to win! Only issue is I just found this site, proposed it to them this afternoon, and they agreed to collect their plastic for our next project. We have missed the 4 week range but they are determined to make a difference by reducing as well as creating art that challenges environmental sanity!

Thanks for supporting my students through your own story.

12 years ago

I have been a minimal trash person for about 30 years. I’ve been a mom for 25 of those years, and am honored that my kids are very, very ‘green’. We have purchased NO disposable paper products with the exception of toilet paper for the last two years and honestly, we hardly noticed.

In two weeks, I will attend a regional conference of a National organization.
This note was included and it makes me very proud~!

“Bring your own reusuable drink containers to the conference so that we can cut down on disposables!”

12 years ago

I just wanted to let you know that I think you and your products are awesome!

12 years ago

I am so excited about this! I am ready for the challenge. I crocheted a produce bag today to help me start and I switched all my kids plastic bowls to some great wooden bowls I found at the thrift shop the other day that I could not pass up.

Sabrina Lutes
12 years ago

My little family has been trying to do all the good things we can do, eat organics, buy from CSA’s etc. We’ve recycled, and I thought since we were recycling so much I thought we were doing okay. In the same week I saw the TED talks, Tapped and just started feeling sick to my stomach about it all. Thinking about my baby boy inheriting this mess, his kids dealing with. Oh, it just seems so unfathomable. So last week, we started the “research phase” after I read this blog. Getting ready to post the tally. All I can say is yikes. What a beautiful gift to give someone who is taking this plunge! Plastic touches so much of our lives. My husband and even my 2 year old is on board. My little 2 year old loves balloons, but has given up on them to do his part. He talks about them, but doesn’t fuss anymore when we explain why we feel it’s best not to get them any longer.

12 years ago

I would love to take this challenge with you all. It’ll be good to refocus on my plastic-less lifestyle. Starting date: January 16th, 2011.

12 years ago

Our family of 5 has always tried to avoid buying new plastic but somehow it always seems to creep in. I think this contest is great, just talking about doing this last week changed our food purchasing experience greatly. I hope to get to the place in our consumption where we are producing much of what we need, using everything & having no waste. I think a big part of it is accepting to forgo many things as well, that we actually don’t need. I was pleased to finally try making my own noodles last night, no plastic bag included & they were great!

Crystal Sandoval
12 years ago

I think I’d like to try this! My husband and I just watched “tapped” a documentary on bottled water and were inspired to shift towards a plastic-free lifestyle. We don’t think we use much plastic, but this little experiment may prove otherwise. I think this will be a wonderful way to begin teaching my young boys why we want to use reusable types of containers and buy in bulk/ local. Thanks for the challenge!

Denise Yribarren
12 years ago


I am really excited about this challenge! I am documenting the actual recycling, non-recylable items, as well as composted items. (I am keeping the composted items in the freezer to take once a week to the veggie garden at the local grammar school).I am hoping this way as well as noticing my recycling habits, by adding the composting, I can strive for a greater indication of my carbon footprint.

12 years ago

This is great…I’m in if it’s not to late to join.

Susana (sis)
12 years ago

So encouraged by your commitment to this Mol! Am going to check it out again when I get more time…and see what my family can do! Just reading this has inspired me already to consume less…so that’s a great start anyway. The story you wrote is beautiful. Thanks for all you do! Love and Hugs xoxoxo

Christy Buboltz
12 years ago

Wow, what an inspirational story. I am in…I do strive to reduce our plastic waste stream and have started my own business to encourage others to do so. We are striving towards packing a zero waste lunch. The materials we use are from the US and contain no dyes or chemicals, We feel that when we buy products locally, we are also helping to reduce the ecological costs of transporting materials. Your article inspires me to struve to do even more. Thanks!

Abe Louise Young
12 years ago

I am totally in. I started working on being more plastic-free when I discovered Beth’s blog in November. I haven’t taken the leap to photographing my plastic, but I am going to start today in order to enter this lovely, loving challenge and having the beautiful textiles contest as a goal will make it more fun. I’m also a writer and am working on documenting the experience with words as well. Thanks!

