Spinning green into gold

Remember the four Rs? Recycle, repair, re-use and reduce? A new wave of designers is doing just that – reclaiming products from skips, tips and op shops, and turning them into green gold.

Glenda Keegan is still asked occasionally, via her website, how she can charge "new" prices for what are essentially products made from waste material.

"I put on my educator's hat and tell them that it would be much cheaper to go and buy a roll of fabric and get 100 bags cut at the same time."

Instead, WAS bags, the brainchild of Keegan and friend Anna Church in 2004, are made from recycled advertising billboards. The heavy-duty pvc vinyl would normally be dumped at a landfill. It's covered in road grime, sprinkled with rusty staples, and has often been folded and unfolded many times. Glenda chooses the design for each bag before the vinyl is cut by hand, washed, ironed and sewn.

When the business began, Glenda was adamant the products would have a recycling component, be New Zealand made and sourced from New Zealand companies. And they had to be designed well, and look good.

She now works fulltime on the business, contracting others to help with the manufacturing and recycling.

Despite the occasional cynic, most of the feedback she gets is wonderful. "People are excited by what we're doing."

The irony that many advertisers request that their billboards go to her when they're taken down is not lost on Keegan. "Everyone is becoming a little bit responsible."

* Stockists: Beckon; Ora Design; Flax Gallery, Greytown.

Jo Wilson spent 10 years as a fulltime potter before turning her attention to recycled glass.

"It's something I'd always wanted to do. It's been done before – ages ago. People used to make jars for fruit after the war. There was a shortage of glassware and jars, in particular, and people would cut off old beer bottles and re-use them like that. So it's sort of old technology."

Wilson eventually worked out how to do it, and the rest is history. "It seemed such a great idea. There are all these bottles lying around doing virtually nothing, and the colours are so lovely. And glass is just a really nice material to work with."

Most of the bottles Wilson uses are from the local recycling centre in Nelson, or from friends. "I go out [to the recycling centre] fairly regularly and give them a donation and only take what I can use."

Wilson looks for bottles that haven't been chipped or scratched, and selects the lightest she can find.

But though the cost of the bottles is fairly negligible, Wilson's not getting rich quick. "It's very time consuming and some of the materials I use are actually really expensive."

* Stockists: Juniper; Beckon.

A love of op shopping has become a thriving kitchen- table business for Wellington's Sue McMillan. On her way to her day job working for a tourism company based in Miramar, McMillan would stop at local secondhand shops.

"I was coming across all these beautiful blankets [she has more than 100 at home at the moment], so I started to look at them and think what I could do with them."

She settled on the idea of cushions, with a design on the front of each. Leather was going to be expensive and too thick to sew, so she decided on vinyl and Seam cushions were born.

First came Otago, with a rabbit silhouette stitched on the front – named for all the rabbits that get shot in the province. Next was Ohakea, a plane, of course. Then McMillan's dog Ruby was immortalised and custom orders started rolling in.

The cushions are sold fromin Matakana, north of Auckland, to Dunedin, and McMillan has added wheat bags – a cotton inner, filled with organic whole wheat from Te Horo, tucked into a wool blanket outer – to the range.

And it's not just McMillan's family who love them (her brother's girlfriend has bought 12 so far) – customers are loving them, too.

"A lot of people have said they remind them of the blankets they had, when they were kids, on their beds.

"They're pure wool. That's the main thing. Once you wash them up, they're beautiful to work with. I haven't had to change my needle since I started sewing them."

Could this be a fulltime job? "We're looking at building a workshop at our house for me so I've got a separate area that I can work in. At the moment, I'm squashed into the sewing room. Maybe eventually – with each of the stores selling three or four a week, I'd like to think it could be."

* Stockists: Juniper; Beckon; Wanda Harland; White Room Gallery.

Carterton artist Sara Sarich loves nostalgia and evoking memories. She takes everyday items from the past and reinvents them with a modern twist.

"I just really want to get people to think about the past and hopefully evoke some sort of memory for them."

In her paintings, Sarich uses vintage wallpapers and also always includes a native bird.

"I look at old wallpapers and think about my childhood, and old sewing patterns and old needle packets and all that sort of thing that I remember my aunties and their friends doing."

Her latest work, Kiwi Keepsakes, is as much about preserving history as not wasting. Sarich works with souvenir spoons collected from op shops and secondhand dealers and, using a resin process, creates cameo necklaces, pendants, rings and earrings – though finding two identical spoons is not an easy business.

Sarich says today's memorial spoons are basically laminated photographs, unlike the spoons of the past which were often enamelled or hand-painted with a ceramic shield over them.

"The memorial spoons were so iconic to New Zealand," Sarich says.

Once she started, "I just found so many objects and so many backgrounds to put them on.

"I really don't like wasting things. I like to recycle, I like to re-use.

"I think it's a really nice touch to re-use something – it makes me feel good, quite apart from it not being chucked away, or sat in someone's box in their wardrobe tarnishing."

* Stockists: Oyster; White Room Gallery, www.mainartery.co.nz

The Dominion Post