By Ger Tew & Andra Jenkin
What is The Re-Creators
The Re-Creators is an online upcycle collective working together in social media and on a sales website to sell upcycled, sustainable products. Our artists/ artisans are representative of our multicultural nation – Māori, Pākehā, migrants and former refugees. For artists, the purpose of the business is to market collectively, using one large recognisable brand, but to display the talents of each artist individually giving everyone a place and their unique voice to best show their products and art.
For many people, there are huge barriers to starting a business and maintaining it successfully. The Re-Creators will offer business mentoring, and practical advice on products and sales. More than that, I wanted to ensure connectivity, and provide feedback to help grow business.
Helping Artists Connect to the Market
I wanted to create an online platform that provided the bridge between creation and selling. The platform would have the ability to review sales through analytics. It would be incredibly useful to be able to feed this data back to the upcycle artists that I work with.
Given that each crafted item is different, artists would be more susceptible to feedback. They could adjust what they are making to meet consumer demand and therefore make more income. For example, for a person who can sew- the demand could be for toys instead of clothes or cushions. So, the artist could adjust what they do to fit the market demand. Some skilled people when confronted with a new market than their traditional one were not sure what to do. People had wanted their products before, but this was such a different marketplace. It was often hard for artists make something that would be appreciated.
Working with artisans to adjust what they make to meet demand. Butter Chicken Upcycling.
Becoming a part of a new culture can be daunting. For many refugees and migrants it is difficult to navigate new experiences, new technology, and new conventions. There are many whose talents remain hidden because they don’t know how to negotiate their new environment, and there are few opportunities to practise, so that they can gain mastery over new customs.
We use the example of Butter Chicken to explain to people new to our culture how traditional methods used in their place of origin can be embraced by the people in their new home, if it’s adjusted to the tastes and needs of many. Butter Chicken that you may buy at a takeaway in New Zealand is very different to the original. It’s been adapted for the western palate.
Upcycling is all about adaptation, turning something useful and viable into something new and innovative. By helping migrants and refugees to adapt their traditional skills to the marketplace they find themselves in, it is our aim to lead people to self-sufficiency and success.
As a collective, we can utilise the concept that many hands make light work. That all of us have a network of people we can reach out to. Together we can share our work, our art and our expertise. Being under the banner of one brand, and on one platform, means that many people can do the marketing work, it’s not everyone out for themselves overwhelmed because they’re trying to do the work of many, all alone.
Working in a Consumer Society Selling Stuff
Having spent most of my working life employed by the government, I have never considered myself to be a sales person. That is an understatement. I know that I delegate, and liaise with people, I network and negotiate, and try to get people to understand my vision.
I suppose I thought myself to be conducting services. However recently in government when I was working on establishing a programme, I needed additional funding. It was necessary to work internally to convince stakeholders that the service was required. It was then that it hit me; we are all sales people in one way or another.
You are a sales person if you are just selling an idea or notion. We ask people to invest in us every day. We ask for their time, their attention, their help, and their company. We use sales attributes to get more of what we want, and less of what we don’t, from when we first push away the broccoli and smile for the pudding as babies.
It’s important to be able to be convincing to your audience about your products and services, whether or not they are about commercial gain.
I started working in an upcycling business for several reasons. The idea finally came to me when working with someone from a refugee background who had a disability. The disability prevented my friend from being able to work full-time, from getting around, and learning English, or any new skills.
I could tell my friend was lonely and bored, staying at home every day and it killed me that this amazing talented person wasn’t able to navigate successfully in life, through no fault of their own.
It got me thinking about what they could do to earn a little extra money, integrate, connect with others, and keep busy. Crafting seemed the most obvious answer and when we discussed it, my friend was excited to give it a try. This led to community of people who were also doing the same thing. Connections were made.
But crafting for its own sake while a nice hobby, that might find you some friends, wasn’t exactly what was required. I wanted my friend to have what I did. The ability to interact with the world on an equal footing. To feel useful and of service and feel a sense of self-sufficiency.
Environmental issues were never far from my mind. Everywhere I looked there were articles, programmes and debates about climate change and the need for all humans to live sustainably. When I hit upon upcycling I realised how perfectly it fit.
Upcycling is environmentally friendly. Also in this case, in choosing to work with goods that had been pre-loved, what was created was not only environmentally friendly, it was also cheaper. Making sustainable products more attainable.
Why Upcycling as an Idea?
Upcycling can be done part-time or full-time. The skills required can start from very basic and run into the most complex, artistic and talented. This is invaluable for people who start off at home. The disabled, former refugees, people who have young children at home, and people who have not yet mastered their environment. Being able to work from a position of strength and safety, to incorporate work into the lives they are already leading, makes such a difference. In some cases, makes work possible at all.
Once people are set up, they can continue to grow in skills and knowledge, and that process is never ending. Upcycling is fun and creative and it provides meaning. It can help with mental health. It can sooth the soul. It can be a course of income. It has a purpose. So, for all these reasons, I thought this would be a great idea for helping people back into the workforce, or to earn extra income, or even to be creative, happy and make a contribution.
The Challenges in Selling Upcycled Goods
By their nature, the items are unique. Even if the differences are minimal, the items are not standardised. So while it is practical to have a basic design – the output will be different every time.
It’s not mass-production. It’s not possible, certainly not at this stage of the Upcycling business, to make vast amounts of similar products that can take advantage of economies of scale.
While these can be viewed as challenges, I don’t see them as problems. The concept of having something unique is a positive. By ensuring that the standard of the products is high, and let’s face it, the products are hand-made, custom built, bespoke designed work, crafted by people who are passionate and who are invested in the product and the process. They are going to be amazing, especially when compared with the alternative, outsourced mass-produced one-size fits none. Ours are quality items that you can’t buy anywhere else.
This also speaks to mass-production. While we can’t buy new in bulk to take advantage of volume, we can make use of materials that are not costly in the first place. By ensuring that we choose only materials that are of quality and have longevity, we are able to compete with the mass-produced stuff that won’t last as long.
The whole concept of upcycling is to make something beautiful and functional, something wanted and desirable from something that would otherwise be wasted. To do so with people whose talents would otherwise be wasted is an opportunity that I just couldn’t throw away.