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You see an obsolete camera, I see a nightlight: Meet your San Francisco upcyclers

Making new stuff from old stuff now has a name—upcycling—and an army of ingenious practitioners. A rags-to-cashmere overview of the zeitgeistiest design trend around.

Scavenges sails,
stitches totes
Susan Hoff

“A college friend gave me my first sail. It was from an old schooner—very rare and pretty gross. It was so enormous I had to have somebody help me get it out of the truck and lay it out in a field to work on. When you cut into a sail, it’s almost as though you are butchering a hog.”

Was: Canvas sail
Is: Sturdy bag

Susan Hoff’s roomy handmade totes reflect two of her favorite pastimes, sailing and riding. The seafaring fabric (mostly from boats in the 25- to 50-foot range) is set off with bridle reins.

Buy it: $140-320; Gravel & Gold, 3266 21st St., S.F., 415-552-0112; Revolver, 136 Fillmore St., S.F., 415-578-3363; Voyager, 365 Valencia St., S.F., 415-779-2712

Reclaim wood,
build chairs

Joseph Ferriso and Jonathan Anzalone, Anzfer Farms

“Not only does new wood have less character, it has less structural integrity. Whereas in trees that were growing for 800 years before being cut down 80 to 100 years ago, the grain pattern is very tight. The other day I was walking to work, and I saw a guy with an old fir beam in his truck and snagged it. Part of our day-to-day work is looking for wood—even at the beach, we’re looking,” says Joseph Ferriso.

Was: Climbing rope
IS: Woven seating

Joseph Ferriso and Jonathan Anzalone marry found materials (old-growth scrap lumber, retired climbing rope from Mission Cliffs) with a modern design sensibility and a painterly way with color to make stylish furniture you actually want to sit in.

Buy it: $2,700, Anzfer Farms, 2441 Balboa St., S.F., 917-774-4563

Rescues remnants, patchworks jackets
Elizabeth Brunner, Piece x Piece

“I was interning at Isda & Co. and was asked to sort through seasonal fabrics, some of which the company dumped. I was surprised and asked if I could take the scraps home. After they spent a year in my garage, my husband finally asked what we were going to do with them, so I started experimenting.”

Was: Trashed fabric
Is: Bespoke blazer
Elizabeth Brunner’s carefully constructed styles reflect her source material: mostly 8-by-10-inch remnants from high-end local designers like Erica Tanov. The hip results are just right for San Francisco layering.

Buy it: $700 (Custom order); Piece x Piece, 415-685-5789; other styles at Loft 1513, 3927 24th St., S.F., 415-550-1513

Rips jeans, braids baskets
Llane Alexis, Small Trade Company

“I just finished an 8-by-10 rug for Levi’s made of crocheted scraps of denim. I did have a little help from my intern and a friend. I also made a chuppah for my partner Matt’s brother’s Jewish wedding out of indigo fabric from Japan. But the most unusual thing I’ve made was dolls from my own hair. Never again—I don’t want to have to regrow my dreadlocks.”

Was: Scrap denim
Is: Crazy carryall
Llane Alexis’s woven-from-levi’s baskets take up to two weeks to braid, coil, and stitch by hand. He thanks his cuban abuela and aunts for teaching him to sew: “They thought, if you can hit a ball with a bat, you can mend your own pants.”

Buy it: $600–1,250; Unionmade, 493 Sanchez St., S.F., 415-861-3373; March, 3075 Sacramento St., S.F., 415-931-7433; Levi’s, 1155 Battery St., S.F., 415-677-9927 

Saves books, fashions pins
Laura Bruland, Yes & Yes Designs

“I love that books already come with a full life and history about them. I just give them a new chapter, so to speak. It’s almost like I am collaborating with the book to make a final product. I provide the shapes and design, but the book provides the personality.”

Was: Library discards
Is: Jewelry with a sense of humor
Laura Bruland of Yes & Yes Designs favors boldly colored hardcovers for her vintage-inspired pins and earrings, which she creates using a laser cutter at the TechShop S.F. The pages don’t go to waste, either: She cuts them into paper butterflies for scrapbooking and business cards.

Buy it: $14–20; Lavish, 508 Hayes St., S.F., 415-565-0540; Picnic, 1808 Polk St., S.F., 415-346-6556

We’re not sure exactly when the earnest, slightly scolding concept known as recycling morphed into the lighthearted, aesthetically exciting movement called upcycling. What we do know is that transforming the worn-out, the broken-down, the utterly useless into stuff that’s high style and cool beyond the usual do-gooder/ DIYer demographic feels absolutely of the moment. It’s fun, of course, testing the ingenuity and creative dexterity of established craftspeople and novices alike; even local fashion favorites like Martha Davis and Melissa Joy Manning are finding inspiration in the trash. Profitable, too: Thanks to places like Etsy, Kickstarter, and SoMa’s TechShop San Francisco work space, it’s never been easier to play around and earn some money besides. But the real appeal is socio-psychological. The making-do-with- what-we-have mindset that was so appropriate for the recession feels even more fitting now that significant swaths of the Bay Area are starting to boom again. Maybe that’s because upcycling, in its small way, is a reaction against the soul-destroying decadence of recent periods. It’s a reminder that things don’t have to be the same again if we don’t want them to be. They can get better.

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