Make Money from Upcycling

Make Money from Upcycling Case Studies

Tom Donadel Make Money from Upcycling

Make Money from Upcycling Case Studies discussed by Eco Solutions

Upcycling has really gone up a notch in the last few years as we are becoming more and more aware of the impact of disposing of material things to go into landfill. Lots of people do it as a hobby but more and more people are finding innovative ways to make money from it. Our article includes some really useful Make Money from Upcycling Case Studies as well as some really important hints and tips for amazing techniques and products which will help you on this journey to make your upcycling projects easier and less time-consuming.

The Case Studies Source Links are included in this article.

How to Make Money from Upcycling Furniture [Side Hustle Case Study]

17/09/2019 by Boost My Budget

Here’s the next instalment in our side hustle case study series, where real people share how they make extra money in their spare time!

In this post, Steph from Debt Free Family is sharing her cool and creative side hustle – upcycling and selling second-hand furniture.

Here’s how she does it:

How to make money from upcycling & flipping furniture

Please tell us a little about yourself and your side hustle
I’m Steph, a mum of 3 and owner of Debt Free Family, a blog where I write about my family’s journey with money. One of the ways I’ve made some extra money over the last few years is by upcycling old furniture and then reselling it.

Sometimes I go and look for furniture and other times I just come across something that someone’s throwing out, but I always look for solid wood, well-made pieces, no matter what state they’re in!

How long have you been doing your side hustle? How did you get into it?
I first started upcycling furniture about 6 years ago. I didn’t plan on selling the pieces I upcycled to start with. I was furnishing our own home and couldn’t find the pieces I wanted at reasonable prices we could afford and I try not to add to the ‘throw-away’ culture of modern furniture.

When I found a beautiful old pine chest of drawers someone had badly covered in white paint, I knew I could sand it back and it’d be exactly what I was looking for!

Sanding that chest of drawers took me forever, but I’ve since learned some techniques to speed it all up a bit!

I actually sold that chest of drawers about 6 months after it was finished as I’d found another one that fits better in our house, and made £108 profit! I then realised this could be quite a lucrative side hustle that fits in beautifully around the kids’ busy schedules!

What does the work actually involve? What does a typical day/work session look like for you?
My upcycling ‘speciality’ is bringing old pieces of furniture back to their original glory. My favourite pieces of furniture are ones that were painted during the ‘shabby chic’ furniture phase of the early 2000s.

This was where people painted wooden furniture and then distressed it to make it look old. Done well, it can look beautiful. Done badly, it’s the perfect piece for me to upcycle!

Once I’ve found a piece I like, the first thing I do is make sure it’s solid wood. I do this by checking the joins and looking for chips and scratches. These often reveal what’s underneath the surface. I want it to be solid wood!

I then start to take off the old paint. I use a paint stripper these days, as sanding alone is time-consuming and really messy! You always need to be in a ventilated area when using a paint stripper, I wait for a dry day and do it in the garden, making sure no children or animals can get to it!

After the old paints off, I then use a rough sander to get all the last bits and pieces of paint off, followed by a fine sand until the wood is silky smooth.

Lastly, I use wax to seal the wood. Sometimes I replace drawer handles but I prefer to keep the pieces as close to its original state as possible.

How much can you make doing this side hustle?
That’s a hard question to answer as there are so many variables! If I can get a piece of furniture for a rock bottom price, or even better, free, then, of course, my profit is higher. The best places to get very cheap pieces are home clearance shops or charity shops. Occasionally they’ll be small pieces at car boot sales or friends will ask if I want something they’re about to chuck out!

As a rough guide, I make an average of £70/80 per item, and that’s after I’ve bought paint stripper and sanding pads.

Are there any start-up costs and/or ongoing expenses with this side hustle?
Although it’s not essential, having a sanding ‘mouse’ makes life a lot easier when you’re sanding your item. I’d suggest finding a small item to start with, something like a bedside table so you don’t need much paint stripper if that’s the way you decide to go. Wax to seal the wood is important and so make sure you get a decent one. It’s about £10 for a tin and they’ll last for about 3-4 small pieces of furniture.

That’s about it.