Uva Be
12 years ago

I’m a big fan of fake plastic fish. Been working on reducing plastic from my life one area at a time. Like in the bathroom, ” geesh :( ” Examples: baking soda, or One part aloe jelly from your plant and one part nice cooking oil from a glass jar makes a nice sunburn lotion.

What I’m wondering a couple things. 1. I just moved to CA and most “blue” states have a BIG advantage over most of the rural South, when it comes to being about to buy cheese or soap without a plastic wrapper etc..

2. When and how do we start requesting companies, who make shampoo, or well everything, but esp. organic produce and products, stop packing IN plastic ?

And on a much smaller scale (outside plastic made of natural gas) when do we petition for major grocery markets start having a cloth bag or no bag service ?

contest is great tho, one person at a time is a good start, but do you have suggestions for approaching this on the production / distribution level ?

12 years ago

I hope to really commit to this idea of buying less plastic as a whole. I want to really take action, and not buy these things.

12 years ago

I started two days ago. Am I to late??

12 years ago

great story of transformation! With recycling, we have reduced our waste to one bag per week, but I will try to do better, even though we won’t be in the running for those great prizes.

12 years ago

Beth, thank you for publishing this challenge. I am going to go for the 4 weeks. I took out my recycling this morning. So I can start fresh today and take a photo every Wednesday night.

Thank you again. I am very interested to see how much or how little plastic I use.

molly de Vries
12 years ago

Thank you so much every one for putting your necks out. I am a bit freaked out my self about my challenge. Its one thing doing your best. Its a whole other thing to document. So much of the reason that I feel comfortable doing this show your plastic challenge is because of Beth’s no guilt rules. LOVE THAT and I think its the best way to come to terms with our habbits and then in a healthy way take action in our lives. Thank you so much for your comments and honesty. I am right there with you.

12 years ago

This gives me incentive to start over in my challenge (I never posted it up anyway ) & actually do it by the week this time. Awesome giveaway!

12 years ago

I am in. I have been thinking about how much waste we create for a while now… I’m going to post this on my blog, if you have a button I’ll grab that too.

12 years ago

i’ll participate in the four week challenge. thanks for the opportunity to win lovely ambatalia goodies!

12 years ago

Count me in!
I think I’ll do my tallies on 1/21, 1/28, 2/4, and 2/11!
Here’s hoping I can reduce quite a lot over those weeks and make some *permanent* changes :)

Bettina Clifton
12 years ago

You are truly an inspiration and really making a difference in this world. Thank you for spreading your light and knowledge. You are helping me strive to be a better person, human, humanitarian…being on this earth. Thank you!

12 years ago

Count me in for the challenge (and the contest entry!).
Looking forward to posting in a few weeks!

Reenie R
12 years ago

I started a little over a week ago, collecting the plastic and putting it into a paper grocery bag. It’s overflowing. I’m in but my stomach isn’t completely. It still wants those frozen fruits in plastic bags, and a lot of other foods. But we’ll gather the evidence and see for now.

Terri in Seattle
12 years ago

Cool… I’m in :)

12 years ago

I’ll give it a try, though I’m sure the results will be less than stellar. Hopefully it will get me to be a little more concrete on my goals.

Sarah S
12 years ago

I will start it, although I think my results will be dismaying.

Mike in Madison
12 years ago

I’m in! But I know right now that immediately following the holidays, there’s gonna be a lot of bubble wrap that I got for Christmas ; )

Leslie Quigley
12 years ago

Very cool! I’m IN – started the challenge Sunday! =) YAY! :)

12 years ago

I was starting the challenge this week anyway, as part of my goals for the year!

12 years ago

I have been less than plastic free in my groceries over the last 4 or 5 months as I have attempted to adjust to being dairy and wheat free. You would think that would decrease my plastic intake but it actually increased. Part of this was from buying food I rarely buy in an effort to find foods that I could use for food allergy testing. Another part was simply from the stress of re-arranging my diet. I fell off the wagon.

Adjusting my life on other levels such as taking a second job and separating from my husband has also had an impact on non-food areas. It is time to get back into the swing of things and this challenge might just help.

Lets see what happens!

12 years ago

My challenge is not going so well this year already and so I won’t enter; after ten days I am apalled at myself to say that my trash can is full and one hundred per cent of it is plastic. Its kind of embarrassing.

