Upcycle is a term used to describe anything that is reused or repurposed from old things. Rather than recycling, which refers to the breakdown of a product to its original raw materials, upcycling transforms a product from its original use to something that will provide better use and give greater benefit to the owner, 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 quite difficult. Possessing a vision and advanced crafting skills are ingredients that can certainly help transform an item from old to new, but the path from point A to point B can be unpredictable, labor-intensive, and quite an expensive experience.
Setting up an upcycle business as a lone proprietor in a niche type market may also be short-lived. Unless the upcycler is in a business that uses more versatile items like paper products, or tee shirts, or jewelry, access to raw inventory material may be limited. Additionally, if there restrictions on the crafter’s time and ability to quickly turn around an upcycled product – most upcycled products are handmade and one-of-a-kind pieces – the combination could result in low inventory for sale, or new goods being too expensive, or both.
Some crafters have found creative ways to combat these risks and stay in business longer. One is to join forces with other artisans in different markets behind one storefront. This allows upcyclers to present a greater array of products to consumers without having to compete directly with one another. Another solution is to become part of a larger corporation that has the expertise to help market and drive sales to these products. The downside to this is it cuts into profits for upcyclers. A small percentage of the sale price needs to be paid to the company as a form of ‘finders fee”. A third scenario is to leave the brick-and-mortar concept behind altogether and go completely online decreasing overhead costs to just labor and material.
Upcycle shops on the up and up
These upcycle shops are either creating or selling some amazing things:
Looptworks – This Portland, Oregon, online store’s mission is to rescue leftover material from other vendors and use them in the creation of their products. Once products are designed, they make sure they are crafted in factories with 100% fair labor standards. And the end product is limited edition, hand-numbered merchandise. Looptworks specializes in bags and apparel geared towards travel-minded consumers.
Sword and Plough
Sword and Plough – This company, which recently celebrated its third birthday, uses old military uniforms and turns them into all types of bags – from handbags to messenger bags to tote bags. In addition to their using patriotic raw goods, Sword and Plough also employs veterans and donates 10% of its profits to veteran organizations.
Upcycle it Now
Upcycle it Now – This mother-daughter company is driven through a three-pronged mission, give materials a second life; create useful and beautiful goods while promoting local jobs. This California-based company, in operation since 2011, uses textiles that they wash and sanitize before turning them into dog coats, wallets, and bags. Check out their hand-painted lunch totes.
Upcycled – This shop, based in Missoula, Montana, houses arts and crafts from about 20 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 base and give a voice to local artisans working with sustainable materials.
EcoPlum – EcoPlum is a myriad of all things sustainable. Established in 2008, this forward-thinking business has a wide array of products from clothing to jewelry and from handbags to beauty products. While not all products 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.
Whether you are new to upcycle shopping or a seasoned DIY crafter, purchasing or making upcycled products are a good way to reuse or recycle materials that otherwise would go into the trash and end up in our landfills. Upcycle products are innovative, useful, and good for the environment. They also make for great one-of-kind gifts either for you or to give to others on special occasions.
Feature image credit: ira / Shutterstock