Upcycling – it’s super cool, and (can be) super $profitable$

What is upcycling? In a past blog post, Entrepreneur.com described it as “a sexier, even greener version of recycling”. Hot.

Basically, when something is recycled, it is broken down and turn into something else, presumably of a lower quality. This process requires energy thereby consuming in order to create. In contrast, upcycling adds value to a discarded item by transforming or reinventing it into something of higher quality.

In addition to being desireable items, upcycled products offer consumers the value of feeling socially conscious and good for the environment and/or local community. In fact, from January 2010 – January 2011, the number of products tagged “upcycled”  on Etsy jumped from 7,900 to 30,000 – an increase of over 200%. This has inspired many larger, corporate brands to try their hand at upcycling – for example, designer label Hermes is repurposing leftover scraps from their signature scarves and Birkin bags for a home furnishings and accessories line dubbed “petit h.”

Other smaller craft and arts business are also embracing upcycling and reaping profitable results. Below are a few of the most interesting models:

Hammer & Hand Home Builders and Remodeling Contractors: In addition to offering a wide variety of craft home building, repair, and remodeling services, Hammer & Home sells elegant modular furniture pieces made from upcycled materials, including old school bleachers, reclaimed barn wood, salvaged steel, and railroad plates.  Company President and CoFounder Sam Hagerman claims that creating this new service and revenue stream saved the jobs of 40 people during the recession. (http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/219310#) As he explained, “We got creative by necessity, but we changed our business because it also makes financial sense.”

Hatch Workshop: Located in Austin, TX, this custom furniture shop has started working with local homeowners and building companies to salvage wood that would be otherwise require alot of energy and money to be picked up and turned into mulch. Hatch picks up the wood, dries and cuts it, and uses it to make beautifully unique furniture pieces. You can watch a video about their upcycling process here.

NYC Garbage Project: The NYC Garbage Project was created by NYC artist Justin Gignac after a co-worker challenged the importance of package design. To prove him wrong, Gignac set out to find something that no one would ever buy, and package it to sell. Twelve years later, over 1,400 plastic cubes filled with carefully curate NYC garbage have been sold and now reside in 30 countries around the world. In addition to run of the mill street garbage, Gignac also creates commemorative cubes of trash salvaged from special events, including Obama’s inauguration, the Final Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, and the first day gay marriage was legal in NYC. You can even commission him to collect trash from your own event and create a series of boxes, or a custom furniture item. Ranging from $50 – $100 a box, Gignac has already made over $70,000 by simply putting trash into clear plastic cubes. Not too shabby.