Ardent Earth: My Upcycling Story

Ardent Earth: My Upcycling Story

In 2018, I made a tote bag out of a coffee sack I received on BUNZ (a trading app). I didn’t think much of it at the time. Running my hands over the textured cloth, I remember thinking that “jute” (the plant where burlap, hessian and gunny cloth come from) is a completely biodegradable natural fibre, used in almost as many items as cotton, yet we don’t see it used much in fashion. Even though the image of a burlap bag swinging from an arm at a farmer’s market seemed really cute, I wasn’t aiming to design anything particularly trendy. My first coffee tote was a simple two-strapped midsize, lined with whatever extra fabric I had on hand. Surprisingly, friends and family loved the idea. With every exchange, feedback on my bags was warm and encouraging. People kept asking to see more of what I had to offer, and were curious about what new designs I had. They loved knowing I was upcycling textiles destined for landfill into something beautiful. So I started thinking - What else can I do with this fabric?

the OG tote bag
upcycling materials

If you’re a maker, then you know balancing supply and demand can be tricky. Coffee sacks are a super durable material to work with, and while branded with fun, unique designs, can be kind of tricky to get your hands on due to being single-use. Unfortunately, Canada doesn’t have a standardized process when it comes to sorting the textiles we send to landfill. When the University of Waterloo teamed up with Seneca College this year to publish Textile waste in Ontario, Canada: Opportunities for reuse and recycling, they discovered that Canadians toss away close to 500 million kilograms of fabric items each year. Since my tote bags did so well with close friends, I thought branching out to my local community would be a great next step. That success inspired me to turn discarded coffee sacks into a whole line of household items such as our eco-friendly dish scrubbers, storage pouches, laundry hampers, floor pillows, and of course, my best selling coffee sack baskets.

picking up coffee sacks
upcycled products

Before any of that though, I had to get my hands on more burlap. I met Sam James, from Sam James Coffee Bar in Toronto in 2019. My sister Elektra, owner of Morning Parade Coffee, was kind enough to introduce us. I explained to Sam that I was interested in reusing the coffee sacks he no longer needed, hoping to combine them with deadstock fabric from my contact at Fabcycle in BC to use as liner for the inside. He thought that was a great idea. Sam’s always been super friendly, and I really enjoy working together with him. I’m thankful to my sister for setting us up.

upcycled coffee sack baskets
upcycled coffee sack tote bag

Out of everything I’ve made from burlap so far, I like my zero-waste coffee sack baskets the best. Practical as they are stylish, customers use my lightweight sacks for everything from bread and fruit baskets in their kitchens, to stylish plant pots, craft supply caddies, bathroom storage, and more. For those of us that love the cottagecore aesthetic, burlap accents are key to drawing out the cozy, warm comforts of home. I love knowing I’m helping people achieve that, as well as keeping unwanted items from landfill. Being part of a circular economy, where low-waste sustainable living solutions are not only welcomed but celebrated, is immensely fulfilling work.

Thank you for being with me on this journey of my upcycling story. I’d love to hear any suggestions on what you’d like to see next!

Ardent Earth: My Upcycling Story
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Great ideas, Diane! We actually recently launched a zippered pencil case/ makeup bag here:

Ardent Earth

What about making a burlap jointed teddy bear? I can picture one in my head and it is cute. Also, how about zippered pencil cases or make up bags out of smaller pieces of burlap?

Diane Simpson

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