- When did you start upcycling?
- A) As far as I recall, I have always been an avid upcycler. I remember watching The Wombles as a toddler, and singing along with them “making good use of the things that we find, the Wombles of Wimbledon common are we". And over the years, this pull towards upcycling has only gotten stronger with me.
In our throw-away, disposable culture there is so much needless, useless and toxic waste making its way into rivers, oceans and landfills every second of every day. I believe we should all take responsibility for turning this tide. And if you can do it in a way that reinvents surplus stuff to create new beautiful stuff - or helps people in whatever way - that’s just a double bonus”.
As a fashion business, RUBY clearly marked our position with a show we did for South African Fashion Week in 2009 titled "Waste Not, Want Not". We took materials made redundant by local lingerie manufacturing producers such as bra cups and underwires - and repurposed them into signature, jewelry pieces and mermaid’s tails. Since then we’ve been introducing the idea of upcycling into our hand-crafted jewelry line – for example by using old coins for jewelry items.
Waste is completely unnatural. In nature everything is used, composted or recycled. It is a perversion of our misguided culture that pits us against this most basic life-affirming drive.
Upcycling gives us an opportunity to confront and affirm our position in terms of natural versus anti-natural processes. By making an upcycled product we not only cleverly re-use redundant materials, but also challenge the cultural status quo that promotes materialism and consumption at any cost.
- Where do you get inspiration from?
- A) My inspiration often comes in disguise. It starts off with the material - by observing its qualities and forms - and then figuring out what the possibilities are for transforming it into a stylish, funky or finely crafted fashion jewelry item.
- Where do you get your materials from (specifically the coins and upcycled rubber for the earrings)?
The coins are sourced from collectors - in shops and markets around Cape Town. They are carefully and individually selected based on their attributes such as engraving detail, fonts and design.
The upcycled rubber earrings are fascinating as the rubber is made from ocean plastic that's been collected from the beaches in Mali (West Africa).
The plastic used comes from upcycled Havaianas and other flip flops. Each year around 400 000 of them wash up on Mali’s beaches each year. The local upcyclers collect these unnatural wonders, melt them down and turn them into brilliantly colored strands that we then use to make our earring hoops. The hoops are made by coiling wire using a traditional technique from Malawi. So our product is actually completely pan African – Mali/Malawi/South Africa!
- What advice do you have for aspiring upcyclers?
Just start! Besides saving money and resources, it’s also hugely rewarding. Look for inspiration in everyday items, and try identify potential materials from an unusual, creative perspective. Look for the silver lining in every discarded or redundant item.
Then take your time to work out the best way of applying various techniques to create a perfectly crafted product. Observe the object from many different angles and optimize its best intrinsic feature. And don’t forget to have fun!