Ms. Adventuress
12 years ago


(You can see a plastic confession on my recent post…it’s a lesson for me, I know.)

12 years ago

A few weeks ago our town decided they would no longer be recycling plastic film. For most towns, this is not unusual, as most towns don’t recycle plastic film (think all flimsy plastic – produce bags, grocery bags, bags that contain cereal/rice/pasta/etc, bread bags, cellophane, etc). However, this was a big jolt to many in our town, and considered a step backwards. In many ways it was sad to think about losing this service, but it also made me take a deeper plunge into ridding myself of plastic. I gave up plastic shopping bags and milk in plastic jugs years ago, got rid of all my plastic tupperware, started replacing plastic household items with ones made of better materials, and generally tried to cut down on plastic gradually. Over time though the gradual reduction in plastic slowed and I hit a major plateau. I was still changing over some things, but I hadn’t REALLY taken the plunge.

Since my garbage is a small container the size of a large fist which I only despose of about once or twice a month – I couldn’t see myself throwing out more. Plastic film (mainly from cereal and a few other grocery items) was a big part of my recycling, it was NOT going to become part of my garbage now. So I decided it was time to take the challenge deeper. I bought my first bit of cheese from the local deli without plastic wrap somewhat sucessfully last week, and I have been eating porrige most morning instead of my usual boxed/bagged cereal (plan to find a bulk kind I like too). Not sure I can get bulk pasta or rice anywhere in my town, but will look once I need to replenish those items. Anyway…we will see…I accept the challenge!

Now the local recycling company has decided they will continue to accept film plastics for a trial period to see if they get cleaned properly. They were going to discontinue it due to contamination issues. We don’t have curbside garbage and recycling pick up, you have to take items to a transfer station, where there is nobody there to supervise. Apparently too many loads were being contaminated with unwashed plastics – mostly film food bags.

In any case, I needed a catalyst to make this final reduction in plastic – and I look forward to the changes and challenges ahead.

Now that I am entering the Show your Plastic challenge – I will have even more incentive to cut down my use. I always forget to take pictures of things though, so we will see how well I document :-)

Good luck everyone, whether you take the challenge, are cutting down slowly like I was, or are just thinking about making some changes…..

Alyssa Lee
12 years ago

Now is definitely the chance for me to start this challenge! I have been reducing my plastic waste (and collecting it) ever since I found your blog in August but seeing as how I was still a minor living with my mom, and I hardly buy anything for myself, I thought the challenge would be pretty fruitless. Now that I’m in college and fending for myself, It’ll be a little clearer to see where my carbon footprint lies, although I must admit it’s a little bit of a cheat since I’ve already been lowering my plastic intake. I hope it still counts because I’ve been wanting to really document my waste for a while now and I just need this sort of motivation to stop procrastinating!

PS: While I do have a blog, it’s embarrassingly, almost pathetically sparse and I don’t encourage anyone to go to it. :)

12 years ago

I’m in. I’ve been slowly working towards this and becoming more aware day by day and this challenge is a great motivator.

Janelle Stewart
12 years ago

I have been mulling over the count your plastic idea for several months since stumbling upon this amazing inspirational blog. I think this challenge is what I needed to get serious about it. I’m in!

Anne Lambert
12 years ago

When I read an article several years ago about plastics and what they do to our planet, I decided to become more responsible. Although I have lapsed several times, I recycle paper, plastics, glass and cans regularly. I use shopping bags (purchased) but have recently read that those may contain large amounts of lead. That left one alternative -sew my own or find where I can purchase them.

12 years ago

Okay, I can’t resist this offer! I’ve thought about doing this, but have given myself the excuse that I already do pretty good (whatever that means..ha!). Any how, I am intrigued to see what plastic we toss in a week (I’ll do myself and my 3 year old son, but leave out my husband). I am sure there is room for improvement!

12 years ago

I just finished a little art project of my own about plastic pollution in the ocean (on my blog). I moved to a little village on the west coast of Oregon this past fall and noticed so very many little and big bits of plastic on the beautiful beach. I have been reading all I can on it and found this website and challenge. Yes! I will take this challenge. I have used canvas shopping bags for years and buy much in bulk but have room for improvement. I think this will be a very educational exercise for me. Love Molly’s story too as I worked for a short time in custom sewing myself.