Read full contest rules and submit your designs on the Upcycling Design Challenge website.
This month we have the pleasure of hosting our fourth design event, How To Make It: Implementing Green Practices in Your Designs, at which Tiffany Threadgould will speak on our panel. Tiffany is the Chief Design Junkie at TerraCycle, a long time vendor of UncommonGoods with a penchant for turning trash into treasure. Now operating in 20 countries across the globe, Terracycle offers recycling services to large companies and creative products for consumers, like our Upcycled Mail Sack iPad Case. Tiffany leads the team of designers who are tasked with taking an unwanted product or package and creating a piece that will impress.
We were unable to take train ride across the river to Trenton, New Jersey to visit the TerraCycle headquarters first hand but Tiffany was willing to share her studio with us. Enjoy!
What are your most essential tools?
The industrial sewing machine and heat press machine are two machines we can’t live without. Just about any solution from flexible waste can be solved with one or both of those machines.
Where do you find inspiration within your space?
Inspiration often starts with the material itself. We work with a lot of waste that has logos and branding on it so we’re always tying the original purpose of the material back into the finished product. Colgate toothpaste tubes can be transformed into a travel kit. Baby food pouches become a diaper bag or bib. Toothpaste tubes and food pouches are surprisingly easy to sew.
Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
There’s not a lot of down time in the office. If we don’t have urgent sample requests for our brand partners, then we’ll refocus on new, upcycled décor for the office. [Decorating with repurposed materials] is not only an inexpensive way to refurnish our office, but is also the best sales tool to demonstrate our commitment to what we do. An old bowling alley was turned into a conference table, soda bottles and vinyl records became room dividers. Nothing is waste to us. It’s all material for our next project.
What was the toughest lesson you learned as a designer?
Measure twice, cut once.
What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Try to get the word “NO” out of your vocabulary. I’ve worked at TerraCycle for over 4 years and it really has taught me to push the upcycled envelope on waste materials. Prior to working here I was always choosier about the materials I worked with. At TerraCycle there is a need to find a solution to everything that comes our way – yogurt lids, cigarette butts, you name it. My job is to make sure we find an upcycled product for any material that comes to us.
How do you set goals for yourself?
Goals come directly from our project assignments. We hit a goal whenever we finish a big project like an office makeover; complete a challenging project for a brand partner, or creating a new product line for our awesome retail partners like UncommonGoods.
How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Our CEO, Tom Szaky, started a tradition of “gong hits”. We have an actual gong in the office and whenever something major is accomplished you actually ring the gong and then send an email to the company. TerraCycle is in over 20 countries now, so we can share good news and positive energy with our distant offices this way.
What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Traditional crafts techniques can always be applied to new waste materials. I recently learned to braid with bread bags and food wrappers and that was a fun “twist” on an old technique.
What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
This quote came to me from Daniel Freitag when I was working on my graduate thesis titled Trash Nouveau – “Waste is a natural resource in the wrong place. Change the context and you have usable products.”
How do you recharge your creativity?
Caffeine is always the perfect tool to help recharge.
Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I work with an amazing design team at TerraCycle. We all bring different skills and talents to the table (a table made from upcycled wine barrels and doors, of course). We do a great job of blending our backgrounds of Industrial Design, Textiles, Architecture, and more to create unique design solutions for recycled materials. Hurray for upcycling!
Our friends at Green 3, Jim and Sandy Martin, have helped us add some fantastic uncommon goods to our assortment. From adorable babywear like the gnome babysuit and hat and matching blanket, to the perfect-for-a-breezy-spring-day reclaimed t-shirt scarves, to the summer-friendly update on the popular recycled sweater skirt, the recycled bridesmaid dress skirt, the Martins know eco-friendly fashion.
Jim works closely with our product development team to create unique clothing and accessories exclusive to UncommonGoods, like the bridesmaid dress skirt and the comfy, casual recycled dress shirt robe. We love that these products come from recycled materials, and many are even created with the help of organizations working with disabled adults.
“My wife Sandy started the company,” he told us. “She grew up on a farm in Michigan and saw firsthand the negative implications on the farmer’s health when they are exposed to chemical pesticides on a daily basis. She felt strongly that her company would focus on sustainable fibers that caused the least damage possible to the environment.”
Causing less damage to the environment means using organic cotton, like that in Green 3’s babysuits, and reusing materials when possible.
Sometimes those materials, like the sweaters used to make recycled sweater scarves, come from thrift stores. Others are leftovers from apparel manufacturers. “We actually look at what types of fabrics are available to us, and then design into the fabric,” Jim explained. “Certain fabrics lend themselves to specific applications and steer us into new product categories.”
Once the fabric is in hand each piece is inspected individually to insure it meets aesthetic and quality standards. Thrift store items are washed before being deconstructed and prepared for cutting and sewing, so even though the garment created may be made from secondhand materials, it’s as good as new.
