Upcyle: “to process (used goods or waste material) so as to produce something that is often better than the original”
Upcycling is a term that was born in the mid-1990s and has grown increasingly popular in recent years. It means that you take a product and re-use it in a way that retains or even improves the quality of the item. As someone with a DIY business, it is smart to make the choice to upcycle materials because it’s good for your business image and good for the earth around you.
Here are the top ten reasons to use upcycled materials in your handmade business:
1. It’s greener than recycling. If you are concerned about being green with your business, as many of us are today, then you probably already recycle materials in your home office. That’s great but it’s even better to upcycle. Whereas recycling often means the downgrading of the quality of a material, upcycling retains the material’s quality, often with less waste than when you recycle. For example, when you recycle aluminum cans, the cans go through an industrial process of being stripped, shredded, crushed, burned, melted and re-shaped into new cans that are generally of a slightly lower quality than the original can. In contrast, if you upcycle the can into things like pop tab accessories and greeting card embellishments then you’ve got a better-than-original item that didn’t require extensive processing to recycle.
2. Upcycling stirs up your creative spirit. Once you start to upcycle, you begin to see the potential re-use for everything that you come into contact with. So, for example, Etsy’s dekoprojects designer looks at a button that’s fallen off of an old jacket or a plastic bottle that someone’s about to throw in the trash or an old pair of blue jeans that don’t fit anymore and doesn’t see those things but instead sees brand new cutting-edge jewelry. It feels good to see possibility in used things.
3. You throw away less stuff. As a small business owner or solopreneur it can feel really painful to see things go to waste. This is especially true when you’ve made a production or design mistake that causes the waste. If you are able to upcycle to throw away less and less then you won’t have to wrestle with those negative feelings.
4. It decreases your bottom line. Any small business has to think about profits. One way to increase profits is to reduce the amount that you spend on materials. If you can source good used materials (which can often even be found for free) and find an inexpensive way to upcycle them into high-quality products then you increase your profit margin.
5. Upcycling allows you to practice your skills with new materials. For example, many crocheters have jumped on the trend of upcycling plastic bags into “plarn” and then crocheting with that material. It requires a little bit of work to adjust to the different material since it drapes and works differently than regular yarn. By working with plarn, a crocheter can improve his or her craft skills, which is a benefit to the crafter regardless of whether or not she decides to use plarn in her business in the long run.
6. You can add a new personal touch to your products. The great thing about upcycling is that it can be used to make anything. That means that even if you don’t choose to use it in making your main products, you may choose to upcycle to make new shipping boxes, wrapping paper, business cards and other materials. This can lend new energy to your brand and make your shipments more personal for your customers. Working hard to make sure that your upcycled additions fit with your brand can even help you develop your brand more cohesively in your own mind.
7. You celebrate history in each of your creations. Maya Donenfeld, author of Reinvention: Sewing with Rescued Materials, said recently that one of the reasons that she recycles (or really rather upcycles) is because it “incorporates history and soul into stitching” and because “using items that already have a story creates a connection between the past and present”. Think of the traditional quilt, a new item that is made with pieces of fabric from many old items. A quilt that includes a first baby onesie, a piece of a wedding dress, and a special school outfit is a special quilt indeed. Each time that you upcycle an old item into a new one you have the opportunity to bring the story of the object along for the ride.
8. You’ll attract a new customer base. Let’s face it; upcycling is trendy. An article last year at Entrepreneur noted that “the number of products on Etsy tagged with the word “upcycled” rocketed up from about 7,900 in January 2010 to nearly 30,000 a year later–an increase of 275 percent.” The number has since grown even more. By incorporating a genuine use of upcycled materials into your small business you will be able to attract the market of people interested in supporting this trend with their money. You’ll also be able to appeal to a wider market interested in the “green” trend in general.
9. You can get attention by sharing what you’ve done. You can further gain attention for your business by telling others exactly what you’ve done to upcycle old materials into new ones. Just write up a great tutorial and share it on your blog or as a guest post on another blog. You’ll be offering free advice to others that can serve as great marketing for your business.
10. You can feel good about yourself. Many people take pride in being as green as possible with their crafts. Other people take pride in the ability to take an item and turn it from something boring into something edgy and new. The actions you take to upcycle items and the products that result can be a great source of pride for you as a crafter. If you’re proud of your work, you’ll want to share it more and that means good things for your business.
This is a post by Kathryn Vercillo, author of the blog Crochet Concupiscence.