Upcycling in itself is a remarkable process, transforming the old into the new and breathing second life into discarded items. Taking upcycling to the next level involves leveraging unusual or unconventional materials, elevating the practice into an art form that produces unique, innovative creations. These creations showcase the endless possibilities of upcycling and shows its impact through the use of uncommon materials. Below, we've listed a few of these extraordinary creations that stand out for their inventive approach and impactful use of materials.
AXEL ARIGATO X TRANSPARENT
Upcycled Sneaker Sole Speaker
The Swedish label Axel Arigato, positioning itself as a people-powered lifestyle brand focusing on sustainable growth and reducing environmental impact. The brand has collaborated with the award-winning swedish label, Transparent, a circular tech brand, that created the Sole Speaker, a limited-edition marvel of eco-conscious engineering. These experimental speakers are made of a composition that is 97% upcycled sneaker soles, which were built on a circular material concept. Their outer shell, crafted from upcycled rubber is made from Axel Arigato's own rejected sneaker soles. Engineered to be universally compatible with all smartphones and systems, the creation process involves shredding the soles into fine particles before undergoing a specialised binding technique. Max Svärdh, Axel Arigato's Creative Director, stated that the partnership with Transparent was an eye-opening experience.
(Image Credit: Axel Arigato x Transparent - Sole Speaker)
FROM THE STREET TO THE STREET
Upcycled Bubble Gum Wheels
French design students Hugo Maupetit and Vivian Fischer took an innovative approach, turning discarded chewing gum into colourful, repurposed skateboard wheels. Yes, you read that right—they upcycled chewing gum. This interesting project "imagines" a collaboration between Vans, known for their skateboards, and Mentos, a well-known confectionery and chewing gum brand, under the theme "From the street to the street." To source materials, the duo installed special collection boards across Nantes, France, encouraging pedestrians to deposit their used chewing gum rather than littering. This collected gum underwent a cleansing process before being melted down, colored with natural pigments, and molded into skateboard wheels. Maupetit and Fischer claim that their project aims to create a novel approach to recycling, aiming to clean up cities through sustainable practices.
(Image Credit: Hugo Maupetit and Vivian Fischer)
HANUEL KIM X CGV CINEMAS
Upcycled Theatre Screen Lamps
Hanuel Kim, a visionary designer from South Korea, is involved in sustainable innovation by transforming discarded materials into functional pieces. His portfolio is rich with creations repurposing waste, ranging from discarded masks upcycled to stools to chairs crafted from discarded vinyl fabric. A standout project in his body of work involve the upcycling of damaged theatre screens, sourced in collaboration with CGV Cinemas, Korea's premier multiplex movie theater chain. By converting these once-discarded screens into lamps, Kim breathes new life into unwanted waste and challenges conventional material use. These lamps, featuring shades crafted from unconventional textiles, highlight the potential of creative thinking in reducing waste. Through this collaboration, Kim shows how innovative design can play an important role in sustainability, turning damaged and thrown-away screens into functional lampshades.
(Image Credit: Hanuel Kim x CGV Cinemas)
Upcycled Money Upholstery
Angela Mathis, a London-based designer, has upcycled the unconventional—old paper currency. She has breathed new life into this unexpected resource by upcycling discarded currency notes from various countries, including American dollars, British pounds, Indonesian rupees, and several other European currencies, crafting a unique furniture line. Named 'Value,' this collection showcases a series of stools, each upholstered with a vibrant, textile-like material derived from these colourful currencies. Mathis's unconventional approach repurposes materials rich in history and symbolism, introducing a new, sustainable avenue for textile creation in furniture design.
(Image Credit: Angela Mathis Collection - Value)
THE VEIL STOOL
Upcycled Discarded Face Masks
Joe Slatter, a British designer, has addressed the environmental challenge posed by the disposal of face masks during the pandemic through an inventive upcycling project in London. He transformed 4,000 used and discarded face masks into functional stools. Prior to their upcycling, these masks went through sanitization process to ensure safety and cleanliness. Slatter has stated that his experimental journey led to a discovery: face masks could be converted into a form of yarn. The resulting furniture line, dubbed the 'Veil Stool,' features a two-tone colour scheme of blue and white, reflecting the common hues of disposable face masks. This project breathes new life into pandemic-related waste and serves as an example of how design can address pressing environmental issues.
(Image Credit: Joe Slatter Collection - Veil Stool)
These fascinating examples of unusual upcycling highlight the innovative potential that sustainable practices hold in design and production. The transformation of unconventional materials into valuable, creative outputs points toward a more sustainable future, with the use of imaginative solutions which can address environmental challenges and inspire a new wave of eco-conscious design.