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to get started?
Start small and with a simply made item. I love old furniture that’s simple and functional, but there are so many different styles. Once you know what you’re doing on the basic pieces, find a style you love and you’ll enjoy working on every item.


Part of upcycling can be simple refurbishment, and part of it is re-styling it. New covers, new coats of paint, and other new changes can make something old and worn down into something chic and modern. The business also scales nicely, letting you grow from a solo operation to a team, if necessary.

Learn how to start your own Furniture Upcycling Business and whether it is the right fit for you.

Make Money from UpcyclingHow to Make Money from Upcycling as a Business

Upcycling as a Business

Why should you make a business out of upcycling? If you’re a crafty person and love to make unique one of ‘a kind’ things, why not save the environment and make money while doing it. Upcycling involves taking waste materials and giving them a new life, think about all the money you will save by using items you were going to get rid of rather than buying materials. Using waste materials and selling the results reduces landfill and saves you money. If you’re thinking of starting a business using upcycled materials, here are a few tips to think about and help you on your way.

Things to Think About:

As a seller, you are not limited to only online or in person. Selling online may look easier, but can be just as difficult as selling at fairs.

Online Selling Pros:
Work from home
Cheap and easy to setup
No face to face customer interaction
Online Con’s:
Impersonal/people more likely to be rude or harsh
Managing shipping out products, and handling returns
If the website crashes you crash

In-Person Pros:
Work from home half the time
Meet people, make connections, interact with the local community
More upfront selling and less worry about shipping

In-Person Con’s:
Travelling to events can be difficult if not prepared
Paying for show space
Will take longer for a consistent workflow

The best way to make your business grow is to sell both online and in person. Selling online will help you get a steady rate of customers, and sell to a larger audience. Whereas In person will help you make connections, and help you grow from a seller perspective.

Marketing is extremely important either way, and there are a variety of ways to get your business name out there. There are several ways to market your business, some of which are listed below.
Social Media like Facebook and Twitter.
Make YouTube videos possibly showing off a new product.
Make flyers and post at local community centres, schools, and other craft events.
Find small clubs or connection groups to help your business grow.
If you can try and make a logo for yourself, or find someone who can help you make one. Even a small business can use an icon that’s simple and recognizable for future reference.

Budgeting is often pushed aside by online sellers, but should always be factored in no matter where you sell. One thing you may want to consider are fees, transportation, and production cost. For example, events almost always have an entree fee or a space fee. Costs to consider include; how much will it cost to get your things there? (Gas) Are you paying someone to assist you at your booth, or is it a friend? And cost it took to make all the product you’re hoping to sell that day. Online websites always have a small fee for working with them, and often take a portion of the price of goods. For example, you price your upcycled lights at $10, and $1 of that goes toward the website you use. This is similar to a rent fee per piece. Don’t forget about shipping costs to send out and receive packages around the world; will you include shipping in the price of the product, or will you make customer pay to return the piece? Are you willing to pay for goods that were damaged due to shipping?

Now that we have covered the pros and cons of online vs. in person, how to market, and what needs to be budgeted for. Let’s talk about some additional things to consider, for example, partnership. Are you doing this alone or with a friend/partner/etc.? Are you splitting the payout with them, or have a business plan laid out in case of future growth? Are you both sharing a space to work at, or work separately at home? If sharing a space, be prepared to change spaces to work if someone decides to dip out. And most importantly, make sure you’re both on the same page when it comes to selling, and keep each other informed on everything.

Additional Tips:

  1. Remember not to bite off more than you can chew. Craft shows can be intimidating try to start off small before going off into the big leagues. It’s important to know your audience/product and understand seasonal changes. For example, maybe you will do better at the Christmas craft show coming up then Valentine’s Day one later on. On the other hand, can you put a spin on your product to make it worth it to go to a holiday-themed show? These shows tend to be more popular because people wait all year long for them.
  2. Practice what you’d like to say to customers before going out there. Know what you’d like to highlight in your product, and get comfortable with talking to strangers. We suggest making a practice set up of what your stand or booth will look like at home before going to the space.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when setting up your website. It’s better to make sure everything is running right before loading it up with a product.
  4. Try not to spam out coupons and deals right off the bat because you aren’t selling immediately. Maybe you need to advertise more, or possibly rethink who you are trying to sell to.
  5. Posting updates on your social media or website is a great way to interact with customers and make them feel more welcome. Post about new ideas you have, ask what they like or what they want to see. People love interacting with artists. Possibly post a bit about your creative process, or how you make some of the items you sell.

