Cre­at­ing trea­sure from waste

A look at three sus­tain­able life­style brands that in­di­cate the up­cy­cling move­ment is steadily gain­ing trac­tion in Shang­hai

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -

my­self,” said Si­dorenko.

“I’ve no­ticed more of my friends ask­ing me to fix their clothes or make use of them to cre­ate a new product in­stead of buy­ing new items, and this has en­cour­aged me to con­tinue cham­pi­oning the mis­sion of UseDem,” she added.

With the help of some el­derly Chi­nese re­tirees, Si­dorenko cre­ated 150 back­packs in 2016 alone. All of her prod­ucts are sold at her on­line WeChat shop and Re­see, a shop in down­town Shang­hai that of­fers a se­lec­tion of up­cy­cled prod­ucts from a hand­ful of brands.

Wang Wei, the founder of Re­see, stocks almost 4,000 items from at least 300 brands in the 800-square-me­ter space which he said is a sym­bol of his be­lief in lead­ing a green, sus­tain­able life­style. Wang has also in­tro­duced a bi­cy­cle club in the space to up the hip fac­tor.

“The shop is about ap­pre­ci­at­ing the up­cy­cling move­ment and chan­nel­ing our fo­cus to reusing ma­te­ri­als we have ig­nored. I hope that cus­tomers who buy some­thing from my shop will use the prod­ucts for more than five years or longer and I be­lieve that all the prod­ucts I have cu­rated are well-de­signed and can re­main fash­ion­able through­out time,” said Wang.

An­other no­table up­cy­cling brand that can be found at Re­see is Fre­itag, which was founded in Switzer­land in 1993. In­spired by the heavy traf­fic that rum­bled through the road in­ter­sec­tion in front of their flat in Zurich, graphic de­signer broth­ers Markus and Daniel Fre­itag, the founders of the brand, trans­formed their liv­ing room into a work­shop to cre­ate mes­sen­ger bags with used truck tar­pau­lins, dis­carded bi­cy­cle in­ner tubes and car seat belts.

“As a brand fo­cused on up­cy­cling, we fo­cus on en­sur­ing the qual­ity and de­sign of our prod­ucts, which are made from col­or­ful truck tar­pau­lins with ir­reg­u­lar pat­terns and let­ters,” said Ben­jamin Thel­lier, Fre­itag’s brand rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Shang­hai.

Fre­itag’s range of more than 5,000 unique bags are cur­rently avail­able in 12 F-Stores as well as at over 450 re­sellers around the world. The brand also has an on­line store.

Fre­itag has more than 10 dis­trib­u­tors in China with Re­see be­ing the largest at the mo­ment. Thel­lier said that the brand is also try­ing to ride the sus­tain­abil­ity trend in the coun­try by ex­pand­ing to sec­ond- and third-tier ci­ties within the next two to three years.

“More Chi­nese con­sumers are be­com­ing aware of up­cy­cling and the need to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, so I think it is the right time for Fre­itag to in­tro­duce our prod­ucts to the China mar­ket,” said Thel­lier.

The Chi­nese govern­ment has in the past few years been ad­vo­cat­ing the sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment of the na­tion and has set sev­eral goals re­lated to this, in­clud­ing the one which in­volves hav­ing 5 mil­lion elec­tric ve­hi­cles on the na­tion’s roads by 2020.

Most re­cently in April this year, the govern­ment re­leased the China’s Po­si­tion Pa­per on the Im­ple­men­ta­tion of the 2030 Agenda for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment, which em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of devel­op­ing a cir­cu­lar econ­omy, cul­ti­vat­ing aware­ness of green con­sump­tion and pro­mot­ing the life­style of thrift.

But it is not just the for­eign­ers who have been keen to get a slice of the ac­tion. Chi­nese de­sign­ers too have been ea­ger to pro­mote the up­cy­cling move­ment. Nicole Teng, the founder of Brut Cake, is one such in­di­vid­ual.

The brand name might sound like a food busi­ness, but Brut Cake is ac­tu­ally all about cre­at­ing art us­ing things that oth­ers see as waste, a con­cept that Teng was so de­ter­mined to make a re­al­ity she de­cided to quit her lu­cra­tive job as a sales di­rec­tor in an ad­ver­tis­ing com­pany.

