The Art of Upcycling, Bangkok Style

Published on: November 22, 2018

The best things in life are free, well almost. Get creative and hop aboard the upcycling train, to repurpose, reuse, and recycle your old clutter. By Candice Salmeró   If you’re like me, you probably have a lot of old stuff just lying around your house, taking up valuable space. By actively embracing upcycling you can begin to incorporate sustainable habits into your daily life, while setting a great example for your children. Just as the old Chinese proverb by Laozi says, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” 

What is upcycling?

So what is upcycling? It is taking something you would otherwise throw away and making it into something that has equal or greater use or value. And no, it’s not a fancy way of saying recycling. The difference is that recycling is about ‘downcycling’ things, that is, reducing the quality of the materials used, whereas ‘upcycling’ is about maintaining and/or improving the quality of the materials.

Upcycling-based businesses

One of the most successful and well-known upcycling hubs is, where shoppers can find a plethora of amazing upcycled goods, such as sandals made from designer handbags, wall art cut out from old vinyl records, quilts made from old baby rompers and even beeswax food wraps repurposing hankies and napkins.  Nowadays, many savvy entrepreneurs are building forward-thinking businesses around upcycling. For example, Rebagz makes handbags out of juice packs and rice sacks; ReSurf turns broken surfboards into asphalt filler; Inseta turns plastic bottles into shoes and Bangkok-based ANCHA Beachwear turns old fishing nets into gorgeous swimwear.

Fun and creative ways to incorporate upcycling into your home and office

Upcycling doesn’t have to be restrained to the world of commerce; there are plenty of fun and creative ways you can incorporate this revolution into your home and office too. For example:
  • Revamp your home with a one-of-a-kind bookshelf made from stacks of old novels and a plank of wood.
  • Match it with bookends repurposed from telephone handsets.
  • If you’re a wine lover, why not think outside the box and turn a disused wine crate into a shoe rack, turn all your old corks into a bulletin board or make large wine bottles into lamps. At work, you can bedazzle an old stapler and turn it into a paperweight.
  • Turn old mason jars into pen holders.
  • An old dish rack can make an awesome file holder.
  • A forlorn bread box can morph into a trendy phone charging station.
And let’s not forget any outdoor space too:
  • Try turning old boots into planter pots.
  • Take a plastic bottle and two wooden spoons to create a bird feeder.
  • Give packing crates a makeover into outdoor furniture.
  • Turn old luggage into handy storage bins.
  • Convert wrenches into hanging plant hooks.

Wearable upcycled clothing

When it comes to wearable upcycled clothing, the sky’s the limit. There are way too many cool ideas to list here, just take a look at Pinterest to see just how many are out there. Some of my favorites include making flannel pajamas into a chic scarf, an oversized t-shirt into a strapless dress, baby clothes into a stuffed toy, pillowcase into girl’s nightgown, and even a handkerchief into a heat bag.

Novel uses for existing objects

Don’t be scared, you don’t have to be MacGyver or a DIY whizz to get your upcycling groove on, you can also just take existing objects and use them in a novel way. Try turning a cupcake tray into a jewelry organizer, a drinks six-pack into a condiment carrier, a credit card into guitar pick, a picture frame into a serving tray, a ketchup bottle into a pancake squirter, and put an old Frisbee into service as reinforcement for a disposable plate. The list goes on and on.

Where to get started in Bangkok

One question I get asked a lot is how practical is it to take part in such upcycling endeavours when living as an expat in Bangkok. Well, to help you out, I’ve compiled a list of useful info to get you started.
  • Second Chance (  If you don’t feel like doing the work yourself, donate your items to this organization and they’ll gladly do the upcycling. They are giving women from the Khlong Toei slum a second chance through fair and sustainable employment, by creatively using unwanted clothing to create bags and giftwares.
  • Tang Hua Seng (  This department store located at Banglumphu (near Khao San Road) is a one-stop-shop for craft and DIY projects. Different zones sell various kinds of fabric, yarn, thread, glitter, glue, paint, and all manner of accessories. For sure this amazing local store will have what you’re looking for and at an incredibly low price.
  • theCOMMONS ( The lifestyle complex runs regular workshops on lots of sustainable and eco-friendly practices, from soap and chocolate making to fruit printing, calligraphy and cactus gardening. Follow them online to sign-up for a course.
  • Thieves’ Market (Nakhon Kasem) This (in)famous market in Samphanthawong district (Charoen Krung Road) is popularly known as Thieves Market because in the past it was mostly made up of stolen goods. Not so anymore; nowadays you’re more likely to find imitation antiques, old furniture, vintage knick-knacks, electronics, and brassware. For those of you with creativity to spare, you can certainly find a great bargain here that’s just waiting for a new lease on life.
  • Treasure Factory ( This fantastic store, with outlets in Phrom Phong (Sukhumvit 39) and Phra Khanong (Summer Hill) sells a wide range of quality second-hand electrical appliances, homewares, furniture, bags, sporting equipment, watches, toys, and clothing. You can find genuine bargains here and international brand items. Many are in perfect condition, but some require a little TLC or upcycling to reveal their true potential. Note: On Sukhumvit Soi 39 you can also find Tokyo Joe and EcoRing, selling a similar range of second-hand items, albeit in a smaller space.

DIY supplies

Unsure where to pick up essential tools? Here are my top picks of where to pick up art ‘n’ craft and DIY supplies.
  • Head straight to one of the ubiquitous Japanese ฿60 stores around town for ribbon, frames, paper, stickers, boxes and so on at an unbeatable price.
  • In many department stores across the city, you’ll find B2S, to fulfill all your stationery and art needs. Their CentralWorld store is arguably the biggest and best.
  • For quality art supplies, don’t go past Somjai, with various locations across the city. 
  • HomePro for all manner of handyperson items – electrical tools, hammers/saws, nuts/bolts, paint, wood, glue, tiles, hooks and almost anything else you can think of – especially their downtown Ploenchit store, which has four floors of goods.
  • Suksaphan Panit is a government-run store geared for educators, with multiples branches around Bangkok, including near the National Stadium. While the premises are not glamorous, they sell a vast array of inexpensive crafting supplies, paper goods, rubber stamps, science equipment, and general school supplies.
  • For sewing and knitting-type endeavors, head straight to Pinn Shop’s many branches for a vast selection of accessories.
  • MBK Mall has a plethora of shops on its seven floors and within Tokyu (Japanese department store) selling a range of handmade paper, beads and buttons, art and knitting supplies, craft paper, knitting and sewing supplies, stickers, stamps and so on.
  • Chatuchak Weekend Market – scrounge around and you can find all sorts of fantastic wood, ceramic, paper, jewelry, and fabric items to play with.
  Photos by Shutterstock

About the Author

Originally from Tasmania, Candice is a long-term Asia resident (16 years) who has been in the City of Angels for nine years. Formally a professional communications director in the hotel industry, she is now a full-time mum to an active baby boy and a self-employed entrepreneur, marketing consultant, and yoga teacher. In her spare time, she is also an advocate for sustainable change, championing the fight against single-use plastic with Wrappini ( / @wrappini), a range of locally made natural beeswax food wraps.
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