In our latest issue, we ran a feature on Canada's king of upcycling, Junk Raiders star Gordie Wornoff. With some examples of smaller upcycling pieces to inspire your holiday shopping – or some DIY projects of your own – author and herbalist Irith McConnachie sent us profiles of nine artists she met at the Toronto One of a Kind Show last month.

Recently I met with a group of incredible artisans who all had one thing in common: they use materials that are normally discarded, dumped or all together forgotten.

We call this "upcycling," but Joanne Jones of Mined Recreations called it "a way of life." She grew up in a Mennonite home and began sewing at the age of five. Now she and her friends create striking two-dimensional cubist-inspired handbags made from "pre-loved" clothing. Cuffs, collars and pleats are incorporated to enhance her truly one of a kind bags, that not only help the environment but also help pay for the education of children in need.


Purses from Mined reCreations

Wendy Van Riesen of Dalia Drive has had a lifelong passion for art and storytelling – and for vintage ladies’ slips and fabrics that flow, like sheer curtains. To Wendy, every piece of fabric, every tear, every stain, every mend tells a story. She transforms discarded garments and fabrics by painting, staining and sewing them into stylish wearable art dresses, blouses and pants.


Painted vintage slip from Dalia Drive

Trevor Kehler had a different inspiration. He was an artist who needed to create an income for his family. He first began working with old car tires to make sandals. Realizing that he needed straps, he looked for something he could use at the auto recyclers and that's when he discovered how strong, waterproof and impervious to damage seatbelts were. He began sewing the strips together and making bags. U.S.E.D., which stands for Unlimited Supplies from Everyone's Discards, was born. Now the family-owned company manufactures smart looking purses, totes, laptop bags, wallets and other items by hand, all from discarded seatbelts.


U.S.E.D. seatbelt bags

While visiting her local librarian, Margi Laurin was surprised to discover that her little town library had over 8 thousand books that were destined for the dump. That got her creative juices flowing. All of those old and damaged books held memories that deserved preserving. Margi, with some help from her family, took the books and gently tore them apart, saving the illustrations, then re-assembled them into journals and notebooks. Going through her stock, I found books from my childhood that made me smile: exactly the reaction Margi said she gets from everyone who sees her work.


Journals by Margi Laurin

Like wine connoisseurs, passionate beer drinkers feel that regular drinking glasses just won't do. One of the complaints is that most glasses can't hold a full bottle of beer. How do you solve that problem? Make beer glasses from recycled beer bottles. Terry Craig and his lovely wife Jennifer Wanless-Craig are Artech glassblowing artists. A few years back they helped friends move into their new home and as a gift they were given a case of beer. Terry and Jennifer thought they would surprise their friends by returning the beer bottles as beer glasses. Since that day, the demand for their glasses has not stopped. Their technique maintains the beers' branded enamelled finish, making it a must have for beer fans.


Beer bottle glasses by Artech

It was while biking during her first winter in Montreal that Sara Tori came up with a great idea. She wanted to make herself long johns that would be soft, warm and pretty. In the markets she found elegant cashmere and merino wool sweaters for next to nothing. She began sewing and soon started Sartoria Regenerative Designs. Sara creates handmade warm and luxurious undergarments for women, men and children.


Upcycled cashmere undies from Sartoria

Twenty-five years ago Linda Leonard came across an interesting new material and made herself a briefcase. Linda did not know then that her material was recycled from old car tires. Five years later her supplier explained the process to her, but she was afraid to tell her clients for fear that they would think the products were somehow "dirty" like old car tires. Now she tells everyone. Zut Designs manufactures all sorts of sleek, modern-looking products: notepads, key chains, book covers, wallets, passport holders, journals, placemats, coaster and so much more.


Recycled tire products from Zut Designs

Francoise Mechin Pellet makes pillows, tea towels, aprons, bags, stuffed toys, and an array of stylish items for the home from forgotten bolts of fabric from World War One. Yes, that's right. She combs Provence for antique fabric bolts of linen, hemp, and cotton to create her gorgeous and extremely durable home wares. Her company is L'Atelier Du Presbytere.


Pillows, tea towels and more from L'Atelier Du Presbytere

Ever wonder what happens to those wool army and antique Hudson's Bay blankets when they get old or damaged? Meghan Irish from IDentity Apparel Co. turns them into decorative pillows and tough tote bags that will last. Her passion for upcycling fabrics extends to her quirky logoed t-shirts, scarves and my favourite: a once army tent now tote bag.


Army tent tote bag from IDentity Apparel Co.

With so many amazing artisans, wonderful products and inspiring ideas out there, I definitely know one thing this holiday season… it's upcycled gift giving from me.

Irith McConnachie is a medical herbalist, natural cosmetic chemist, and corporate leadership trainer. She is also the author of personal development journals and books on happiness and positive living, and a generally joyful person whose personal goal is to help people to become happier. For more eco-living tips, keep an eye out for Irith's forthcoming book, The Sassy Girls Guide to a Happier Greener Life

Irith McConnachie is the Chair of Alternatives Inc.  She is a natural product designer, medical herbalist, entrepreneur, writer, enviromentalist, a generally joyful person whose personal goal is to help people to become happier. For more eco-living tips, keep an eye out for Irith's blogs and forthcoming books, You'll be Happy, A Gluten Free Cookbook and A Happier Greener Life.

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