Upcycled and uber cool

Sep 16, 2012, 08:32 IST | Dhvani Solani

Old saris made into fuddy-duddy bags. Safety pins as earrings. Newspapers hardened into papier-mache pen stands. Our aesthetics have often been mercilessly exploited in the name of upcycling. But a new generation of designers is coming out with upcycled products that put the sexy back into shopping for the environment. Dhvani Solani speaks to some of these eco-design warriors

The White Light
Ever since we stumbled upon The White Light on an e-commerce website, we have been drooling over their colourful flex umbrellas that will be enough to brighten up any grey day that the reckless skies might throw at you. And some more soup for the soul comes from knowing in the form of the knowledge that the umbrellas have been made by the differently-abled.

A flex umbrella. (inset) Purnima Gupta

They have given a new lease of life to flex banners that corporates tend to trash post one of their many conferences. “We like to think of The White Light’s products as a literal ray of hope in the lives of the intellectually-challenged and those with disabilities,” says Purnima Gupta, one half of the duo that founded the year-and-a-half old Delhi-based venture.

A differently-abled worker makes bags out of old newspaper

The White Light partners with NGOs, social organisations, micro and small-scale enterprises to convert their designs into utilitarian objects. Using a creative mix of upcycled, recycled and eco-friendly raw material, they conjure up the likes of notebooks (using waste cloth material and kite paper), a gorgeous sequinned cloth pouch, a multipurpose kit to store your toiletries or stationery (using discarded flex banners), crochet mats (made with natural fibre) and even a hair scrunchie (using woven audio/video cassette tapes).
Go green at: The White Light products on www.shopo.in.

Green the Gap
“The Inconvenient Truth (the film about global warming by Al Gore) has come to us today,” says Vimlendu Jha. “But our grandparents were always upcycling without anyone having to tell them to do it to save the planet.”

Hand-painted bottles

Jha, founder and executive director of NGO Swechha, set up Green the Gap to serve a two-fold purpose — to give new life to something declared as waste and make it sustainable, and to provide livelihood opportunities to those hailing from small towns and working under extreme conditions.

Bag made out of rice sacks

Their tailors work with Jha’s design inputs and have managed to churn out fun products like the Shindig purse (a bestseller made of rubber from old tyres), colourful bags made from rice sacks and sporting trippy designs, coasters made of waste rubber from tyres and fabric waste, and fun merchandise, including a hip flask, specially crafted for rock band Menwhopause.

“We also look at ethical fashion so that all our products have utility value, but are also easy on the planet,” says Jha, who has been working in the environmental sector for 12 years and sources the raw material from rag pickers or waste dealers.  Green the Gap, originally set up in Delhi, opened up a retail store in Bandra a couple of months ago. 
Go green at: Green the Gap Collective, Jewel Milan Apartments, opposite Toto’s Garage, Pali Naka, Bandra (W) or log on to http://www.greenthegap.com

This Jaipur-based workshop prefers portraying its design sensibility through the acronym of SIE: Sustainable, Innovative, Ethical. On their website, their products pop up as little bursts of colour made using aluminimum, acrylic, wood, tyre tubes, vinyl records, CDs, jute, cork, wood fibre, industrial felt, cables and wires. Phew!

Sisters Radhika and Madhvi Khaitan

The venture, founded a couple of years ago by two sisters who wanted to do something ‘quirky’ (hence the Q in their brand name), converts scratched and unusable vinyl records into clocks, colour pencils into coasters, placemats and pen stands, and salvaged wood into trays.

“When people think of upcycling, they think of wallets made out of Tetra packs or boring, jute products. We wanted to challenge this notion and bring about a design revolution in a market usually looked upon as utterly dull,” says Radhika Khaitan, who runs WorkshopQ with her sister, Madhvi. Dull, they certainly aren’t. 

Vinyl record clocks

WorkshopQ retails its products in Mumbai at SOBO (Hughes Road), Dhoop Crafts (Khar), Tappu ki Dukaan (Fort), Bliss (Andheri) and Apartment Therapy (CBD Belapur). Log on to www.workshopq.com for more details

The Fool
For all their Tarot inspirations, sisters Nida (25) and Huda (21) are no fools. The creative souls won our hearts when we spotted some wow-inducing products on their Facebook page — chandeliers made of spoons, planters made from auto parts and wine bottles, candle stands made by upcycling iron plumbing fittings, and a treasure box that found its way into one of those old-school irons that our dhobis still swear by.

