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
“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’sheadquarters 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
“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.”