What if you could turn your favourite shirt into buttons for your new one? Or instead of throwing out those old Crocs and water bottles, use them to grow plants? Better still, reuse those jam jars to serve milkshakes; or just give them a more creative spin and turn them into aesthetic chandeliers. Upcycling, or giving new life to what would otherwise be considered as waste, has been catching on in a big way, be it due to awareness of the burgeoning problem of dealing with consumer waste or simply to keep intact the sentiments attached to an old product.
Take a look at drains clogged with plastic and beaches and streets inundated with garbage after the recent spell of rains — reason enough to begin cutting down on waste and think of constructive ways to re-use them. From stores in the city stocking up on upcycled goods to even A-list designers taking to the trend, it looks like it is here to stay. Come to think of it, it’s not such an alien concept, given that back in the day, our mothers or grandmothers used to find a way to reuse that old sari by turning it into a dress or quilt. This time, it’s making an appearance with a more creative twist.
Step into Goli Soda at Besant Nagar for instance, and you will be taken in by the variety of upcycled goods on offer. From earrings and neck pieces made from old fabric and PET bottles, bags and purses made from Tetra packs, rice bags and vinyl prints, fridge magnets from discarded bottle caps to footwear made from rubber tyres and candle holders made from CDs, the options are endless.
(Goli Soda is one of the stores in Chennai stocking upcycled products. Photo: R. Ragu)
“A lot of youngsters are into upcycling now. There are a few reservations about the concept, as it is still relatively new in the city. What is encouraging is the gradual shift from the use-and-throw mentality that we’ve had over the last few years,” says Sruti Harihara Subramanian, owner of the store, adding that they have tied up with over 50 designers from across the country to procure upcycled products. “The one thing we do focus on is quality. A lot is passed off as upcycled stuff, but the key is to retain quality in terms of design as well as materials being used.”
Even Devi Chand, an NIFT graduate and founder of PaperMelon accessories, finds a way to craft tasteful jewellery made from paper and cardboard. And no, it isn’t just any flimsy earrings or neckpieces fashioned out of newspaper; it’s the kind that finds a clientele even in the US. “I began using upcycled material to make jewellery as part of a project during my NIFT days. But the process soon had me hooked, and when I decided to set up my business, I followed the same path. Initially, I used a variety of materials, but soon stuck to fashioning earrings, neck pieces, bracelets and finger rings, all made of paper and cardboard,” says Devi.
(Photo: PaperMelon accessories)
Some designers take this creativity a notch higher and even make furniture out of used glass bottles, and lamp shades made by piecing together broken glass. Brands like Levi’s and Nike have also switched to sustainable fashion, with jeans and workout pants being made out of plastic bottles with taglines proudly proclaiming “These jeans are made from garbage.” And wearers don’t find any difference whatsoever.
A-list designers like Amit Aggarwal, Paromita Banerjee and Abraham & Thakore, too, have designed lines using old fabrics, replete with the kantha stitch. “We were studying old kantha and sujani fabrics from Bihar and Bengal, which inspired this concept for our collection. Often, original kantha fabrics were always made from old discarded saris, which demonstrates a traditional and very ingenious form of recycling which developed a sophisticated design language still practised today,” says David Abraham of the line he and Rakesh Thakore showcased earlier this year, titled ‘Old New’. Made using factory cut-offs, fabric sourced from wholesale markets, cola can tabs and sequins fashioned out of discarded x-rays, this was their first upcycled line. “We were excited by the results of this exercise and we are already working on new concepts and collections related to this,” he says.
While there is a genuine interest in the market for upcycled products these days, the trend still has a long way to go. But the designer cautions, “If one is serious about upcycling, it is important that one research the product history.”