You have most likely heard the word upcycling. It has become more and more a part of the Copious brand and ethos, and even though the word is now popular vernacular, it is not a new concept. Officially it was coined in 1994 by German engineer, Reiner Pliz. He felt that the word ‘recycling’ diminished the value of old or used products, so he suggested that new value must be added to these items, and coined the term upcycling, but anyone with a thrifty and crafty friend knows this is not when upcycling started.

My grandmother has upcycled items her whole life, within her family it was necessary because there was not enough money to go around. She continued these habits in her own family home to help save money, and even though her focus wasn’t about saving the environment, her generation was better at this than the generations that followed. She turned old sheets into cloth for my grandpa to varnish with, old towels became rags for cleaning, milk bags became “baggies” to freeze fresh fruit and vegetables, she saved the water she boiled potatoes in to use as stock for future soups. When she made clothes for my mom and aunt, she saved scrap fabric for future projects, be it quilts, or making doll clothes, she saved everything because she knew it had value.

upcycled basketball for palnt holder

Trends are cyclical, and upcycling has become trendy again, but we need to start looking past these things as “trends”, and more as a lifestyle and necessary choice we need to make as a society. With the rise of fast fashion in the early 2000’s my generation was set up to start consuming at a rate our parents and grandparents never had. We unwittingly started to buy inexpensive clothing that started to become throw away to us. We had trends and products pushed on us faster and faster, which has only been accelerated within all industries. This equation has sky rocketed the amount of "stuff" donated in the last two decades, leading us to our current situation, where there is more secondhand products than we know what to do with. As creatives it is our job to start looking at what already exists and put our creativity to the maximum test by repurposing discarded materials to create a product of higher quality.

making circular fashion essential

Our future is dependent on recognizing our power as consumers. Most of the products that are pushed on us are designed with planned obsolescence in mind, putting us in an endless cycle of buying new, poorly made products, to replace our old poorly made products from companies that have no recycling or upcycling plan for their damaged products. This is why my mantra before buying is; BUY LOCAL, BUY SECONDHAND, BUY LESS. With this mantra in mind we can start to avoid the endless traps and targeted ads of useless, deficiently made products and while upcycling isn't directly in this mantra, upcycling is ever present in most local companies and shopping secondhand is in and of itself an act of upcycling.

By BUYING LOCAL, you are supporting a business that is designing their products to last. We stand by our products and will fix, alter or replace any item that doesn't meet our standards of longevity. Local designers see their waste every day because we are our production team, upcycling becomes necessary because we care where our waste goes. Local businesses like With Nini, Goodfarken, Diana Coatsworth, Ardent EarthWyatt House & Roncy Packs are upcycling to create products with better designs than the original. Whether they work with secondhand materials or their own scrap fabric, they are a part of the solution by upcycling materials that are not biodegradable. 

canadian upcyclers
When we BUY SECONDHAND you can support local resellers who are selling curated thrifted items and some are upcycling the materials they find, or you can flex your creativity muscles and learn to upcycle secondhand pieces yourself! Buying secondhand is a form of upcycling, especially when you use this amazing resource as a way to give gifts. There are so many treasures just waiting to find someone who will love them as is, or find a way to bring them new life. Secondhand resellers like DG Vintage uses upcycling to give bedsheets new life as one-of-a-kind tote bags and upcyclers like A Refreshing Change sources secondhand jewelry boxes and refreshes them with paint, stenciling and relines them to be loved by a whole new generation.

BUY LESS. This is the one that is the hardest for me to write about, being a business that depends on your support of buying my designs, I never want to come across as hypocritical, but it is an important action we can implement in our lives. When I started seeing the cycle of myself buying big box store products that had no thought, care, or design integrity, then ultimately they didn't suit my needs and ended up being donated. It became clear to me that the only responsible way to shop was local, secondhand and the first option should be buying less.

Through my Candid Copious blog posts, I want to bring you on the journey I have gone through to become a more responsible consumer and business owner. I have always been a thrifter and upcycler and bringing these aspects into my brand just made sense to my aesthetic. Diving further into the secondhand world I see how many items are donated, whether stained, ripped, stretched, bought on a whim, or just not wanted anymore. Clothing, fabric and so many of the products donated are not garbage, they will not decompose. As consumers, we know supporting local is essential, but we also need to see how hard these businesses are working to create circular ecosystems. Whether through their initial design integrity or through upcycling materials that have been donated. You have the power to shop with creatives that are putting in the work to make products slowly. This year lets recognize how important it is to support makers who upcycle.

Check out my Canadian Upcyclers Guide to find more upcyclers to support. Plus check out my LIVE with Jenn from With Nini, we will dive deeper into what it is to be an upcycler, why it costs more and the BTS work. PLUS throughout the month of May I will be showcasing upcycling tips for you to do at home!

Written by Carissa McCaig

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