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Monday, May 18, 2015

This Woman Upcycles Disney's Trash

So good to see entrepreneurs reuse, recycle and create great new products from existing stock.   Perhaps there is a whole new prism of redesigning our world?  

Design grad Christina Johnson’s interest in recycling textiles into new products became a business that proves everything old can be made new again. Just a few years out of college, Johnson is already designing items for Disney and other companies that help reduce corporate waste. 

Johnson partnered with her mother, Liz Bordessa, to form Upcycle It Now after her mother visited her in India, where she was interning for Conserve India, an NGO and exporter that empowers the rag pickers on India’s streets. Johnson had recently graduated from UC Davis with a degree in design and an emphasis in textiles.

 “I was giving my mom a tour of the factory, showing her how we recycled tire tubes and fused plastic bags and seat belts. I told her that I wanted to find a way to design sustainable textiles.” 

“My mom said, ‘We have all of this equipment in my shop.’” Conserve India wasn’t relying on anything hi-tech like laser cutters in its production. “My mom offered up her sewing machines, cutting tables, scissors, and finishing tools. ‘We can do it,’ she told me.” With their new venture, all of the cutting and sewing happens at her mother’s tailoring shop.

Johnson’s mother grew up on a farm in California. “Because of that, we were always conscious of what we used. We grew up to be very appreciative of what we had. We conserved,” Johnson says. She grew up in California, too, where Upcycle It Now is based. “One of the things I love about this state is that if you throw an aluminum bottle in the trash, it’s like littering. There’s a real awareness here about recycling and conservation.”

Upcycle It Now’s first partnership was with Aquarium of the Pacific. They upcycled the aquarium’s used street banners, which would have gone to landfill. Instead, Upcycle It Now created lunch pails, wallets, folders, and messenger bags out of the material.

The mother and daughter team offers consulting services for sustainable practices and has successfully piloted new upcycled product lines for the Long Beach Museum of Art, Bower Museum, Northrup Grumman, Port of Long Beach, Disney, Hurley, and Patagonia. They have also completed rigorous audits with both Disney and Patagonia, securing the coveted “approved vendor” status with both companies.

Patagonia has an initiative called Common Threads. Their goal is to recycle every item they have produced. “If you have a Patagonia jacket don’t throw it away. Send it back to Patagonia and they will find a way to recycle it or reuse it,” Johnson advises.

Most nylons and polyesters can be remade into new nylons and polyesters because they are petroleum based. They can be melted down and re-spun, she says, but with some products, such as down jackets, that process doesn’t make sense. Upcycle It Now uses the the down as the underside of coats for dogs. And since Patagonia’s rain coats have a waterproofing sealant that would make them difficult to recycle conventionally, Upcycle It Now puts that on the top side of the dog coats.

Patagonia’s headquarters is in Ventura and their distribution center is in Reno. Manufacturing their “waste” overseas wouldn’t save the company money. It’s the same with Disney.

“There’s a shift to come back home,” Johnson says with pride. “Consumers are becoming more aware and appreciative of items that are made in the United States.”

Upcycle It Now essentially provides a service to companies like Disney by manufacturing something new out of used materials. The companies pay Upcycle It Now for the labor so that it is akin to a third-party manufacturer.

“We’re like a vendor for Disney. They still have all the rights to the materials. We just take on the design and manufacturing process. They give us a formal product order after we give them a lot of samples,” Johnson says.

She has a growing following as a public speaker and participates in special events like Earth Day. “I feel so lucky to be building a business with my mom and doing some good for the environment at the same time.”

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