How to Make Money from Upcycling – Making the Business Case

‘Making’ the business case for upcycling

What started out as a side project taking landfill-bound materials and turning them into furniture quickly became a business for Jesi Carson and Theunis Snyman.

The duo runs Basic Design, a social enterprise housed in a studio at MakerLabs, a 26,000-square-foot Railtown workspace complete with laser cutters, 3D printers and other maker tools.

While the company produces unique pieces of furniture and products such as wallets and mobile phone cases out of second-hand materials, the business is really centred on redefining the value of waste.

“We just kind of began exploring with materials,” says Carson, who studied sustainability through Emily Carr University’s interaction design program. In discarded textiles and used pieces of wood, Carson and Snyman saw the potential for products that were beautiful, sellable and in line with their environmental ethics.

“We just started playing with them and kind of designed a product line together using these waste streams,” she says. “It led eventually to growing into a larger business.”

Turning waste into opportunity – According to the Vancouver Economic Commission, two-thirds of the 1.8 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste discarded in Metro Vancouver each year is recycled. The rest heads to the landfill.

In 2014, 370,000 tonnes of solid waste from Vancouver was sent to those landfills, and the city is taking steps to lower that figure.

They include the Green Demolition Bylaw, which requires certain homes built before 1940 to have 70 to 90 per cent of the waste produced during demolition diverted from landfills. It provides a lot of opportunity for those in the business of upcycling.

“More companies and more people who are doing construction are now actively looking for people to take this material off their hands. So in a way it is shifting and it is becoming easier. It’s definitely not as easy as going to Home Depot,” says Carson, before detailing the work involved in acquiring the right materials, from sourcing to travelling to de-nailing and prep work.

With an initial focus on wallets and bags, Basic Design has shifted to producing furniture out of reclaimed wood, either for individual clients or for larger organizations. The company’s first contract was with Vancouver’s Lupii Community Café, where everything from the food to the furniture embodies the owner’s zero-waste ambitions. Carson and Snyman also provided multiple tables to Simon Fraser University’s RADIUS (Radical Ideas, Useful to Society) social innovation lab.

Over the past year, Carson says Basic Design has tackled five or six projects, and with that has come on-the-job business education.

“I’m not a business person, I didn’t go to business school, but now I know how to do all my own accounting, and I know how to do my taxes properly, and I know how to do estimates,” says Carson, who also co-founded the Vancouver Trash Lab, which connects makers and designers with waste streams ripe for upcycling. “I feel really connected to that movement, but I think it’s a lot more diverse than people think it is.”

The artistry of upcycling, being a maker isn’t necessarily synonymous with being sustainability-minded, but there is some overlap between the values of the maker movement and those inherent to upcycling.

Just over a decade ago, California-based Dale Dougherty founded Make: magazine to cater to a growing community of traditional artisans and those with a passion for making and doing it yourself. He created the first Maker Faire in 2006, and in 2014, more than 135 Mini Maker, flagship and featured fairs around the world attracted about three-quarters of a million visitors.

In Vancouver – which will host its seventh annual Mini Maker Faire in 2017 – some local makers and designers have been able to couple their hands-on skill sets with sustainability-focused values. They’ve also been able to find a market for their wares.

“Twelve years ago, the term ‘upcycled’ wasn’t even a term,” says Melissa Ferreira, the designer behind Adhesif Clothing Co., which offers garments that are handmade from vintage fabrics and discarded clothing.

“Every single time I go on Instagram, it’s crazy how much I see happening globally. It’s so exciting for me to see it become this movement,” she adds.

Ferreira doesn’t consider herself a maker, but rather an artist first and a designer second. Through Adhesif, she presents two collections per year, each with a dozen pieces. The accessories sold from her Mount Pleasant storefront begin at around $49, whereas a coat can go for between $800 and $900.

