Small business editor Caitlin Sykes this week interviews a handful of small business owners about upcyling.

While spending time in the Netherlands in 2010, Paul Roest spied some cool cafes that had furniture made out of old scaffolding timber.

"I thought it looked really great, particularly in some of the cafes they have there right on the beaches," explains Roest, "and I thought it would be kind of cool to make something similar."

Roest didn't have a building background - he's actually got a Masters in environmental science - but when he got home he put his idea into practice, making himself a coffee table in his spare time.

"Then I made some mates some tables, then I chucked a few things on Trade Me. Then boom - business had started."

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Roest says he's always loved the idea of upcycling - taking a waste product and turning it into something of greater value - and his background in environmental science also gave him an awareness of the amount of waste we send to landfill and the need to repurpose more materials.

His firm, Industrial Design NZ, now produces furniture, as well as retail, cafe and office fitouts using pallets and other recycled materials.

Based on Roest's family farm in Auckland, the business has two fulltime and four part time staff and is experiencing around 100 percent year-on-year growth.

James Griffin is the network general manager at the Sustainable Business Network, and leads the organisation's circular economy work.

Helen Copplestone founded KARKT, which makes bags from upcycled materials, with husband Samuel Wyrsch.
Helen Copplestone founded KARKT, which makes bags from upcycled materials, with husband Samuel Wyrsch.

He believes there are more businesses thinking creatively about what they can do with waste to extract greater value, "which is arguably moving recycling in an upwards direction to extract the greatest value, as opposed to downcycling".

"Also I think there is a greater awareness of concepts that constitute a more circular economy, such as waste from one industry being a feedstock for another, and that greater awareness leads to more conscious investigation into possible solutions."

Late last year, Helen Copplestone and her husband Samuel Wyrsch founded KARKT, which makes bags from upcycled materials. The company's bags are made mainly by reclaiming expired or damaged truck curtains, but they also incorporate seat belts, bike and truck inner tubes, and street flags.

Copplestone has a Bachelor of Commerce in accounting and spent years as a production accountant in the film and TV industry, but says creating a business that locally manufactures products that's reuse unwanted materials aligns with the couple's personal beliefs. Like all startup businesses, funding has been a challenge, as has price perception.

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"There's a lot of work involved in handling and manufacturing products made from upcycled materials that are locally made on local wages. This converts into a price that consumers need to be prepared to pay to reflect that, but it's something some people don't understand when they're used to paying for cheap imports," she says.

"But thanks to media coverage I think there's an increasing group of educated and eco-informed people - the 'conscious consumers' - who understand that paying more initially actually means paying less in the end."


Coming up in Small Business: At what stage should you bring on an independent advisor or director to your business and what's involved in getting that kind of governance on board? If you've got a story to share, drop me a note at nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com.