Upcycling trash to treasure will change the way you see waste

By Kelly Ho

Designer and entrepreneur Kimi Lam is out to proving that one man’s trash is another woman’s successful business

By Kelly Ho |

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After we finish a carton of juice, most of us simply throw it in the bin. After all, it’s just rubbish, right? Not to Kimi Lam Hiu-ha, who founded the upcycling brand Saupei in 2014.

The freelance graphic designer first realised the potential for waste items to be made into new products when she stumbled upon a beautiful leather bag that her brother had thrown away.

“The bag was intact with only a few buttons missing. I was learning leather crafting at that time, so I just thought, why not cut up the bag and make other pieces with that nice leather? That’s how I started upcycling waste materials.”

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The name Saupei comes from a Cantonese slang term that means “worn out”. Lam explained that she uses worn-out materials, including drinks cartons, car tyres, and plastic bags, to make new innovative pieces, such as wallets, cardholders, and chairs.

Most of the materials Lam uses are sent to her by her hoard of dedicated Facebook followers. As of the end of last month, Lam had already received more than 4,000 drink cartons this year, and she expects to see the number to rise every year.

Kimi Lam (right) wants to use the concept of upcycling to encourage people to become less wasteful.
Photo: Saupei

“I suppose the amount of trash produced will continue to grow because our city really consumes a lot,” she said.

However, Lam said she has seen an improvement in people’s attitude toward environmental issues in the past few years, noting the increased popularity of eco-friendly products such as stainless steel straws.

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“When we first started selling stainless steel straws, people were reluctant to use them because they thought washing the straws after use was inconvenient. But now people don’t really mind doing a bit of extra work to help save the planet.”

She also highlighted some local initiatives like Waste-no-mall, where residents in Yuen Long regularly set up collection points for different types of waste materials. The success of such projects means it has now expanded to other districts in Hong Kong.

“These kind of initiatives help raise awareness about environmental protection and the importance of recycling. When people start getting into the habit of recycling, they realise just how much waste is produced every day, giving them even greater incentive to reduce waste.”

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While it’s unlikely that Hong Kong will become a zero-waste society any time soon, Lam believes encouraging people to recycle is a good place to start. Better civic education is also crucial, she said. “Schools need to educate students on how to recycle waste properly; putting recycling bins in the school playground is not enough.”

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Photo: Saupei

It’s been four years since Lam started her upcycling business, and it has been a rewarding experience.

“I have met a lot people from the environmental industry, who have great ideas to improve our surroundings,” she said.

Lam will be one of the facilitators at this year’s GreenFest by Hysan, which will be held on November 10 and 11. She will lead a “Trash to Treasure” workshop, demonstrating how to make a cardholder out of a drinks carton. She said she was looking forward to sharing her passion for upcycling with participants, and showing them the techniques she uses to make her products.

“I hope people will change the way they view rubbish, and see it as a resource instead of a completely useless piece of garbage.”

Kimmi Lam Hiu-ha and many other foodies and change leaders will be speaking at GreenFest by Hysan which runs over November 10 and 11. GreenFest is a festival, co-organised by Rooftop Republic, especially aimed at secondary students, jam-packed with talks and workshops about rethinking our food. Tickets for each day can be bought through Pelago.

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge