The Joy of Upcycling

Posted 15/06/2023 in Tips for Crafters

Many of us are looking towards living a more sustainable lifestyle, whether that be through our product consumption, our travel, or more holistically, by living at a pace and in a way that is good for our own health and wellbeing. Although sustainability is very much a word on everyone’s lips at the moment, it is an age old concept, one that was lost during the fast-paced materialism and throw away culture of the 1980s and beyond but to which we are now gradually waking back up. The concept could be compared to a voyage around the world seeking new ways of doing things, only to return home to port to find the old ways were in fact fairly sound and worth reinstating.

Until the mass production of plastic in the 1960s, together with an increase in a wide range of cheap consumer goods and easy finance deals, the population of our nation generally lived within their means, which meant that mending, passing down and reusing were part of everyday life. From the sustainability of woollen clothing, homespun and woven as a cottage industry in the Middle Ages, to rag rug making from scraps of fabric in the nineteenth century, right up to the ‘make do and mend’ mentality of the Second World War, our forbears had a toughness and creativity that can inspire and shape our modern drive towards sustainability.

Many customers are looking towards buying more responsibly made products and are willing to pay a premium for items that have both individuality and longevity. It is therefore well worth advertising your sustainability credentials in any marketing or promotion. There are numerous ways your business can be more eco-friendly, many of which you may already have in place. Possibly the largest contributor to a sustainably made product is the raw material used. If possible, source locally, or at least use UK-based materials. If this is not possible, look for fair trade options.

For example, if you own a ceramics business, you may be able to join with other businesses, e.g., brickworks or quarries, to use some of their offcuts. As a jewellery maker, you may be able to gather sea glass, plastic or other treasures from the shoreline in order to create your unique range of jewellery. If you use textiles, you might rummage through charity shops and reuse your finds. The beauty products industry is changing, too, with opportunities for small businesses that arguably put them ahead of mass produced products. As a small soap making business, you may be able to use discarded products from other businesses, and you could lead the way in bar shampoos rather than liquid ones. This would not only avoid the use of multiple plastic bottles but bar shampoos are often preferred by the user. Sourcing raw materials in this way will be more time-consuming than simply ordering them online, so you will need to factor this into your product price.

Packaging is another area in which small craft businesses can often excel in comparison to large corporations. Your customers will, by nature, often be more discerning in their desire for sustainable products, so using paper packaging, or even recycled paper, will always be appreciated.

Another fast growing area is the upcycling market. Upcycling, or the reusing and changing of discarded products or materials into something of higher quality or monetary value, isn’t a new concept either. Vintage cars have been lovingly restored for generations, soft furnishings have been reupholstered and patchwork quilts have been meticulously sewn from scraps of older fabric. It is arguably the most sustainable form of producing “new” products, as it avoids throwing old items into landfill. There is also a huge element of satisfaction in breathing new life into something which would otherwise be at the end of its lifespan. Upcyclers are very enthusiastic about their craft, possibly because of the “feel good” factor it produces.

If you are considering transforming your sustainable crafting hobby into a small business, it is worth getting your admin foundations in place first, so you are then free to throw yourself into creating your unique products. The Laws on selling handmade crafts in the UK are, fortunately, not too arduous. You will need to register with HMRC as a sole trader and fill in a yearly tax form; this must be done even if initially your earnings are below the tax limit. There are also specific laws on selling handmade crafts in the UK. If you sell toys, for instance, you have to ensure your toys meet essential safety regulations as laid out by the Toy Safety Directive.

Once you have your collection of beautifully and sustainably made products, you will need a place to promote and sell them. It is important to use a website and social media to your maximum benefit, but selling face-to-face to the public is also a great way to build up a customer base. This may be in local craft shops or quarters, at craft fairs, markets or shows. If you sell at a craft fair, the organiser will almost always have organised any trading licences needed. If however, you are trading at a market, it is advisable to check with your local council if any licences are needed in line with the laws on selling handmade crafts UK.   

Whether you sell online or in person, you will also need public and product liability insurance, and you may also require specialised insurance for your individual business. This may sound confusing, but as a family firm with decades of experience in the craft insurance industry, we can ensure you have the correct package to fit your specific business needs. So, pick up the phone and have a chat with one of our team members. Craft businesses are strongly positioned to make and sell sustainable and upcycled goods that are unique, made with care and will last. So why not take inspiration from generations past and get creating?