Upcycled Gift Guide

Lauren Batcheck
Dec 13, 2018 · 10 min read

Holiday picks that are good for people and good for the planet.
Co-authored by
Michelle Murphy

TThere’s been a lot of talk lately around recycling’s declining beneficial value. China is rejecting our recyclables (source NY Times), people aren’t cleaning recyclables and are contaminating recycling bins, and on top of that 91% of plastic isn’t even recycled in the first place (source NatGeo). If every person on Earth consumed as much as Americans, we’d need FOUR Earths to sustain us (source Greentumble)!

The stats are grim, but hope is not lost — as brands are starting to recycle and upcycle in a very impactful way. Huge brands like Adidas are releasing shoes made entirely from plastic bottles, while newer companies like Arvin Goods are reusing discarded fabrics to make new socks. Why is that hopeful? Using Arvin Goods as an example: for every ton of discarded textiles used again, 20 tons of CO2 is prevented from entering the atmosphere (source). CO2 has contributed more than any driver to climate change and the effect is lasting, as it takes up to 10,000 years for that CO2 to turn over (source UCS USA). Basically with each upcycled purchase, you avoid contributing to exponential amounts of environmental damage!

Shopping and consumerism doesn’t have to be detrimental to our environment, as more brands upcycle, and the more we buy from those brands that are upcycling, the better impact we can create. In lieu of all the wrapping paper and the typical shopping frenzy, it’s never been easier to give a gift that gives back to the Earth and helps recycle or upcycle already used materials. Scroll below for a comprehensive guide to reusable and responsible gifting for everyone on your list!

For the Sun Chaser

As an adventure seeker who enjoys the nearby beach and traveling to explore new places, I love brands that are working hard to save our planet and the outdoor spaces I love most. At Nomadix, their mission is to “Own less. Do more.” and they are built upon the promise to create their product from certified post-consumer plastic bottles. From beach days to yoga and traveling, their large towel is always one of my go-to favorite items. Highly versatile, quick-drying, easily packable, and great for the planet -you can’t go wrong. The hardest decision will be picking the design.

  • Manda, natural skin care made from only the highest quality, food grade, all natural and organic ingredients
  • Norton Point, responsibly-made polarized sunglasses made with ocean plastic frames
  • Bureo, developing skateboards, sunglasses, and apparel utilizing innovative solutions like rescued fishing nets to prevent ocean plastic pollution

For the Adventure Seeker

I love Patagonia, and have for years, but my new favorite kid on the block is United By Blue. For every product sold, United By Blue removes one pound of trash from our world’s oceans and waterways (1,456,264 and counting!). They’re also humanely utilizing Bison fiber — typically a discarded byproduct within the Bison ranching industry. To do so, they’ve developed their own responsible supply chain that works directly with ranchers to intercept and harness the power of this natural fiber. Bison fibers have a layer of hollow, compactable, resilient hairs that allow Bison to keep warm and dry in the harshest winter climates. Sounds like the perfect material for your next insulated coat!

Their vast variety of items includes everything from enamel mugs to candles, to styling yet functional apparel for everyone.

  • Arvin Goods, men’s and women’s basics created by regenerated fibers from sources like old carpets and abandoned fishing nets floating in our oceans
  • Green Guru, upcycles old outdoor gear like bike tubes, wetsuits, climbing ropes, and billboard materials to create new adventure gear
  • Cotopaxi, disrupting the outdoor industry’s supply chain standards by crafting apparel and gear using upcycled leftover fabrics, as well as innovatively and humanely utilizing llama fibers

For the Conscious Dweller

The household cleaning products industry is rampant with plastic, which is why I’ve fallen in love with Method and their commitment to protecting our oceans, educating others on ocean pollutions, and repurposing already used plastic bottles. Together with Envision Plastics, Method has set out to raise awareness about the issue and use their business to demonstrate smart ways of using and reusing the plastics that are already on the planet. And, they’ve already cleaned up more than a (literal) ton of plastic from the beaches of Hawai’i.

