From shabby furniture getting a funky facelift to threadbare dresses finding a new lease of life as cushion covers, the art of upcycling is very much alive in Singapore.

Upcycling is the process of converting old or discarded items into something of better quality, usually something useful or creative.

More than seven organisations and hobbyists interviewed by The Straits Times say that more Singaporeans have been showing interest in upcycling in recent years.

These are often young professionals or people who are well-travelled and have been exposed to the culture of upcycling in countries such as Australia and Britain.

Home-grown furniture companies, such as Hock Siong & Co in Kampong Ampat and Designed in Geylang, say they have seen a "gradual" increase in the sales of furniture created out of discarded items.

Hock Siong, for instance, has seen a 10 per cent increase in overall business this past year.

"They want to find something with historical value," says Hock Siong's founder Toh Chin Siong of his customers, many of whom are young working adults who find out about the latest upcycled products on its Facebook page.

He says the company, which started as a karung guni business more than a decade ago, has been getting more furniture from people moving out of their old homes, thanks to the recent spate of en-bloc sales.

Also, there has been greater demand for more unusual creations. "The stranger, the better," he says.

But the upcycling business has its challenges, he adds, with a nod to how it takes time to transform old goods into new ones.

Some firms have struggled to stay afloat.

The now-defunct furniture store Artsyfact, which opened in Everton Park in 2012 and turned old things into furniture and decor pieces, shuttered after just two years in the business.

Co-founder Aaron Koh, 35, says they found it hard to make a profit.

While people thought their products were "cool" and took photos of them, this did not always translate into sales.

"In Singapore, the notion of pre-loved goods is labelled as something that is very cheap. Once labelled as cheap, people won't pay a premium for it, even though it's one of a kind," says Mr Koh, who now works in advertising.

He adds that Artsyfact, which outsourced work to craftsmen in Malaysia, also faced logistical challenges.

It Takes Balls, a retail business that promotes knitting and sustainable fashion production, creates knitwear out of yarn salvaged from a textile factory in Turkey.

Founder Adeline Loo, 35, who registered the business in late 2014, says she was inspired by the maker movement and the Fashion Revolution, which called for greater transparency in the fashion supply chain when she was in Britain four years ago.

"It's my personal ethos, my little way of contributing (to sustainability)," adds Ms Loo, who often holds workshops and "knit parties" at Mox @ Katong Point.

Meanwhile, textile artist Agatha Lee, 43, says her habit of upcycling old clothes into new ones is not just about being environmentally friendly. It is also about "having your own style", unlike what people get in "cookie-cutter malls", she says.

Ms Lee, who has a colourful pair of trousers made of fabric scraps and her husband's old shirts, adds: "I want to change the idea that upcycling is difficult or takes a long time… Some ways of upcycling (fabrics) don't have to involve a sewing machine."


This story was first published on The Straits Times. Click here to read the original story.