The processes of selecting, inspecting, and preparing fabrics and creating the final products are all done in the United States. “Sandy and I had both been in the corporate apparel industry for over 20 years. During that time we watched a steady flow of jobs going overseas,” said Jim. “We just felt strongly that we could do it here and bring a few jobs back. What we’re finding is that we’re not the only ones that feel this way. More and more like minded companies are partnering, and quickly it is becoming more than just a few jobs. In our community alone we employ 20 people. But our network of partners employs thousands.”
One partner helping Green three create handmade upcycled products for uncommon goods is Aspiro, a non-profit organization offering job training and career options to cognitively disabled adults in Green Bay, Wisc. “We contacted Aspiro after learning of them through a news report,” Jim said. “Their facility has been doing cut and sew work for years and they have a highly skilled labor force. When we toured the facility and saw the pride and passion of the workers, and how this opportunity for independence positively impacted their lives, we knew wanted to support the initiative any way we could.”
By partnering with Green 3 and other apparel manufactures, the skilled sewers at Aspiro earn fair wages and are given opportunities for independent living.
Thanks to these dedicated workers, secondhand and leftover fabrics, and the imaginations of Jim, Sandy, and the talented designers at Green 3, we’re always seeing updated products and trendy upcycled fashions. Which Green 3 design do you love most?
This new sari handbag was brought into our assortment with the feedback and support of 558 customers.
Indian women have worn saris, beautiful, often embellished sheets of fabric, for hundreds of years. The traditional garment can be worn in many ways, but every sari, no matter how lovely, will eventually be draped a final time.
Fortunately, the gorgeous fabrics don’t have to go to waste when the sari no longer serves its traditional purpose. Artisans in India wash and repair the cottons, rayon, and silks from secondhand saris, then transform them into fashionable, functional handbags.
The one-of-a-kind creations are handmade by skilled craftswomen who are given a fair wage, allowing them to earn a living while staying in their villages near family instead of having to travel to bigger cities.
After the fabric is cleaned, the craftswomen cut it into vibrant strips and organize it to ensure that each bag expresses rich color combinations, from bright jewel tones to deep earth tones. Since saris are often patterned, sometimes quite elaborately, each bag also features interesting details within individual fabric strips.
The artisans hand-sew the fabric strips to the white cotton lining, creating the light, ruffled look of the bag. To add to the functionality of the piece, a wooden toggle and a fabric cord are both attached for fastening.
The finished product caught our attention, but this product story really pulled us in and we couldn’t wait to share it with our community. We were thrilled to find that our community voting app users stood behind the product, too.
“I think this is a beautiful bag and the cost is very reasonable,” Michelle told us via the voting app. “I plan on buying it and knowing that each bag is different make it even better! I will not see this bag coming and going.”
Nataly drew on her own experiences to add her feedback. “Reminds me of my travels in India, how I always noticed that no matter how remote the location and how outdoor the environment, they keep their Saris SOOO vibrant and beautiful,” she wrote. “Every where you look–bold statement making colors.”
We love seeing such enthusiastic support for our potential products and we’re pleased that this fair trade, handmade, upcycled bag is now an uncommon good!
ETA October 10, 2011: Congratulations to our Fall Giveaway winner, Joanna Z!
Joanna said, “I love the smell of ripe apples on the trees, the crisp, cool mornings, and pumpkins showing up at every grocery store, every produce stand, and on just about every front porch.”
Thanks to all who entered for your fabulous fall stories!
Colorful leaves, warm beverages, new fashion, and Halloween. What’s not to love about fall? To celebrate our admiration for autumn, we’re giving away some of our favorite fall goods! Read on to find out how you can win.
Vawn and Mike Gray aren’t novices when it comes to creating kiln-formed glass art. In fact, they developed their own process to turn old glass bottles into fused-glass masterpieces using an energy efficient, computer-controlled oven.
We love Vawn and Mike’s recycled glass nightlights. Their Recycled Pelican Nightlight and Recycled Sandpiper Night Light are so popular, we added another bird to the lineup, just in time for fall!
It’s still warm here in Brooklyn, but it is almost October. We’re going to have to face the fact that it’s fall, and winter’s right around the corner.
With the frosty season on the way, parents out there are likely dreading having to bundle up their little ones in over-sized hats, itchy scarves, and probably-going-to-get-lost-anyway mittens. Fortunately, we have some great new winter wear for kids that’s comfy, cute, and so fun your little munchkins won’t want to leave it behind!
Pam said: “very cool look… love the concept and the protective lining… especially LOVE the machine wash part!”
Jen said: “Of course you can find less expensive bags out there, but if your less expensive bags are anything like the ones I’ve purchased, they wear out pretty quickly. Mail bags are known for lasting for ages. I think this is an awesome bag!”
These sturdy bags are handmade from actual repurposed mail sacks. Would you rather carry the iPad Case, the Tote or both? You don’t have to send us a letter to let us know–just stop by our community voting app, cast your votes and leave your comments.
Ever wanted to own a classic car? We sure have, so we set out to find a way to give you a piece of the most iconic classic cars, without having to break your bank. Here’s the story behind our vintage Mustang and Thunderbird key rings.