Are you looking for unique gifts that you can feel good about giving? Perhaps something made from upcycled materials? Or products sold by a business that’s committed to reducing waste? No matter whether you’re looking for a gift, something for your home, or a place to sell your own upcycled merchandise, these upcycle shops are great resources.
To upcycle means to create something new out of an item that has been discarded or is no longer useful. While recycling is breaking down a product to its original raw materials to remake a new model, upcycling transforms a product from its original use into something with a new function. And that new something will have a higher value than the item out of which it was made — or so the upcycler selling the product hopes.
The ups and downs of the upcycle business
Upcycling old stuff into new things can result in some pretty cool and amazing one-of-a-kind-gadgets and accessories. But running a successful upcycle business focused on a handful of products can be challenging. Possessing a vision and advanced crafting skills are ingredients that can help transform unwanted materials into something useful. But the path from point A to point B can be unpredictable and labor-intensive, and quite an expensive experience.
Setting up an upcycling business as a lone proprietor in a niche type market may also be short-lived. Unless the upcycler is in a business that uses plentiful materials like paper or T-shirts, they may have limited access to raw material. Additionally, most upcycled products are handmade and one-of-a-kind pieces; if there are restrictions on the crafter’s time and ability to quickly turn around an upcycled product, the combination could result in low inventory for sale, new goods being too expensive, or both.
Some crafters have found creative ways to combat these risks and stay in business longer. One way is to join forces with other artisans in different markets behind one storefront. This allows upcyclers to offer a greater array of products to consumers without having to compete with one another. Another solution is to become part of a larger business that has the expertise to market and sell the products. The downside to this is it cuts into profits for upcyclers who must forfeit a percentage of the sale price for these services. A third scenario is to leave the brick-and-mortar concept behind altogether and go completely online. This decreases overhead costs to just labor and material.
Upcycle shops on the up and up
These upcycle shops are either creating or selling unique products that are worth a look.
This Portland, Oregon, online store’s mission is to rescue leftover materials from other vendors and use them to create limited-edition products. Once products are designed, Looptworks makes sure they are crafted in factories with 100% fair labor standards. Looptworks specializes in bags and apparel geared towards travel-minded consumers.
Sword and Plough
Two sisters from a military family founded this company, which uses military surplus fabric, leather, hardware — and also old uniforms — to create all types of bags, wallets, and jewelry (created from upcycled ammunition casings). They partner with veteran-owned manufacturers, and veteran artisans make Sword and Plough bags and accessories. The company donates 10% of its profits to veteran organizations.
Upcycle It Now
This mother-daughter company has a three-pronged mission: give materials a second life, create useful and beautiful goods, and provide skilled jobs for their community. In operation since 2011, the California-based company turns textile waste into dog coats, wallets, bags, and more. While most of their products are distributed by their partners, they sell a small selection of overruns and pilot products on their website.
Based in Missoula, Montana, this shop features arts and crafts from local Montana artisans. While the online shop has limited goods for sale, their brick-and-mortar store offers a wide range of products from apparel to jewelry to home goods. In business since early 2011, Upcycled is always looking to add new talent to increase its product offerings and give a voice to local artisans working with sustainable materials.
Established in 2008, this promotional products company prides itself on offering “sustainable swag.” Products range from clothing to jewelry, handbags, and beauty products. While not all items are created from upcycled materials, their business model is pretty terrific. They only use fair trade, organic, vegan, recycled, upcycled, and/or ethically sourced materials. So you can rest assured you’re buying something sustainable while doing some good.
More than an upcycle shop, this business is a great resource for new and seasoned upcyclers alike. Their website offers a range of ideas and tutorials for upcycling different materials and making unique items. How about a gumball fish tank? Or perhaps you’d like to upcycle an old pallet into a beautiful swing? Their online shop features products from artisans who create upcycled jewelry, bags, clocks, and more.
Whether you are new to upcycle shopping or a seasoned crafter, purchasing or making upcycled products is a good way to extend the life of materials that otherwise would go into the trash. Upcycle products are innovative, useful, and good for the environment. They also make great one-of-kind gifts for special occasions, or just “because.”
Feature image credit: thefamilymig, Pixabay. Originally published on May 10, 2016, this article was updated in November 2021.