She regularly sells out, and often to “diehard” repeat clients.

“That’s a testament … to our concept of quality over quantity. Really, we’re trying to promote conscious consumerism. We want our pieces to stand the test of time, unlike a lot of big-box chains that don’t, because they want you to keep coming back and buying more, more, more,” says Ferreira.

“It’s great because it’s given me the opportunity to really progress my brand and my label, and use it as a platform to talk about sustainability.”

Ferreira founded Adhesif a dozen years ago. She sources her materials from second-hand shops, thrift stores and through the vintage clothing network, she established as a buyer prior to entering into business for herself.

The sewing skills she learned from her mother, a seamstress; the emphasis on upcycling came from the exposure to the world of fashion afforded her by her previous position.

“If most people actually knew what was happening to their discarded clothing, they’d probably, like, flip their lids. It’s a massive industry,” says Ferreira, lamenting the wastefulness of the global fashion industry.

It’s that waste, however, that allows her to bring new meaning to the adage that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

“Using discarded textiles is just another medium; it’s like a collage artist using discarded paper or magazines,” she says. “The creative concepts are endless, really when you’re using found materials.”

‘Maker’ is becoming a household word – For Jacquie Rolston, combining sustainability with making is an endeavour she’s trying to pursue “semi-professionally.” Together with her collaborator, Lin Ho-You, the duo has been making lanterns for the Vancouver Folk Music Festival for more than a decade.

“Technically we were in the first Maker Faire, which was 2011,” adds Ho-You. With bamboo, paper, glue and a significant amount of time, the team behind Illuminiferous create candlelit lanterns on a volunteer or commission basis for clients that include the City of Surrey and Metro Vancouver.

“We just started moving into lamps, and those would go to individual purchasers,” says Rolston, who also works as an illustrator, artist and teacher. “We’re just seeing how we can take the lantern technique and make them meant for electronic, indoor lamp use. And I think there’s business potential here.”

“Most people don’t want a three-foot-by-four-foot light sculpture hanging from their ceiling,” adds Ho-You, who says some of the more complicated lanterns take upwards of 40 hours to complete and are meant for outdoor use. “There’s not really a market for that.”

Currently, in the exploration phase of commercializing a lantern-like household product, Illuminiferous is also pursuing ways to make such a product more sustainable – swapping out glue for beeswax, as an example.

“I love the fact that ‘maker’ is a word that’s getting a lot more use in common parlance,” says Ho-You. “It’s a great movement that encompasses so many great ideas, like working with your hands, making things instead of necessarily buying them, and a lot of the other people in the maker’s movement are also interested in sustainability issues.”

Such issues include life-cycle design and the cradle-to-cradle concept, which include thinking through what happens to a product at the end of its use, and building sustainable disposal or reuse into the product’s initial design.

Both concepts are deeply embedded into British Columbia Institute of Technology’s School of Construction and the Environment programs, according to instructor Dixie Hudson.

“I’ve been a designer for over 30 years, and I definitely caused a lot of damage to the planet and the buildings that I was designing for people,” says Hudson, who runs her own interior design business under D.Hudson Design Inc.

By encouraging students to reuse the materials they have, and by introducing almost exclusively sustainable materials into the classroom, Hudson hopes the next generation of builders will look at their work from a different perspective – one where, for example, the materials of a project at the end of its life are intended for repurpose by companies like Basic Design.

“What that does for the students is they recognize the value of reusing things, and not putting it in the landfill. All of a sudden they begin to see value in all of the discarded items,” says Hudson.

How to Make Money from Upcycling bottles, Jars and Much More

Upcycled Bottles and Jars: A Craft Case Study

Upcycling is both fashionable and environmentally friendly. Today we have an interview with someone who’s built a business around uniquely crafted upcycled bottles and jars. It’s a great example of how craft skills and imagination can combine to create an income from an enjoyable hobby.

Joanna Toll is originally from Ranworth in the heart of the Norfolk Broads (UK). A few years ago, while exploring ways of making a little extra cash, she came up with the idea of turning upcycled bottles and jars into decorative items.

What gave you the idea for your business?

