Upcycling has grown up and is now a fully fledged movement, spearheaded by Irish woman, Lynn Haughton, who brings business brains to the evolving crusade, one that celebrates a return to a way of life that used to be commonplace until we all got too posh to repurpose.
Haughton studied interior design at Dún Laoghaire Senior College, but by the time she graduated the crash had happened, flooring her professional plans. Undaunted, she proffered her services to the rental agency, Home Locators, to do up tired and dated rentals and offer project management for landlords. This included, "everything from sourcing a new sofa, finding a home for the old sofa, to proper full-blown renovations" and is how she discovered her upcycling talents.
Haughton doesn’t believe in throwing anything out, a trait she inherited from her father, who made her a dolls’ house when she was a little girl. “I learned by osmosis,” she explains. To rehome landlords’ furnishings on Free Trade and Gumtree, she would update the pieces first, “to make them more appealing to buyers”.
Her partner in repurposing is Gwen Jeffares, who got her own hands-on experience working alongside her mother in their shop, The Fabric Gallery in Bray, Co Wicklow which closed two years ago. Her family always recycled, she explains. "My parents and grandparents are of the generation that never threw anything out. Everyone is very handy. My grandfather doesn't understand the upcycling concept because it's something he has done all his life. For him, it is and has always been a way of life."
This way of life now has a new lease of life. Thanks to Haughton and Jeffares, the Upcycle Movement has 20 Irish members, many of whom will be showing their skills and wares at The Big Upcycle Market taking place next weekend in the Stillorgan Park Hotel in south Co Dublin.
The campaign has also had upcyclers come together to form new businesses. One such partnership is Liz Lewis and Mike McCabe, who run The Refined Pallet, which makes original furniture from the wooden pallets used to transport goods. Mike McCabe was an unemployed carpenter. His business partner Lewis ran courses in upcycling, specialising in the use of découpage and chalky paint on furniture and accessories.
“With way too many people now doing that same sort of furniture upcycling, we wanted to develop an original idea,” she explains. The furniture is made from split pallets, which McCabe buys from a recycling company. It is beautifully finished and stands up to design scrutiny. Better still, says Lewis, “what was once considered waste is now a commodity.”
Is this evidence that upcycling is growing-up or coming of age? Deborah von Metzradt, a woman who started her career doing tambour beading for couturiers Ib Jorgensen, Pat Crowley, Thomas Wolfangel and Sharon Hoey, believes so. For her it is "the excitement of making something out of nothing" that drives her venture. She got her start in couture after placing an ad for her beaded bags in The Irish Times when she was in her early twenties. Ib Jorgensen saw it, called her up, sent her to the London College of Fashion to study beading and she worked for him until he closed his atelier.
Now in her fifties, she repurposes T-shirts that she buys in bulk from charity shops into gorgeous dresses for little girls. Each design contains up to 50 scraps and they can be bought from littlescrap.ie.
It is refreshing to see a design rather than a home-spun approach being taken by some of the movement's members. Chris Dermody is a product designer by trade, who makes bottle openers and cufflinks from old whiskey barrels on the side. His workspace stinks of whiskey when he's chopping up the barrels, he says, but as yet he has been unable to retain that aroma in the end products. This is something he's working on.
At the show, Haughton and the other members will be giving people a chance to try upcycling for themselves. There will a starter-stall where anyone interested in repurposing an item can test the waters, under the watchful eyes of experts. “This is to encourage new business and foster new design ideas,” she explains. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, everything at the show is also for sale – so you can buy into the trend without having to employ any elbow grease.
The term upcycling needs a rethink, says Haughton. “What we’re trying to do is make it more quirky. It is fascinating what people come up with.”
Is there a living to be made from it? “Not yet,” she admits, but she has lots of big ideas and is happy to be creating a community.
The Big Upcycle, Stillorgan Park Hotel, Co Dublin, Friday, August 23rd, 7-10.30pm; Saturday and Sunday, August 24th and 25th, 11am-6pm. Entry €3.