Eco-conscious design has yet to win over China's mainstream consumer market, but The Squirrelz, a green multi-brand store and China's first upcycle shop, hopes to spark a trend towards more sustainable living. Located at the heart of Shanghai's Eco Village, a shopping and events hub for all things green, the shop was founded by designers Bunny Yan and Nicolas Bouthors in June 2013. The Squirrelz represents over two-dozen Shanghai-based designers and carries designs ranging from SOMOS' upcycled totes made out of tarpaulin cement bags to FormMaker's recycled cardboard furniture.
Although the practice of recycling and reuse still remains an integral part of China’s resourceful and low-income populations, booming middle and upper-class consumer power in Chinese cities such as Shanghai has led to the eschewal of upcycling in favor of a wasteful consumer culture–a worrying trend that leaves landfills swelling with discarded products and puts a serious toll on the environment.
“There’s so much waste, overproduction and defective products out there, especially in China, and so many of those products can be made with those materials–most of which are new,” says Yan on why she and Bouthors chose to open China’s first upcycle design shop. “If we can use our skills to create and help showcase these interesting designs while contributing to a better environment then that will be the ultimate win-win situation.”
In addition to carrying the upcycled wares of other Shanghai-based designers and social enterprises, Squirrelz further reduces landfill-bound waste by reaching out to Chinese companies with defective and overstocked items and working with them and other designers to develop upcycled products. The retail shop also hosts arts and craft classes to teach the community how to upcycle old products. In a country where mass-production is king, the Squirrelz stands out as a vanguard of eco-friendly products, each with its own unique backstory.
Images © Lucy Wang