We have searched for a way to have both style and sustainability, and we believe that we have found it in contemporary upcycling.
We love design, we love visuals and aesthetics. We like shopping and we even like shopping malls every now and then. Giving up on our love for style and personal expression is not an option. But neither is it an option to continue excessive consumption that is damaging the planet and even ourselves. We do not get happier by having more stuff - quite the contrary.
WHERE DO WE COME FROM?
Emmy arrived in Seoul, South Korea in 2010 to study sustainable development. Prepared for a culture clash, she learned that things were pretty much the same as in Stockholm. Same consumerism. When Emmy returned to Sweden she quit her job in a fast fashion store to work at Beyond Retro - a well-known vintage shop.
WHERE ARE WE GOING?
We have over a hundred products in our store, but are aiming for thousands. We believe that if we put all great design on one platform we will be able to reach more people, promote innovative designers and inspire upcycling. A world where everything is designed to be reused is our ideal destination.
Below follows an interview made with Emmy by Sophie Butchart conducted for her thesis.
What does Upcycling mean to you? How would you define the word?
Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality.
In the upcycling industry we often talk about two types of waste; post consumer waste and pre-consumer waste. Pre-Consumer waste is manufacturer waste that never made it to the consumer. Post-consumer waste is waste that’s been used by a consumer, disposed of and diverted from the landfills.
Do you ever use terms like DIY, salvage, reuse, downcycle, recycling to describe what you do? Or do they have different definitions to upcycling?
Some of the designers we have worked with hesitate to call their work upcycling, as upcycling has a rather strict definition. For this reason, we have chosen to use remade and not upcycled in our company name.
I do use salvage, reuse or recycling when I think it is better suited. I also like the word reloved, I think it works well.
I think it's really important to understand what upcycling is and what it is not. Unfortunately, we are generally really bad at it. As an example, a lamp made of 100 unused pencils or the like is too often, quite wrongly, labeled upcycling. But it has nothing to do with it!
What sets your upcycling website apart from other design websites or practices?
Upcyclista was formed and developed in Beijing, China. When I took over the role as the project manager I was a little hesitant because of what I had seen of the upcycling scene up until that point. Which was usually a type of greenish design that, quite frankly, did not reverberate with me at all. But above all I felt that this type of design would never convince the public at large to go all in upcycled. This was design for a small, already green crowd.
Instead, I gradually began to stumble over more and more, in my opinion, interesting products made of recycled materials. It required a lot of research at the time as the designers were rather few and scattered all over the world. But they had one thing in common, their products were stylish enough that anyone could have them at home. And even better, they were on trend unique and characteristic!
I began to understand that I was not alone in wanting to combine durability with stylish design. I simply belonged to a growing group of consumers who are sometimes referred to as Aspirational Consumers. Common to Aspirational Consumers is that they are environmentally conscious and, more or less, materialistic.
Remade By is a spin-off from Upcyclista. It is an online store for this kind of design and with aspirational consumers as the target audience.
Do you think upcycling is a trend? How important is social media for promoting upcycling?
Upcycling and social media are a match made in heaven! Upcycling is content that is inventive, visually appealing, visionary, a little rebellious and environmentally conscious! Highly likable and shareable content to put it simply. Upcycling being compatible with social media is definitely a contributing factor to its rising popularity.
I think upcycling is a trend that is establishing itself as commonplace. The concept will in all likelihood remain, but perhaps one will not always call it upcycling.
Who is your main target market?
As I mentioned earlier, our primary target group are aspirational consumers. What they have in common is a willingness to contribute to sustainable development, without compromising on style.
Elon Musk said that he doesn't see the Tesla customer buying the car because it is an environmentally friendlier car, but because it is the best car in all categories. I like to think about our products like that too. In general, I think greener products have been marketed towards the wrong audience. Why on earth is the H&M conscious collection so extremely boring? But I think that is about to change, and I think it’ll change fast.
What’s the philosophy, the story behind your work and business?
We want to inspire people to purchase upcycled design by presenting a wide range of carefully selected contemporary upcycling in our online store. Our vision is upcycled design as an obvious option when a new purchase is to be made. In the future, we will see that all products are designed to be reused.
Our products are attractive because it is a professional modern design that also is quite unique and characteristic. A personal element to your home, office or outfit.
We have known for a long time that excessive consumption is damaging our planet, but I think we also begun to understand that it is hurting ourselves. We simply do not get happier by having more stuff, actually, it is quite the opposite. However, the desire for personal expression and appreciation of what is visually beautiful probably will always exist. What is needed is more balanced and waste free consumption. I agree with Vivienne Westwood here, 'buy less, choose well'.
Do you have any examples of bad upcycling, or do you believe that all upcycling is good upcycling? How can you ensure your designs will not end up in landfill?
Very good and interesting questions. It's about time we started to discuss this.
Much upcycling is made of a material that should not even exist. It must be the goal to deplete all that toxic material. All products must be designed with a future life in mind. That is, to be reused over and over again. And finally, return as a nutrient to the soil. That is our vision. Most upcycling today is extending the life just a little bit, and then the product ends up in landfill. It is a step in the right direction, but upcycling as it is mostly practiced today is only a transition into something even better. Upcycling is maybe most important as a mind shifter in my opinion.