Talking Waste, Consumerism, and Reuse with Reuse First

Reuse First Upcycled Card

As always, I couldn’t resist scouring this year’s Indie Craft Experience for new green crafters on the scene, and the folks at Reuse First really stood out to me. Jeremiah and Michelle’s mix of sweet and cheeky paper goods totally caught my eye, and they were kind enough to answer some questions about what they do and why they do it! Their insights into upcycling, waste, and consumerism are really refreshing.

CAGW: Tell me a little bit about how you got into crafting.

RF: Jeremiah started making notebooks from paper he took from his school’s computer lab’s recycling bin (we found out later they weren’t even being recycled!). He punched holes in it and used rubberbands to bind them. He taught himself how to silkscreen and eventually he started to design cards and covers for notebooks which he then silkscreened.

Our paper products really started to evolve once Jeremiah took a job at a package design firm here in Chicago. It’s appalling how even in a creative office setting waste is prevalent and there is a general disregard for “greener thoughts.” He found that most people equated “being green” with “more money.” As the boxes of paper started to pile up we realized that there is so much material in need of a second life. We both went to art schools so our crafty spirits probably started to bloom during that time.

Upcycled Chicago Greeting Card

CAGW: Why is using reclaimed materials important to you?

RF: There is nothing more rewarding for us than to see materials that most people consider garbage used and enjoyed by others. Using reclaimed materials is the only way we can feel like an environmentally responsible company.

Although recycling is important, it is an energy intensive process and can sometimes be counter productive. Reusing materials takes very little extra energy and prevents the need for new raw materials while allowing the recycling industry to catch up on its mounting reserves.

We want to encourage consumers and businesses alike to think and act resourcefully. We see reuse a key element of the ever-changing production stream. Reusing recyclable items not only extends their life but also creates an opportunity for consumers to leave a smaller footprint.

Reuse First Upcycled Notebook

CAGW: What inspires your designs?

RF: Living in Chicago where recycling is a bit of a joke, we are inspired by the lack of regard so many businesses give to being resourceful. Our designs are inspired by our urban surroundings, the materials we find, and by midcentury typography and illustration.

CAGW: I really love your name! It feels like “reuse” is the one “R” in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle that gets overlooked a lot of the time. Can you speak to that a little bit and how that idea influences your crafting?

RF: We totally agree that Reuse is the one “R” that gets overlooked.

As kids, there was a big push to recycle, which was good, but it was more of a quick and easy “fix.” I don’t think we changed our buying habits much. It’s very much an American ideal to own new things; the idea of using someone else’s garbage for anything has always had a “low class” stigma attached. Now that conservation has become “cool and hip” you see more people doing what we should have been doing all along. Our biggest hope is that it’s not seen as a passing fad but an important behavior for the present and future.

CAGW: Amen to that!

You can check out Reuse First’s beautiful upcycled paper goods over in their Etsy shop!

[All photos via Reuse First, used with permission.]

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