We all love stocking stuffers so consider a greener route and purchase some soap for the family that not only smells amazing but also saves our environment!

  • Stasher, eco-friendly, environmentally safe, and long-lasting storage bags
  • Aveda, beauty company committed to delivering high performance, botanically-based products; also first beauty company using 100% post consumer recycled PET (saving 600 tons of virgin plastic each year)
  • Loll Designs, durable, all-weather, outdoor furniture made completely from recycled plastic — mostly from single­ use milk jugs

For the Fashionista

There are a lot of awesome brands popping up each year who are disrupting the fast fashion industry by upcycling fabrics, using more sustainable materials, etc. Allbirds is using alternative sustainable materials to create impeccable shoes, keeping those pollutant synthetic materials out of the supply chain and our environment. Allbirds uses eucalyptus tree fiber, as well as superfine merino wool with fibers that are 20% the diameter of human hair, keeping their shoes breathable, temperature-regulating, and moisture-wicking, all without that irritating scratchiness. Furthermore, their process uses 60% less energy than materials used in typical synthetic shoes, and they ensure their sheep are living the good life and their packaging comes from 90% recycled cardboard.

Keep your trend-setting loved ones stylish and environmentally conscious with a pair of Allbirds this year!

  • Rothys, timeless, durable flats made from recycled, single-use plastics (they’ve repurposed almost 21 million plastic bottles destined for landfills)
  • Everlane, apparel company with exceptional quality, ethical factories, sustainable materials, and incredibly transparent practices
  • adidas x Parley shoe line, apparel and footwear company newly committed to getting plastic out of the ocean, with every shoe in this line being made of recycled plastic bottles

For The Techie

As thinkers and makers, I know we all love good design that also makes our lives easier. Pela is a company with a mission to create a waste free future by keeping 1 billion pieces of plastic from ever being made. Their doing so by developing a proprietary blend of Terratek Flex and Canadian Prairie flax shive(excuse me, what?) to create cell phone cases that are 100% compostable and free of lead, cadmium, BPA and phthalates.

Someone on your list getting a new phone for the holidays? Throw in a Pela case and contribute to keeping our oceans clean from yet another discarded plastic case!

  • Lefrik, urban bags, backpacks and travel essentials using the highest quality eco-friendly fabrics made out of recycled plastic PET bottles
  • House of Marley, audio products made with superior quality, mindfully sourced materials, and a commitment to charitable causes
  • Goal Zero, smart, portable power products designed to create a bright, safe, connected, and sustainable future for everyone, everywhere
  • I recognize that Goal Zero does not publicly state whether their products are upcycled or recycled, however their mission to bring power to underserved communities around the globe thus creating new opportunities for those who lack access was a nice addition to the list.

To write this article, I researched a ton of brands (let me tell ya’). While I couldn’t choose all of them as my favorite, nor include every rad brand doing their part to save our planet, I still want to give some others a shout out for the awesome work they are doing. Take a scroll through, bookmark them, save them in a list — remember these when you’re looking for your next outfit, pair of shoes, shampoo, food spice, essential oil, or outdoor gear item.

