Creating treasure from waste
A look at three sustainable lifestyle brands that indicate the upcycling movement is steadily gaining traction in 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.