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Photo: Andreana Bitsis | Styling: Jessy Scarpone

We’re In Love With We Recycle’s Fair-Trade, Ethically-Made Products

It sounds like a strange fairytale: a juice box is saved from a landfill, is dressed in red silk and transformed into a high-end purse. But it’s no fable—this is the reality at We Recycle, an artisan goods company based in India. We Recycle, short for Women Empowerment through Recycling, transforms waste into useful and strikingly beautiful products. Artists use materials that would ordinarily be thrown away, like juice boxes, bottles, and newspapers, and turn them into highly desirable, hand-crafted products like handbags, lampshades, and desk organizers.

Photo: Andreana Bitsis | Styling: Jessy Scarpone

Based in Hyderabad, India, We Recycle was started by artist Renu Rao and environmentalist Abhinav Gangumalla. The two met in 2011, when Rao was running a wedding card business and Gangumalla was working on an organic farm. In their respective practices, both had encountered the problem of large amounts of waste material. Together, the designer and farmer began to formalize a vision of creating eco-friendly products, and We Recycle was born. The partners also decided to address the social component of sustainability, and added another dimension to their business: training and employing women from a local underprivileged neighborhood to provide them with a source of income.

Photo: Andreana Bitsis | Styling: Jessy Scarpone

Rao’s background is in printmaking and design, and as such, each of the products is marked by her aesthetic. Working with vivid colors, traditional patterns, and floral designs, she describes the style of her creations as “Indian aesthetics with a global appeal”. The products are extremely eye-catching, but the exterior is only half of the draw—much of the charm of the products is learning the story behind them.

The handmade paper used to make stationary and journals is all created from hosiery waste (excess cloth and cuttings from textile factories). Other waste material used for products at We Recycle is primarily household trash donated by family, friends, and customers. Much of the preparation work of raw materials—measuring, folding, and cutting—is done by women from poor backgrounds, who are able to make a living through this work. (The finishing steps, such as screen-printing, laser-cutting, and finishing the products, are completed by the design team.)

Photo: Andreana Bitsis | Styling: Jessy Scarpone

While the resultant products are both functional and beautiful, the goal of We Recycle goes beyond just creating products and selling them, explain the co-founders. “It’s about making people conscious about the problem of waste. It’s about creating a taste for aesthetic design and respect for traditional crafts. It’s about the social inclusion of economically challenged women by creating livelihoods and providing fair wages. It’s about creating a sustainable community.” They hope that their business will inspire people to think about the waste they generate, and about innovative ways to lessen or upcycle that waste.

Photo: Andreana Bitsis | Styling: Jessy Scarpone

We Recycle’s model of operating isn’t a new one—in fact, as Rao and Gangumalla explain, it’s the oldest system there is. “There is no waste in nature,” Gangumalla points out. “Nature always works in a closed loop, and the remains of one process become the raw materials for some other process.” Though not a fairytale, We Recycle is moving us towards a less-wasteful happily ever after–one beautiful product at a time.

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For more information about We Recycle, visit the company’s website

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