  • ABLE, lifestyle brand focused on ending generational poverty through providing economic opportunity for women
  • Alchemy Goods, upcycles blown-out inner tubes, old seatbelts, and advertising banners into useful stuff like bags and wallets
  • All Good, nature-based healing company with a commitment to offer the purest, most elemental ingredients and organic herbs that are good for people and good for the earth
  • Barebones Living, purpose-driven organization that leverages product, profits, expertise, and experience to do good in meaningful and impactful way
  • BioLite, social enterprise that develops, manufactures, and distributes advanced clean energy technologies to off-grid households around the world
  • Eileen Fisher, women-owned apparel company using sustainable fibers, responsible wool, recycled materials, and supporting impact initiatives combating world’s largest challenges
  • Flora, handmade line of 100% natural & vegan skincare
  • Freitag, bags created from used truck tarpaulins, discarded bicycle inner tubes, car seat belts, and in-house developed 100% compostable F-ABRIC
  • Full Circle Home, home care products created with natural materials that take less energy to produce while also cutting back on greenhouse gases and harmful chemicals
  • Girlfriend Collective, women’s apparel created out of recycled plastic bottles (8 million plastic bottles and counting!)
  • Goodwell co., subscription-based oral care products that are 100% natural, biodegradable, and compostable
  • Grosche, social enterprise housewares company using 90% recyclable materials, 100% green renewable energy, and a below zero carbon footprint
  • G-Star RAW, denim made in a way that preserves natural resources such as sustainable cotton, recycled wool
  • Indosole, repurposing trashed tires from Indonesia into the soles of incredibly durable footwear
  • Keen, footwear company committed to strict impact regulations including 95% PFC-free, environmentally preferred leather, eco odor control, and recycled materials when possible
  • Klean Kanteen, created the first stainless steel, BPA-free, reusable water bottle as a non-toxic solution to single-use plastic water bottles
  • Miir, water bottle (and the like) products created with the goal to develop sustainable projects in the clean water, health and food sectors both domestic and internationally
  • Mondaine Essence, line of Swiss watches developed with renewable materials including Rizinus (castor oil), natural rubber, and recycled PET bottles
  • Mountain Rose Herbs, certified chemical-free organic herbs, spices, teas, and botanical products created with zero waste, highly recycled materials, solar power, and carbon offsets
  • Nike, footwear and apparel made with innovative sustainable solutions such as 71% Nike Grind materials, which regenerates existing products, materials, and plastic bottles into premium material
  • Nisolo, footwear developed from responsibly sourced leather, and providing 33% beyond fair trade wages, healthcare, and a healthy working environment to their producers
  • Novica x Nat Geo, handmade independent artisan products from around the world, inspired by more than a century of exploration
  • Pangaia, apparel made from renewable, alternative sustainable resources and bio materials such as recycled plastic bottles, seaweed yarn, and wildflower down
  • Parks Project, responsibly made products contributing directly to one of over 30 different park conservancies across the USA
  • Patagonia, leading environmental apparel company with best in class practices to cause no unnecessary harm, offset carbon emissions, use recycled polyester and only organic cotton
  • Pentatonic, design company inventing new materials using the world’s most abundant and dangerous resource — human trash
  • Rareform, one-of-a-kind bags, and laptop and cell phone cases developed from repurposed billboards
  • Rocky Mountain Soap, handmade personal and beauty care products that are all 100% natural, toxin-free, and sustainable
  • Soapbox Soaps, hair and body care products committed to sustainability and providing free recycled soap and hygiene education classes to those in need state-side or abroad
  • Soma, water bottle company utilizing post-consumer waste and recyclable materials, offsetting emissions with conservation-based forestry, and partnering with charity: water
  • Suga, premium quality yoga mats in the USA made from 100% recycled wetsuits resulting in 32 tons (and counting) of neoprene diverted from landfills
  • Sunski, sunglasses made from recycled post-industrial scrap plastic and donating to environmental-focused charities
  • S’well, women-owned stainless steel water bottle company partnered with UNICEF to provide clean and safe water to the world’s most vulnerable communities
  • The North Face, Bottle Source Collection developed from removing 160,000 pounds of plastic bottles from National Park waste streams and recycling it all into line of tees
  • Uncommon Goods, handmade products from independent makers using sustainable or recycled materials whenever possible and environmentally friendlier packing materials
  • Vivo Barefoot, shoes utilizing sustainable materials like re-engineered corn base and repurposed algae, petroleum-free, non-toxic, uses 52% less energy and 32% less greenhouse gas emissions
  • Welly Bottle, water bottles developed from all natural, renewable resources, and committed to saving lives through clean water and sanitation projects by supporting charity: water

enso is a creative impact agency.
We work with innovative companies and organizations to create positive impact at scale through shared missions. Learn more at enso.co.


Culture, brands, and people at the intersection of creativity x impact. Made by enso, a creative impact agency.

Lauren Batcheck

Written by



Culture, brands, and people at the intersection of creativity x impact. Made by enso, a creative impact agency.

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