For the Greater Good – Upcycling products for social and environmental benefits – a business case for DIY Toy Sewing Kits.
“I have a dream – that upcycling will be mainstream.”
Making upcycling mainstream
Imagine walking into a large mainstream retail outlet like K-Mart, The Warehouse, Farmers or Harvey Norman and finding yourself looking at their new sustainable range of upcycled furniture, homewares and crafts. Wouldn’t it be just wonderful to see upcycled items selling for the same price as the poorly made unsustainable items - and that price represented the true cost of revival? Imagine also if these products were locally and ethically made. That’s my dream.
The realists (or maybe sceptics) may ask – is it scalable? Do these locally made products meet Health & Safety requirements, and what are the logistics of getting them to all our stores? What about other standards and regulations?
Certainly, the furniture side of things presents some logistical challenges at the beginning but not in the long term, if retailers get used to their new product supply chain. Personally, I’m open to a challenge like that if someone was willing to put their money where their mouth is. But let’s start with an easy first product, our DIY Toy Sewing Kits.
DIY Toy Sewing Kits
The DIY Toy Sewing Kit is an ideal plastic-free gift for kids and in addition, it allows the receiver to develop sewing skills. The kits consist of pre-cut templates of the toy material, attachments, stuffing, decorations, needles, pins and an instruction sheet. The materials included would be either new, discarded from fabric factories (it’s amazing how much new stuff is thrown into landfill) or reused, from an op shop (all washed and sanitised). Both options would be available to the customer. Sound good? Would you buy it?
An opportunity for our vulnerable groups in society
The DIY Toy Sewing Kits are easy to pre-cut and assemble. So why not use this as an opportunity to get vulnerable people some extra income that can be made easily?
Here is the beauty of this proposition. Say we were to get a table of 10 makers who, for whatever reason, can only work part time and want a little extra cash. We invite them along for a chit chat maker session. These people could work and socialise. They would need to work to part-time in terms of finalising the product but would be in a communal, fun way. At the end, they would be paid for what they produce, as per agreed times and delivery.
There are many groups in society who need a positive pathway back to employment - something that isn’t 40 hours of a repetitive slog at the minimum wage. I know there would be logistical issues along the way but if you had the backing of a large retailer to sponsor this start-up social enterprise, I’m sure it would be a goer.
The ReCreators original vision
My original vision for The ReCreators was to provide an income opportunity for former refugees who struggle to get work for a variety of reasons. In order to get this business off the ground, I have had to pivot quite significantly to establish a line of income, so that The ReCreators is a viable social enterprise. The pathway I set up is now beginning to generate income, and this allows me to return to my original idea.
The possibilities of upcycling
I have just been chatting to the fabulous Tara Moala from Hub Zero about the waste produced by our construction and deconstruction industries. Our endless desire for bigger and better things is not limited to our homes – it’s everywhere. On this upcycle journey, I see endless opportunities to use and reuse items that are currently going to landfill. We just need to close that market loop and get major corporates to re-look at how they can be more sustainable. In the long term, we cannot keep consuming the way we do – our planet simply cannot handle it.
There are many employment and social enterprise opportunities for a variety of people in our community. We need to embrace these opportunities and face the challenges head-on.
Market & reach
The biggest issue I face as a new social enterprise is building a brand and a decent sized audience. It takes time and lots of money for marketing. These are things I don’t have. I want to make a change now and fast. 11 years isn’t long until we pass the point of no return.
The large corporate angle
There are now corporates who have Sustainability Departments. They are beginning to think about how they can link to our 11-year predicament and our future trajectory past 2030. If one of these Sustainability Managers really wants to make a difference, they could easily pilot this idea.
I recently heard that Ikea are piloting the idea of renting kitchens in a bid to become more environmentally sustainable.
“The leasing strategy is part of Ikea’s wider effort to design and sell goods that can be repaired, reused, recycled or resold and promote services that prolong the life of a product.”
I love that a company like Ikea, which is made of cheap furniture, is at least trying to change their business model by taking our environment and over-consumerism into account. So what can we do here in New Zealand?
Piloting the DIY Toy Sewing Kit
I have personally tested these kits on my kids with much success. The main reason for the success was not the toy itself but the fact that I helped the kids with the skill, and we had a great time making the toys together. The kids felt a sense of achievement and attachment to their creation. As a mother, I felt great about helping my kids learn a new skill. The purchaser felt great for buying a non-plastic gift that helped another human and was not damaging to the environment.
A retailer would feel great because they are selling a product and receiving praise from the community for being socially and environmentally responsible. What an awesome marketing strategy!
Let’s make it happen!!!!
This is an easy win-win situation. Isn’t this a great idea and something super easy to get off the ground? Why can’t we use local people to upcycle materials and to make something interesting and new again? More importantly, why can’t these local people be paid the same as they would for making new unsustainable products that are putting our planet at risk? Retailers have to change their business model. So why can’t it happen now?
Any retailers out there who are keen to help me with this idea – please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s make it happen!!!