As an “influencer” and member of the media, I often receive swag (i.e. free gifts) from events, product launches, travel campaigns, etc. I can’t tell you how many branded bags, water bottles, mugs, notebooks, hats, and pens I’ve collected this way.

Swag I've received
A tiny sampling of some of the stuff I’ve received over the years — things I found while looking around my house for less than five minutes. I kept these things because I thought there was a decent chance I’d actually use them. But in reality only one of these items — the red water bottle — has become a frequently used possession.

Much of this swag is useful. I’ve received some ridiculously nice gifts over the years, some of which I keep for myself and some of which I gift to others. But lots of things, I must confess, go straight to the back of a desk drawer or closet and never see the light of day again.

Swag that actually makes it into the hands of a person like me is, in essence, a success. The company who made/branded the item did so to get its message across, and by giving the item to me they communicated their message (at least theoretically).

But the truth is, branded items like these often never reach an end user. Tons, literally tons, of this stuff gets made and then goes straight to landfills without ever being given to anyone. This is where Upcycle comes in.

The Upcycle Shop on Long Road in Greymont
The Upcycle shop on Long Road. The Upcycle tag line is, “Giving Junk a Second Chance”.

Upcycle, launched and run by Winnie McHenry and her partner Mark Fruhauf, is an initiative aimed at reducing waste and promoting a greener society. Among other things, Upcycle runs a shop on Long Road in Greymont (where the well-known strip of antique shops is), selling corporate swag and other bulk items that would otherwise be dumped in landfills.

How Upcycle Reduces Corporate Waste

This process is slightly hard to explain and I don’t want to get mired in the details. But, in short:

1) Companies produce tons of branded products to be given as gifts.

2) Sometimes there’s a mistake, like the logo is printed wrong or there is a tiny flaw in the product. Sometimes a company changes its logo and then everything with the old logo becomes obsolete. Sometimes a company goes out of business, or just orders too many products, or can no longer use the products for countless other reasons.

3) Usually these rejected products go to the dump or get incinerated. Once the company logo is on the item, it can’t be sold or even donated due to corporate branding rules.

4) By partnering with these corporations, Upcycle collects these rejected products — boxes and boxes and boxes of them — removes the logos, and then sells them. Cheap.

Gail browsing through upcycled products
Gail browses through stuff at Upcycle.
Diaries for sale at Upcycle
2020 diaries (or calendars, for the Americans among you) on sale for R50 at Upcycle. The corporate branding that was there before has been covered by an Upcycle logo. I took this photo in the first week of January — I wish I’d known about Upcycle before paying full price for a similar calendar the week before.
Upcycled notebooks for sale
Upcycled water bottles
Water bottles, coffee cups, thermoses, flags.
Bags for sale
They were hard to photograph but Upcycle has a ton of really nice bags and backpacks, perfect for school kids and university students.
Shoes for sale
“Safety footwear” that I personally think would be cool enough to wear to a club (if I went to clubs).
Golf shirts, camping stoves, braai equipment…You name it, Upcycle has it.

In addition to simply removing the corporate branding and then selling the products, Upcycle works with local artists to transform bland, undesirable things into pretty new stuff.

Drawstring bags made from t-shirts.
Cloth drawstring bags made from discarded t-shirts. I don’t have photos of this but Upcycle is now putting Valentine-themed print on the red bags, to be used as upcycled Valentine’s gift wrapping.
Upcycled colored pencils
A really cute pack of colored pencils, which I could think of no excuse to buy but wanted to.

The inside of this shop might not look pretty at first glance. But I was there for 30 minutes and left with a camping chair, an umbrella, a notebook and pen, and a package of highlighters for less than R200 ($13.50). There is a lot of very nice, useful stuff, and the proceeds are going to further promote sustainability in our community.

According to a recent post on their Facebook group, Upcycle has so far diverted more than 23,400 kilograms (that’s more than 50,000 pounds, Americans) of potential landfill waste. And they’ve only been doing this for a year or two.

I could go on but you have to visit this shop to properly appreciate it. So go.

The Upcycle shop is on 158 Long Road, Greymont. Upcycle has a Facebook group, a Facebook page, and a website. The Facebook group seems to be the most active, with regular updates on new product arrivals.

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