Huda and Nida

The residence of the Bangalore-based Khan sisters doubles up as their workshop, and it’s here that the creative inspiration from everyday objects
arises. “Our meanderings sometimes take us to those parts of the city which have only men in a one-mile radius, and junkyards which are tucked away in gallis. It’s also difficult to buy salvaged wood since men think we are gullible, but it’s all worth it when our clients appreciate our products.

A bowl made out of a vinyl record

Once, we were still unpacking a saloon door at an exhibition where we were displaying, and it was sold to a passer-by who fell in love with it,” Nida tells us over the phone. After she studied architecture and her sister did a course in fashion designing, the duo started off by making lighting apparatus over weekends.

Bottle Lamp

They launched their range last November, crafting things round the clock to such an extent that they have often been labelled ‘anti-social’ by friends. Their brand name finds resonance in the often misunderstood Tarot card of The Fool that also stands for a freewheeling creative and adventurous streak. “All our products are handmade. It’s heartening to see men pick up our colourful wine bottles covered with embroidery thread. It breaks so many perceptions of what people would like, and how scrap can be gorgeous too.”
Go green at: The Fool’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/the.fool.bangalore) and call them directly to place an order. You can also log on to www.itshandmade.in or www.shopo.in to buy their products

What a Waste
Kiran Reigo is a teetotaler. Why does that matter? Because ironically enough, his workstation is crowded with wine bottles. Religiously brought there by bleary-eyed friends after a long night of partying, the bottles soon turn into lamps, sporting either some easy-on-the-eyes 3D paints, or get stuffed with fairy lights.

CD lamp

They then find their presence on Reigo’s neat website, alongside other handmade products made of stuff that would have otherwise met an ignominious end. We love the way Reigo’s imagination has made use of discarded CDs in the times of iPods and MP3 players — they become tissue holders and coasters, while the CD container finds some paisley design on it before turning into a lamp.

A vodka bottle becomes an oil dispenser while a discarded electrical socket turns into a pen holder. “It all started when I had accumulated a number of old CDs. I put two CD containers that have rods in it, facing each other, and stacked CDs on either side. Soon, I had dumbbells that I use for a little arm exercise when I am working on the computer for long.

Yellow fairy light in a wine bottle

They make for great paperweights too,” says the 33 year-old Gurgaon resident, who prefers to call himself a glorified kabadiwallah rather than a product designer. Reigo works with his mum to convert fanciful ideas into utilitarian products. “We all upcycle products without consciously knowing that that’s what we’re doing. Bournvita tins become sugar containers and Bisleri bottles are used to cool water in our fridge. But the idea is to make a conscious effort to use an old product more imaginatively.”

Go green at: www.whatawaste.com

Upcycle before you recycle
If you’ve ever used a coffee jar or a soup can as a pen stand, or an apron cut out of an old skirt, then you have upcycled a product. The main difference between upcycling and recycling is that upcycling makes something of equal or better value without downgrading the original material or creating more pollution during the process. To upcycle is to give something a makeover in a way that you do not have to physically break down a product which has lost its utility in its original form. Since upcycling does not typically require water and power, it is said to be more energy-efficient than recycling.

Shoe organiser made out of snack containers

Kiran Reigo from What a Waste, the Khan sisters from The Fool, and Radhika Khaitan from WorkshopQ give you tips on how you can be part of the upcycling revolution. Just look around for these everyday objects and make them cooler.
> Prop an egg tray under your laptop to use as a laptop cooler. Give it personality by painting it. You can also stick four sockets from an egg tray under the four corners of your laptop
> Clean an empty vodka bottle, fix it with a nozzle (the kind that bartenders use to pour out drinks) and use the bottle as an oil dispenser
> Paint old cassette covers and use them as visiting card holders
> Roll up a magazine, tie it tight, and keep it in your bag. This can come handy when you need a weapon for self-defence (we love this one!)
> Use old jars and bottles as planters. Paint them, bunch them together and hang them to make them look more fun
> Paint three old tyres in different colours, stack them and put a glass covering on top. Voila! You have a table ready for use
> Stack snack containers on top of each other, either in a pyramid or randomly, and use them as shoe organisers 

Go to top