Donna Fenn, founder of the UK's first dedicated upcycling website Remade in Britain explains the growing upcycling movement
In an age when people are becoming more concerned with their eco footprint and amidst a background of an increasingly throwaway culture, the trend of upcycling is ever-growing in popularity.
The term was established in Germany in the early nineties and refers to the reusing of unwanted products or materials into items of higher quality and value. We are seeing a growing trend in upcycling not only in craft circles, but now on the high street, in fashion stores and increasingly in new restaurants and shops looking for a particularly urban or distressed and unique image.
People are becoming more aware of the history and provenance of the products they buy and striving to reduce their eco footprint, minimising the impact their lifestyle products have on the environment. Upcycled items are eco-friendly and put old products to a new use, helping to reduce the estimated 177million tons of waste England produces a year. This is increasingly important market considering the UK is only just inside the top ten countries in Europe for the amount of waste it recycles.
Some two million tonnes of clothing and textiles and 13 million items of furniture are thrown away each year, with only 23 per cent reused. This is a huge amount of items being discarded and is a problem that we are finally waking up to. The popularity of sites like Etsy, Artfire and Not on the High Street underline how people are beginning to look for unique, handmade items rather than mass-produced products – encouragingly a step in the right direction.
During the recession, the trend of people getting creative to save money saw The Great British Bake Off, The Great British Sewing Bee and Kirstie Allsopp's Fill Your House for Free become increasingly popular as consumers looked for low-cost entertainment and a return to the 'make do and mend' tradition of the Second World War – realising that many products you can buy in the shops can actually be made at home much cheaper, and you learn a skill in the process. The rise in shabby chic and vintage furniture and interiors has seen a surge in consumers refashioning old products into something on-trend and filling their homes with more upcycled items.
Shops reported a rise in baking products, knitting and sewing equipment, with John Lewis seeing a 180 per cent increase in sales of sewing tools following the first programme of the Great British Sewing Bee in 2013.
The trend then developed online, with blogs and guides showing people how easy it is to teach themselves a new skill, whether it be sewing, painting or creating your own furniture. The growing upcycling online community offers a place for designers and creators to get together to discuss new skills and methods and to show off their products, as well as providing opportunities for upcyclers to swap resources.
A good example of this is Dawn Taylor from York-based retailer PurePallets, who began creating furniture from pallets after designing a wine rack for a friend's kitchen. Despite having no woodwork experience, Dawn began experimenting with different designs and this year took a career break from her job to focus on her growing business. She now upcycles pallets every day to create all types of furniture, from coat racks to mirrors, candle holders and recipe stands.
Upcycled products are incredibly creative and are always unique, one-off pieces, as well as going some way towards reducing waste. Some of the items we see from the upcycled community are incredible – from baby grand pianos turned into bookcases to more simple empty wine bottles turned into decorative lighting. It's amazing what people can do and how upcyclers can see one product with potential to be a variety of different things. As the trend continues to grow, develop and become more mainstream, I'm so excited to see where it will go next.