Innovative NGOs, start-ups, social enterprises and SMEs will be gathering at the CSR Innovation Fair on June 23 at the Amway Experience Center in Shanghai. Businesses will showcase their projects, services, and products for the audience to engage with. In preparation for the big event, AmCham Shanghai is conducting a series of four interviews to offer a preview of the organizations.
The Squirrelz is China’s first upcycle design shop, presenting fashionable and innovative products created with materials deemed unwanted or defective. Since its inception in 2013, the Squirrelz has brought together dozens of eco-friendly designers and hundreds of green products, created through upcycling, recycling or with natural elements. Insight got a chance to speak to Bunny Yan, the founder, to learn more about Upcycling and how the Squirrelz began.
Insight: What is upcycling? Did you come up with this term or is it a general term for recreating unwanted materials into something?
Yan: Upcycling is different from recycling; recycling takes used products and reduces them to their base materials for re-use. Upcycling is to transform an item that is defective or discarded into something with added value, while using a minimal amount of energy and creating minimum waste. You prevent the product or material from ending up on the landfills, and create brand new products with little to no added carbon footprint. Upcycling can be defined by its simplest forms (such as cutting off the top of a plastic bottle to turn into a vase) or its most elaborate and high concept forms (such turning defective watch parts into jewelry). Obviously, ingenuity and innovation play a huge part in the upcycling concept.
No, we didn’t come up with the term ourselves. It was actually coined in the 90s, as a reaction to the concept of recycling (which was humorously dubbed ‘down-cycling’ by the writer). Why break something down when you can just add value to what is already there? That’s upcycling!
Insight: What was the motivation behind starting this shop?
Yan: I was visiting a factory to build my fashion collection and came across rows of boxes filled with doctor’s uniforms. I first assumed they were orders ready to be shipped out, but was soon told they were dubbed ‘defective waste’ because they had a slightly different color and size from what was initially intended. So my partner and I grabbed a few of these perfectly fine garments and got creative! We turned these clean defectives into stylish bags. After that we started to gather other upcycle/recycle designers together, and so ‘the Squirrelz’ was born!
Insight: Where do you see The Squirrelz Upcycle Design Shop in the future?
Yan: We’ve already grown beyond our initial brick-and-mortar shop in Shanghai and gone full-on eCommerce! We’re currently selling our green products on theSquirrelz.com and plan to go global soon. We’re also launching a second platform, 2Stash.com, for selling reusable ‘waste’ sourced from factories directly to designers, giving them access to high quality, low cost materials.
Insight: How is this shop helping shape the future of impact development in China?
Yan: Not only are we showing that upcycle and recycle design can be much more functional and trendy than just crafty, we are able to convert factories, brands and consumers to become more green and sustainable. An ecosystem that will lessen the negative environmental impact of overproduction and waste. And there’s no reason for our concept to stop just at China. There are many factories with many rejects, just begging to be transformed into brand new and innovative products!
To find out more information on The Squirrelz Upcycle Design Shop, click here.