My name is Jing. I am the designer and founder of Upcycle with Jing, where I create unique and elegant handmade jewelry from recycled PET plastic bottles in Finland. Follow @upcyclewithjing on Instagram and TikTok.
My story and what motivated me to start the business
Upcycle with Jing was started as a way for me to do my part to help the environment and inspire others to do the same. My story originates in China, where I was born and grew up. I started studying industrial design in China and quickly lost motivation around designing mass production goods, especially the ones that are unnecessary and wasteful in our lives. I saw first-hand the consequences of this type of production, which only created more waste for us and harmed the environment.
I made my way to Finland, where I’ve been for the past ten years. There I studied at Aalto University, where the first inspiration for Upcycle with Jing hit. For the Christmas market, I sold some of my schoolwork – jewelry made from recycled plastic bottles. I sold a lot of the jewelry and received a lot of positive feedback. So I thought: why not turn this passion into a career?
A trip to India solidified my passion for sustainability. While there, I saw a lot of plastic bottles on the street, rivers, and railways. On a train ride, parents near me told their children to throw their trash (plastic bottles and food packages) directly out of the train window. I was shocked. What kind of family education was this? From that moment I realised I should do something about it. My goal was to raise people’s awareness through my art.
So, I did just that.
At Upcycle with Jing, I make unique, beautiful jewelry from recycled bottles. I take the unrecycled plastic bottles that would normally end up in our environment and turn them into elegant jewelry pieces for anyone to wear. All of my designs are created with nature in mind, which is why you’ll see many floral elements in my pieces.
Nothing feels more fulfilling than hearing happy customers talk about how much they love their pieces, whether it be from our collection or a custom piece they’ve ordered from me. I love creating objects by hand, using unexpected materials, and making people feel “wow!” when they see the result. Knowing that I’ve made a difference for the planet and in someone’s life fuels my inspiration.
Today, being environmentally friendly is more important than ever. Those who are looking for sustainable options can trust that they’re choosing a worthy brand in my business. I strive to make the best decisions possible in every part of the process, from hiring to the creation of the jewelry itself. We lead by example when it comes to being eco-friendly and a trustworthy company for our customers.
Upcycle with Jing makes sustainability accessible. It can feel overwhelming at times to look at how the environment is being affected by human actions every day. Through our jewelry, we give people a solution to the huge plastic problem the planet faces. Jewelry is an accessory that emphasises and highlights
someone’s style. When a customer buys a piece from Upcycle with Jing, they can make a statement for themselves and the planet. We strive to provide elegant jewelry that people can wear for any occasion – whether they want a sustainable hair piece for their wedding, or a simple pair of earrings to wear every day. Every customer can feel confident knowing they’re making a positive difference for the planet when they shop for us.
To continue to inspire our community to take positive action against plastic pollution, I knew I had to go beyond just selling jewelry. Many people have plastic bottles at home that they don’t know what to do with. If they recycle them, they don’t know for sure that they’ll be recycled, depending on where they live. I knew I could teach others my techniques to turn plastic into beautiful jewelry, so they could have a creative outlet for themselves and take their own steps to reduce plastic pollution in our environment.
So we go beyond selling the jewelry – we provide educational jewelry DIY workshops, designed to inspire more people to create beautiful objects from the trash in their lives. I currently offer several different workshops for companies, organisations, and schools. In each of these workshops, you have the chanceto learn how to make your own pair of earrings and/or necklaces, hair pieces, or bracelets.
By teaching others how to be creative with plastic, they can continue to take further steps to reduce plastic and possibly other pollution in our environment. It proves that helping our environment can be something fun and creative – and that there are many solutions to helping the planet.
Our business stands out due to our unique design and techniques.
You can’t find anything comparable in the same market. We strive to make the best jewelry and do right by our employees. We are highly people-oriented (meaning we don’t use machines) so although it’s slow to scale up, every piece has a personalised touch.
We also are careful in selecting our materials. We use non-recyclable bottles, recycled plastic beads instead of real pearls, and brass instead of pure gold/silver for a lower CO2 impact. Another priority is the well-being of our staff. We ensure we take care of our makers and pay them a fair wage.
The challenges our small business is facing
The current most challenging thing for me is production training. Since my products are handmade and cannot be mass produced by machine, training other human beings is my most challenging and time consuming thing.
A lot of training and skillful work is required, so if I want to scale up I need to teach more people how to make them. I’ve tried to create video tutorials so my makers can learn the skill online, but in order to give proper feedback, I still need to arrange a time to meet each maker one by one.
This makes our process slow, but I believe eventually we will overcome this challenge. After all, having that special, human, handmade touch for each product is extremely important to me. In a world where too many jobs are taken over by machines, I strive to set an example of how a company should be and how itshould treat their employees. By being a human-oriented business, more workers can make a living doing something they love, with a business that truly cares about them behind them.
The opportunities we are facing
More and more customers are looking into sustainable fashion brands, instead of big fast fashion companies. People are more aware of the impact their purchasing decisions have and aren’t willing to look the other way when companies don’t go the extra step to protect the environment. This has caused a big shift in how consumers decide where they’ll spend their money. They look for a more unique,personalised fashion experience, especially buying from individual designer brands. This creates a bigger market for us.
Plus, with so many tons of plastic bottle discarded in our human society, and so many unemployed people, we are confident we can expand our team and offer more job opportunities through selling our jewelry to a bigger market.
Through our commitment to people and the planet, we are a leader in sustainable business. We are moved forward by our ethics. Our sustainable jewelry collection has a tangible positive impact on our planet and our employees. Our employees have the opportunity to learn a new skill, work on their own time, and grow with us as a company.
Advice to others about business
Some of my biggest pieces of advice are as follows:
● Always keep learning and improving your skills – this way you can continue to innovate as you move forward and always feel inspired to come up with the next thing.
● Asking others for help – oftentimes when you’re a business owner, it can feel like you need to do everything alone. You don’t have to get everything right and you certainly don’t have to shoulder all the responsibilities by yourself. Ask for help when you need it, there’s no shame in it.
● Have a business coach review your business and guide you – sometimes you need someone on the outside, who has been there done that, to help you out. A lot of my growth in business wouldn’t have happened without reaching out to a business coach for help.
● Keep a healthy cash flow – an important one to keep track of!
● Pricing your product correctly – it’s easy for new business owners to under-price their products. This only hurts you in the long run. Be sure to price your products correctly to prevent undercutting yourself or interfering with your success.