Did you start to throw away some small toys or baubles to clean up for the holidays this year and then hang them on your Christmas tree instead? This is upcycling—reusing what is often thrown away and turning these items into something beautiful. East Enders have created businesses that do just this. They’re making treasures out of the discarded.
Inspired by trash strewn on New York City streets, Dale Leavay of Morelands Upcyling in Southold recalls seeing something more in what was being thrown away. “I saw it as beautiful, not gross or disgusting,” remarks Leavay. She now makes all her own patterns by hand. “I’ve always been fascinated by what people throw away. Something clicked in my head that day, and I started putting packaging together. The creative process began.” Some of her products include totes, purses, as well as fun and funky accessories. “We take things that are no longer wanted, and give them new life so they can become a useful and beautiful product. I don’t like to be wasteful.”
Leavay gets excited by trash and packaging she’s never seen before, remarking, “I also see it as a way to keep items from the landfill, and appeal to a wide range of people. I’m very proud of my products and I’m always creating new items.” She admits, “Often times I love them and don’t want to sell them. But I do—so I can create more.”
Some of her most popular items include cross body bags made from coffee bags, and ramen noodle packaging purses. All of the items sold have been crafted and designed by Leavay. Animal feed bags, grocery packaging and discarded burlap bags are some of the products that she has upcycled. “The packaging is gleaned from small farms, backyard farmers, and friends here on the East End.”
Jeanelle Myers, of Jeanelle Myers Studio in Sag Harbor, has been creating treasures out of discards for more than 50 years. “I’ve always liked everything old, and have been collecting stuff since I was a teenager. There’s no piece of furniture in my house that was new when purchased. I find things that have been thrown out, or I buy used things.”
Myers says much of her artwork is made from found items. “I’m disturbed by all the things we throw away. I like to recycle and don’t like to see anything good and useful discarded.” Myers makes her products using everything from tattered old lace to pieces of plants.
Why does she upcycle? “The main reason I use the kind of materials that I do is because I find them beautiful. I want to include their histories in my work. Each piece has had a life and served a purpose. When the item is thrown away, the history is gone. If I incorporate it into a piece all the histories are there.”
At White Flower Farmhouse on Main Road in Southold (53995 Route 25), Lori Guyer is upcycling old wood to make furniture and additional products. “We make breadboards, small benches, farmhouse tables, and so much more. I’ve been upcycling since 1997.”
Guyer proudly tells of an antique Dutch door that was turned into a pantry cabinet. She’s also made flooring with scrap plywood. “We have a good connection with contractors who give us old windows and doors,” says Guyer. “I try to get the material that’s being thrown away, and I use every piece of scrap wood in the workshop.”
If you’re looking to help the environment, Guyer remarks that upcycling, or purchasing upcycled products, is an ideal way to do it. “The best way to be green is to reuse something.”