The Who, What, and Why of Upcycling
These brands are turning trash into treasure!
Upycling is a word that gets used a lot in the conscious consumer world, but if you’re like me, you may hear the term without knowing exactly what it means and why it matters.
When I finally learned what upcycling is, I realized I’ve been doing it my whole life (and I’m willing to bet you have too). I’ve made a purse out of a pair of pants that ripped, and a Christmas wreath out of an old, red shopping bag. My husband makes lamps out of old mason jars, and my mom even made me a t-shirt quilt out of my childhood Snoopy shirts (Right? She is the best).
Most of us practice upcycling and repurposing personally (whether we realize it or not), and a lot of great brands do too—bringing about change at a mass level. So, what exactly is upcycling, why is it an ethical choice, and who out there is making upcycled goods?
What is upcycling?
Upcycling is the process of reusing discarded or unwanted materials in a way that increases their value and makes a superior product. As opposed to recycling, which requires some additional processing (like melting down plastic) to make a new product, upcycling skips a few steps and uses the material as-is.
Both upcycling and recycling are great ethical and sustainable options to produce new goods, but the goal of upcycling is to extend the life of already-existing materials, reducing the need to create more materials and products. Looptworks (we’ll talk more about them later) goes into this in more detail here.
Why is upcycling an ethical choice?
You probably already know that the fashion industry is one of the world’s major polluters and that its supply chains are notorious for unfair labor practices and human rights violations.
Upcycling acknowledges that we cannot control how an existing product was originally produced, but we can redeem it by extending its life cycle, keeping it from going to a landfill, and reducing the demand for more unethically-produced goods.
Buying upcycled goods not only ensures that the new product itself will be ethically made, but it also saves water and energy, and reduces the need for new products to be made.
So, Who is upcycling?
We love partnering with brands who practice upcycling and save (literally) tons of reusable materials from going to the landfill. And even though they are making goods from literal garbage, the finished items are far from trashy—they come out looking unbelievably sleek and original.
Looptworks creates upcycled clothes, bags, wallets, and accessories from reclaimed leather and other fabrics. One thing I love about Looptworks is that they not only use upcycling for all their goods, but they are also a great educator about upcycling and why it’s good for people and the planet. They sell their products at a wide range of prices, so there is truly something for every budget.
Malia Designs sells a variety of products, all made by artisans in Cambodia working for a fair wage. Malia Designs then donates a portion of their profits to organizations who are fighting human trafficking throughout Southeast Asia. I’m already hooked, but to make their products even better for the world, these artisans make a variety of bags and wallets using old cement and feed bags. They are some of the most colorful and unique accessories you’ve ever seen!
I have taken a few trips to Haiti and the nation holds a special place in my heart, so I love what Deux Mains is doing. Haiti’s trash collection system is virtually non-existent, so old tires often litter the sides of the road. Deux Mains products are made by Haitians who repurpose these old tires into...everything: sandals, belts, bags, passport holders, and travel accessories. I know what you’re thinking, “but do they look like old car tires?” And no. No, they do not.
You know how alchemy was supposed to turn lead into gold? Alchemy Goods turns old fabrics, bicycle tires, and ad banners into amazing and sleek-looking bags, belts, travel kits, and wallets (and unlike the alchemy of yore, it actually works). Alchemy Goods also offers repairs and a “2nd Lifetime Warranty” on their products, so you’re guaranteed a product you will love for a long time.
Newd Elements is all about eliminating waste by using recycled and reclaimed materials to make home goods and other essentials. They make bags from reclaimed textiles and chic planters from old corks from restaurants and wineries. Newd’s planters have diverted over 20,000 corks from landfills, and for every item you purchase, they’ll plant a tree. So, “get Newd” and plant a forest with them!