I always enjoyed art and studied it at A-level. As a teenager, I designed the sign for the village of Ranworth (in the UK).

I initially started making girls’ hair slides and took part in a craft event. I instantly fell in love with the “crafting circle” – that was three years ago now.

Tell us a bit about what you sell

The girls’ hair slides were limited in scope, so I researched and came up with an idea that I thought I’d not seen before – one that made use of objects that would normally be thrown away. That’s when I started decorating upcycled bottles and jars. I use a variety of materials and add fairy lights to enhance them.

I had never done anything like this before so it was all a learning curve – Working out what items sell well, what prices to sell items at – and even how to set up my display stall.

Did it cost you much to get started?

Very little – only a few pounds. The jars and bottles are things that other people discard so people are happy to pass on things they would otherwise have thrown away. I had to buy a few basic craft bits but this wasn’t expensive.

How has your business developed?

I wasn’t really sure how it would be received. I started a Facebook page and started selling on online auction sites like eBay.

I can still remember the feeling when I sold my first item. I still feel it now when somebody wants to buy something I made.

How has your business progressed?

Three and a half years on, there’s not a week that goes by when I don’t either receive an order or some inquiries about my products. It doesn’t seem real that my products are so popular.

It’s definitely exceeded my expectations. I have recently started selling my products in a couple of local shops too.

Selling upcycled bottles
Do you wish you had done anything differently?

I don’t regret any decisions that I made. I love what I do and how I’ve learned what works best. I certainly wouldn’t do anything differently.

How have your upcycled bottles and jars been received?

I have had a really positive response. I’ve had some lovely reviews – and, in turn, the word of mouth recommendations from satisfied customers have helped the business to grow. As well as upcycled bottles and jars, I have been commissioned to make individual pieces for customers. For example, I made a set of items for teachers’ end of term gifts. Many of my items are unique and one of a kind.

I don’t always get it right but that’s what makes it enjoyable – talking to other stallholders, getting tips from each other. It’s like a community, and we all look out for each other.

How does your work fit in with your family life?

The best thing about what I do is that I can work it all around my family and work life. I make everything myself and from home so it fits perfectly.

It’s not a full-time job. I also work nights in a care home so I have days available while the children are at school. It keeps me busy.


Has the business improved your standard of living?

I wouldn’t say it’s improved our standard of living as a family but it’s certainly given us the opportunity to top up to our income – and that allows us to have days out and treats.

What advice would you give to other people wanting to do something similar?
If anyone else is thinking of starting a business for themselves I’d probably say just go for it, otherwise, you’ll be forever wondering whether you should have done it.

I didn’t set out to make a business; I just saw something I thought I could make (and for a cheaper price), and I haven’t looked back.

I love every minute of it. I sometimes think it has to come to an end at some point but then I receive another like on my page, another nice message or another order.

Has there been a standout moment for you?

I think every order I make is a success – even if it’s just a small one.

However, I am especially proud of the large wedding orders I’ve completed. There’s nothing more special than having the privilege of making items for someone’s big day.

Make Money from Upcycling by Making your Upcycling Projects Easier?

It’s not all about new in our homes and businesses and upcycling is about buying old furniture or products that someone doesn’t want and being creative and changing it for your home or if you want to Make Money from Upcycling yourself.

What are the benefits of Upcycling?

  • It saves the environment
  • It saves you money
  • It is now very much on trend
  • You can create your own unique furniture to fit with interior style and colour themes
  • It is a skill and hugely rewarding
  • There are many ways to upcycle to create different styles and looks that people are craving for and who don’t want to do it themselves

How does upcycling help the environment?

The environmental benefits of upcycling are huge.

