Home InteriorsCrafting & Upcycling What’s it like being a professional upcycler?

What’s it like being a professional upcycler?

by LaurettaCWright

Imagine being a professional upcyler (yes, there's such a thing!)

I enjoy upcycling as much as the next person, but trying to squeeze in a couple of hours to myself at the weekend (while juggling household chores, kids, shopping and cooking) is a feat in itself.

So when I found out that full time upcyclers are carving a successful professional career for themselves…I wanted to know more. Meet Donna Fenn, founder of Remade in Britain, who found the time to explain all…

Remade in Britain Founder Donna Fenn shows off some of the retailers - press

Firstly, can you offer a bit of background on yourself, leading up to your web launch?

I actually started life as a primary school teacher and after that moved into delivering and writing management training courses. On leaving London and relocating to North Yorkshire, I decided to take a career break and have time with my growing family.

A couple of years ago, anticipating the children leaving home I decided to reinvent myself and join the world of the internet! Throwing some ideas around with a friend whose daughter had an upcycling business, we came up with the model behind Remade in Britain – an online marketplace for upcyclers to sell their products.

There then began a year of planning and researching working from my kitchen table. I engaged the skills of a web design company and began approaching upcyclers who were willing to trust our new venture and come on board. We launched in November 2014 with more than 40 stores and have rapidly grown over the year to hosting over 350 retailers, selling almost 3,000 products!

How did you get into professional upcycling?

My dad was from the ‘make do and mend’ generation – he couldn't walk past a skip without having a rummage and nothing ever went to waste in our home.

The shed on his allotment was a wonder of creation and inspiration. Having grown up in this household I have always been conscious of the environmental issues facing us as individuals and also those on a wider scale so working with upcycling enthusiasts seemed a natural step.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to give upcycling a try? 

My best tip is to not be afraid to get stuck in. What you make doesn't need to be perfect and as with everything, the more you practice, the better you get. All upcycled products are unique, there is no formula and this is what makes them so special!

A simple project is creating a LP vinyl bowl – unwanted records can be found very cheaply at most charity shops. These are easily converted into a bowl in minutes and you only need a record, an oven, a metal baking tray and a metal bowl – basically items that every kitchen has.

Room with a view - Remade in Britain transforms a skip - press

Why do you think upcycling has become so popular in the last few years?

People's concern for the environment and a backlash against the throwaway culture is real and is translating to the high street, with the rise in popularity of sites such as Etsy and Notonthehighstreet, where products tagged with ‘upcycled’ rocketed from 7,900 in 2010 to 216,024 last year.

This is coupled with a recognition in the value of craftsmanship of the past and working with such products to give them a new lease of life. There has also been an economic shift … people have had to find creative ways of making a living – working from home, setting up their own businesses, retraining, using their skills and available materials.

Can you give examples of your favourite upcycling projects?

I think some of my favourite items currently sold on the site include Sarah Turner’s floral desk lamps made from plastic bottles and The Wine Barrell’s stave table. I like them because they have been upcycled in such a highly professional and original way that you almost cannot tell what they began life as.

People mistake them for completely new items and are pleasantly surprised when they realise the items have been saved from going to landfill.

What magazines/TV programmes do you enjoy watching?

I like reading Reloved and Mollie Makes as they have some great upcycling projects in them.

I also love watching Kirstie Allsopp's Fill Your House For Free and George Clarke's Amazing Spaces because they are full of ideas – recently Max McMurdo, who sells his products on our site, made a house boat out of shipping containers on the show and the whole process was fascinating.

Quite a few of our retailers will be featured on Channel 4's French Collection so obviously we will be tuning in to see what they've made.

What's a typical working week for you? 

I know it is a cliché but no one week is ever the same. We have a very active social media campaign, sales queries and website amends and updates which all need daily input. We get invited to shows and exhibitions which need preparation and organisation, guest blogs that need writing and email campaigns that require designing.

We’ve worked on some amazing projects this year, including being invited to exhibit at Grand Designs Live, where we’ve been able to work with retailers to run workshops and events to spread the word of upcycling.

What trends are emerging with upcycling?

I think that the industrial and ‘new luxe' movements are really strong. Lots of copper, brass, piping, pallets, vintage industrial items which have been converted for home use and, of course, simple but effective LED Lighting.

We have seen a huge increase in pallet furniture, hairpin legs, LED lights and industrial-style light fittings and furniture in 2015 and I think 2016 is going to be an even better year for upcycling with sustainability, ‘boho-chic', bare materials and artisan goods being on the list for next year's trends to watch.

What are your long term goals for Remade in Britain? 

Remade was launched as a venue for British upcyclers to promote themselves rather than be lost in the pages of Etsy. We have been amazed by the reception we have received from the upcycling world and the general public, growing rapidly since our launch last year to hosting more than 300 retailers selling thousands of products.

We have created a fantastic Remade community with upcyclers sharing tips and ideas every Wednesday evening in our Remade Hour (#RemadeHour). The variety of products on the site is wide ranging and has included much more furniture than we anticipated – we originally thought it would be more craft-based.

This mirrors the increasing appetite for individual pieces around the home. Commissions are very popular as well, with homeowners requesting certain colours, finishes etc … you can't get that from IKEA!

We have also recently acquired the fantastic website Nigel’s Eco Store www.nigelsecostore.com, which specialises in eco and environmentally-friendly products, which compliments us really well. Nigel’s also has a marketplace which we hope to develop using the experience we have gained over the last year with Remade.

Our next step is to launch a forum on the site where upcyclers can come and chat and share advice on a daily basis. We know through the success of our Remade Hour and the shows that we attend that the upcycling community is a very warm and engaging one and is just bursting with ideas they are happy to share. We hope to become the Mumsnet of upcycling!

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