Teng ad­mit­ted that she is so pas­sion­ate about the cause that she hardly ever stops work­ing, say­ing that she is con­stantly on the look­out for dis­carded items when she is out on the streets dur­ing her free time.

“Through this brand, I want to let peo­ple know about the value of good crafts­man­ship and how long raw ma­te­ri­als can ac­tu­ally last,” said Teng, who moved to Shang­hai from Tai­wan six years ago.

“Also, I be­lieve that there is an old soul liv­ing in an­tique items which should be ex­plored and ex­pressed by a per­son with a unique vi­sion.”

Ac­cord­ing to Teng, Brut refers to the Art Brut move­ment that orig­i­nated in France and is an apt de­scrip­tion of the raw and es­sen­tial el­e­ments of the com­pany’s prod­ucts. Cake, she added, evokes im­ages of the sim­ple plea­sures and hap­pi­ness in life.

Most of the items sold at Brut Cake are made from re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als and they in­clude items such as hand­bags made from old fab­rics and fur­ni­ture built us­ing wood sal­vaged from dis­carded chairs and clos­ets. There are also a va­ri­ety of hand­made prod­ucts in­clud­ing ce­ram­ics and tex­tiles that show­case what good crafts­man­ship is.

For in­stance, the tex­tiles sold at Brut Cake are made us­ing nat­u­ral cot­ton fab­rics from south­east China that are at least 20 years old and have un­der­gone 72 com­plex pro­duc­tion pro­cesses.

Though most of the brand’s of­fer­ings are made us­ing re­cy­cled prod­ucts, they don’t ac­tu­ally come cheap. A chil­dren’s sofa that is re­cre­ated from a used sofa costs about 3,000 yuan ($432) while a hand­made ceramic vase is priced around 2,800 yuan. Teng said that her up­cy­cled prod­ucts are priced as such be­cause she deems them as uniquely de­signed, hand­crafted art­works that each has its own per­son­al­ity.

“We love sim­ple and im­per­fect cre­ations. Ev­ery piece of pot­tery art from Brut Cake comes with its own unique per­son­al­ity and im­per­fec­tions. A por­tion of unglazed clay brings the feel of soil and na­ture. The pres­ence of the artist’s fin­ger­print ex­presses her spirit,” said Teng.

Ear­lier this year in Oc­to­ber, Teng in­tro­duced a range of more af­ford­able hand­made ce­ram­ics such as plates and bowls priced from 60 to 100 yuan so that the brand is more ac­ces­si­ble to the masses.

Be­fore Brut Cake opened its first con­cept showroom, Teng sold the brand’s prod­ucts in more than 12 well-re­spected de­sign shops in Shang­hai. Brut Cake’s first store in the city was opened in De­cem­ber 2012, along Anfu Road, one of the city’s hippest lo­cales that is filled with bou­tique stores and cafes.

In Jan­uary 2017, Brut Cake’s in­au­gu­ral con­cept cafe will be opened at Yuyuan Road in the up­scale Jing’an dis­trict and nearly all the fur­nish­ings within, in­clud­ing its sofa chairs and cof­fee mugs, are made from re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als.

“Brut Cake is a brand of­fer­ing peo­ple liv­ing ne­ces­si­ties with unique de­signs. Our prod­ucts are tar­geted at con­sumers who seek to be dif­fer­ent,” said Teng.

“We will con­tinue to cham­pion the beauty of raw ma­te­ri­als and hope that more peo­ple can ap­pre­ci­ate the act of cre­ation, as well as the artist’s spirit, in each product from Brut Cake.”


Left: Xe­nia Si­dorenko, the founder of UseDem, has cre­ated 150 back­packs from old jeans this year. Right: Nicole Teng views her Brut Cake prod­ucts as works of art, in­stead of just reg­u­lar con­sumer goods.


The Re­see store sells around 4,000 prod­ucts from at least 300 brands, some of which are up­cy­cled la­bels like Fre­itag and UseDem.

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