UpCycling Plus: Crafting with purpose

Author : Kelvin Lai
Translation : Trinity Chan

In an era with abundant material resources, people have become accustomed to throwing away old or broken things. However, one man’s trash can be another one’s treasure. These things are great resources for creations to some people, and sometimes they become usable again after simple repair and transformation. Stephanie Fung is a maker who likes upcycling used things and has a fondness for vintage bikes. She met Cheong Gor in a vintage bike club, and together they founded UpCycling Plus. Apart from restoring vintage bikes and old things, they also transform discarded materials into something more than ‘waste’.

Stephanie, who studied abroad in Germany, notices that foreign cultures are very different from Hong Kong culture. There are both male and female makers, and foreigners are used to making their own furniture or repairing their own houses. This has prompted her to learn to restore bikes in Hong Kong.

Antique restoration: Passing on skills and keeping the spirit alive

Later on, Stephanie met Cheong Gor, an experienced mechanic who introduced her to antique restoration. She describes him as her teacher and friend. Through observing how he works, she realizes that you can’t be sloppy in doing restoration. ‘If you think sloppy work is acceptable for restoring small items, you will fail when you do larger restoration’ This is what Cheong Gor often says, as all the items to be restored are unique, and the antiques will be ruined if you make any mistakes. Every single item needs to be restored carefully.

Stephanie thinks that we have to preserve and pass down the skills of restoration, not because they are disappearing, but because the underlying spirit is worth preserving. Older generations are capable of making full use of their things. Not only do they make products meticulously without wasting resources, but they also know how to mend broken things. But now we are very used to throwing old things away and buying new ones. She believes that we don’t have to do so actually, even if the things are unrepairable, as they can be transformed into other useful items or creations. Just like the car bumper they used to decorate Cargo bikes. With UpCycling Plus, she hopes to tell the public that apart from high-priced items, second-hand household goods or even construction waste can also be turned into useful resources.

用汽車車頭保險桿裝飾載貨單車
Cargo bike with car bumper as decoration

(Photo provided by the maker)

Let difficulties be the fuel that drives innovation

However, they encountered a number of difficulties in doing restoration and upcycling work. The most common obstacle in Hong Kong is the lack of space. Although they may be given some antiques or wood as donations, they can neither accept all nor store a large amount of materials for workshops. But Stephanie sees it as an opportunity for them to take the workshop participants on a ‘treasure hunt’ in the neighbourhood to look for waste materials. For instance, they once used a discarded number plate to make a clock, which was an interesting and rare combination. They don’t know what they will hunt out at the end, and this is exactly why they can create some innovative products.

(Photo provided by the maker)

Combine maker mindset and practical skills to make real changes

As for developing maker education in Hong Kong, Stephanie believes that while it is vital to pass on the maker spirit to the next generation, we also have to attach importance to practical maker skills. In foreign maker education, students are encouraged to develop prototypes for their designs to put their ideas into practice. They are also taught to use skills like woodwork and metalwork to make the prototypes. But she can tell from her own teaching experience that some important elements are missing in Hong Kong’s STEM education. Students often use easy-to-cut but environmentally unfriendly materials such as styrofoam when they are asked to make prototypes. Although the aim of STEM education is to help students cultivate a problem-solving mindset, their work will lose its purpose if another problem is created when solving the problem. To genuinely solve the existing problems, we should let our students learn about traditional craftsmanship and create some practical designs.

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“The Wasted”: saving Hong Kong trees from the landfill

Speaking of woodworking, we usually work with imported processed wood. Yet, have you ever thought of why these woods can be so neat? It is because the uneven parts of the logs were cropped, and will be landfilled and wasted. To reduce this kind of waste, founder of “The Wasted”, Dickson Yan chose to upcycle Hong Kong wasted logs and make furniture and art pieces. He cut and dried the logs by himself, and kept the original appearance of the trees. He does his best to make sure no wood is wasted.

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