  • It reduces the amount of discarded materials being taken to landfill each year
  • It reduces the need for using new or raw materials to produce new furniture
  • This results in a reduction in air pollution, water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and often conservation of global resources

Hints & Tips when you are First Starting Out to Make Money from Upcycling Furniture

  1. There are so many places to find good and solid second-hand furniture; local charity shops, car boot sales, recycling centres and auctions. Local; Facebook pages, eBay and Preloved are also great for looking out for potential upcycling furniture projects for your business. Also, look out for house clearances as you can often pick up some bargains that will be really profitable for you to upcycle
  2. Use the internet and magazines to decide on the style you are looking to achieve for some inspiration. Curves, carved or raised moulding on tables, chairs, sideboards are great features if you are looking for a traditional on-trend, boutique look
  3. Don’t just think about upcycling older furniture as anything is a potential project. If you are looking for modern pieces then look for items with clean straight lines.
  4. Before you buy, always ask yourself if the piece of furniture is worth the cost and the time you will spend upcycling it. To help you with this a good way to find out what upcycled furniture is being sold for is by looking on eBay or finding other local upcycling businesses. This will also help you understand the items that sell well and different styles of furniture that are being upcycled
  5. Good lighting is so important when you’re painting furniture and outside natural light is always great if the weather is good. If you are going to paint inside then try and use a room that has a lot of natural light and if you don’t have this then always try out on an area of the furniture you can see and take it into natural light to see the finish before you transform the whole piece
  6. Make sure you prepare your work area and organise it so when you start your project you can do it without needing to stop halfway through. You will need a clean and tidy work surface and buy some plastic storage boxes which are brilliant for storing your tools in after you have cleaned them.
  7. Prepare and prime surfaces before you work on them. Before you do anything else you should use a good surface preparation product that will remove all types of grease, oil, dirt, stains, adhesive residues, paint splashes, stains, grime, mould, dirt and prepare surfaces for re-painting. Eco Solutions Go Grime is perfect for this and is a water-based, non-toxic, powerful solution to use when stripping back furniture
  8. Use an effective paint stripper rather than sanding a piece of furniture as it is much quicker and not as messy. Eco Solutions Paint & Varnish Remover is a quick and easy product to use to effectively remove; lead-based paints, oil-based paints, solvent-based paints, water-based paints & emulsions, polyurethane’s, stains, varnishes, waxes, fire-resistant paints and rust-preventative surface coatings. It can be used to strip back hard and softwood, marble, stone, brick, concrete, plaster, ceramic tiles, GRP, aluminium, brass, cast iron and other soft metals and it doesn’t damage the surface. It is a water-based, non-toxic, powerful solution that you paint on, leave for 20 minutes plus and then wipes away to leave you with your original surface.
  9. Paint might hide a multitude of sins but if your furniture has holes, dents, scratches or peeling paint these will be visible when painted over so  always giving it a light sand before you add your finish product
  10. Always use good quality brushes which won’t lose the bristles and dry into your newly painted furniture. Clean them well after you have finished using them and you will be able to use them time and time again. A great tip is to wrap brushes in tinfoil whilst you are waiting for paint coats to dry which will keep the brush moist and then clean them as soon as you have finished so they are ready to use on your next project
  11. There are a variety of paints and techniques used for upcycling furniture; Milk, Chalk and Egg Shell paints can all be used. Practice and experiment with a few small pieces of wood to help you decide on your colour and style
  12. Watch YouTube videos and read blog articles to learn how best to paint an item as these will give you the hints and tips that will save you time and money in the long run
  13. If you’re using a Chalk or Milk paint you should always add a layer of protection with a coat of wax or varnish when your paint has dried. Wax gives a lovely soft sheen and 2-3 coats should always be applied to protect it. Polyurethane varnish comes in matt or gloss and provides a more robust level of protection

About Eco Solutions Products

Eco Solutions Grime Go and Home Strip Paint & Varnish Remover are Non-toxic Furniture Preparation Cleaner and Stripper which are safe and harmless to use.

They have been researched, developed and manufactured in the UK and are unique products with a myriad of different applications to tackle the toughest jobs around the workshop, office, garage, home and upcycling projects quickly and efficiently.

Their water-based formulas have been developed from our original world-leading innovative technology and can be used indoors and out, with no need to ventilate the area you are working in, and it can be used without gloves or a mask. These water-based products are free of VOCs, acids, alkalis, and any hazardous solvents.

If you want to Make Money from Upcycling then GrimeGo and Home Strip Paint & Varnish Remover are the two products that you should always have in your toolkit. They will save you a huge amount of preparation time and mess and will give you a head start with your upcycling furniture business.

Visit us here to find your local stockist.