Upcycling: how is the market incorporating this trend?

Sustainability is no longer an option for companies. If in the past people saw the consumption of ecological products and services as a way to feel good and acquire status, today they are already ashamed to consume what does not carry this type of benefit. In this scenario, upcycling emerges as a process that brings


Sustainability is no longer an option for companies. If in the past people saw the consumption of ecological products and services as a way to feel good and acquire status, today they are already ashamed to consume what does not carry this type of benefit. In this scenario, upcycling emerges as a process that brings new possibilities for creation, innovation and delivery of value for brands in different segments.

Especially in fashion, it has become a trend that deserves to be well received. According to Sebrae, in Brazil alone, about 300 tons of scraps and leather shavings are generated daily. And, annually, about 170 thousand tons of textile waste are produced. Have you heard of this trend? Understand more about it in the text below!

What is upcycling?

It is a process that uses pre and post-consumption waste – for example, production leftovers and pieces of clothing that would be destined for landfills – as raw material for the creation of new products. But, unlike recycling, which reuses materials with reduced added value, upcycling reinserts products in the consumption cycle with the same relevance, whether due to exclusivity or the sustainable character of the pieces.

Upcycling is aligned with two behavioral trends: the search for products and services that make people proud of the brand and the search for alternative items, produced in limited editions – which is also one of the requirements of new consumers. After all, when we start from the waste we have at our disposal, we need to understand what the limits are brought by these materials and how to work creatively with them. And nothing more appropriate for 21st century designers, is it?

In an interview with the Fashionista portal, trend researcher Cecile Poignant says that, especially in fashion, the rise of upcycling not only contributes to sustainable consumption, but also to understanding clothes as art pieces, capable of dialoguing with culture and with our search for connection. And these types of pieces are produced in a few units, which brings them an exclusive character.

How does this process collaborate with the Circular Economy?

In the book “Cradle to Cradle”, the authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart propose the concept of circular economy, in which the life cycle of products would approach the biological cycle: materials are treated as nutrients, so that they can be continuously reused, without devaluation or contamination of the product.

By transforming waste into a new product, preserving its composition and adding value, upcycling proves to be a fundamental process for the circular economy, allowing designers and brands to continue offering attractive products to consumers, but in a more sustainable way. With this, companies innovate in their creation processes and still establish profitable partnerships.

Banco de Tecido (“Fabric Bank” in english), for example, allows designers to deposit and buy leftover fabric from garments and workshops. It has a kind of internal currency, so, when taking the scraps, the designers get credit to acquire new leftovers there. Brands such as Insecta Shoes, Re-Roupas, Karmen and Panaceia are some of those that already use this type of service for their collections.

And how to apply upcycling in a business strategy?

You can already see that upcycling is a great opportunity to innovate, win over the public with sustainable initiatives and reduce waste generation, right? But, to incorporate this trend in a new project, it is necessary to pay attention to some points:

  • identify, in your community, materials that can be reused, good factors to be observed are their composition and how to guarantee the quality of the product;
  • partner with companies to obtain materials that would be discarded by them. Thus, you can co-create and generate income in reverse logistics programs (an area specialized in the reuse or appropriate disposal of waste);
  • look for creative ways to innovate in product development, delivering attractive solutions to your audience. 

The Brazilian and international market are full of interesting examples of the use of waste in innovative projects: some brands have already incorporated these procedures, integrating them with other sustainable initiatives, such as partnerships with local producers, educational actions and encouraging the correct disposal of products.

Insecta Shoes, for example, turns used clothing into vegan shoes. For this, she reuses leftover fabric and used clothes in the upper of the shoes, as well as leftover textiles and old shoes to make the insole. The sole is made from recycled rubber and most of these materials come from local suppliers. To encourage customers to collaborate with Circular Economy, the brand gives a discount coupon to those who return the shoe when it no longer serves for use.

The Belgian children’s furniture brand ecoBirdy, created by designers Vanessa Yuan and Joris Vanbriel, took more than two years of research to propose an innovative upcycling process. In search of environmentally friendly materials for a new project, they found that most of the toys were discarded in landfills or oceans.

They then created furniture from toys collected in children’s schools, which are dismantled in local workshops and sent to a professional recycling center. There, the plastic is processed so that it does not lose its qualities and does not need dyes or resins.

And to help raise children’s awareness of the importance of sustainability and the Circular Economy, ecoBirdy has also developed a children’s book. In the story, a discarded toy takes on new life to brighten up the kids.

Upcycling, in line with the Circular Economy trend, is an interesting process for designers who want to innovate in their creative processes. After all, proposing sustainable solutions not only contributes to a better world, but also encourages us to work in partnerships, visualizing new forms of growth.

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