Nov 10, 2023
by Karl Smith
Greater Goods Wants You To Forget About Upcycling
by Karl Smith
Nov 10, 2023

When it comes to fashion, as with most things, it tends to be what’s new that gets the most attention. New products, new colors, new brands – newness, perhaps more than anything, moves units. What’s interesting is that this holds true even when it shouldn’t – when, for example, we’re talking about more sustainable fashion and footwear. It’s new materials, new processes, new partnerships and all kinds of new things to sell that inevitably wind up in the spotlight.

But sustainability – real sustainability, whatever that is – is all about finding workable solutions for problems that we’re already facing. Or which, at least, we already know are coming our way. Wouldn’t it make sense, then, to work with what we’ve got – to think about how those problems might be solved by looking backwards?

Yes, of course we need next-generation materials and processes – of course we need new ways to ween the world off of overproduction and overconsumption; ways to replace destructive materials and chemicals rampant throughout the supply chain – but we also need to look at what we’ve done and think not just about what we might do instead next time, but also about what we can do with it in the here and now.

That’s where upcycling outfits like Greater Goods come in. But, please, don’t use that word.

“When trying to describe what I do, I try to avoid saying ‘upcycling” as there’s often a preconception of what upcycling. I would always say that we turn ‘nothing into something’.” – Jaimus Tailor, Founder of Greater Goods

According to Jaimus Tailor, who founded Greater Goods in 2018, “upcycling” is too loaded – too heavy with preconceived notions. And perhaps he’s right: when you read “upcycling,” do you think of a complex and creative solution to the problem of wastage, or do you think of someone reupholstering a vintage chair with the worst fabric you can imagine and flipping it – somehow – for twice the price?

Well, exactly.

And that’s why Tailor favors a more poetic phrase: Greater Goods, he says, is dedicated to the act and the art of turning “nothing into something.” This, of course, doesn’t mean conjuring fashion out of thin air – it means taking materials and leftovers that others have deemed worthless and, through design alchemy, giving them a whole new life.

In terms of what that looks like, Greater Goods has typically focused on utilitarian products that serve a dual purpose. The recent six-pocket Bobcat Cross-Body Bag, for example, isn’t just some handmade Frankenstein’s Monster – constructed from “waterproof jackets, climbing harnesses and backpacks” – but is, either inspire of of because of its origins, both an aesthetically progressive item and worthwhile in the everyday, wearable sense as much as anything else.

Which is probably why, like every other product on the Greater Goods store, it’s now sold out.

It’s also why Tailor has found his skills – and, of course, those of the London-based Greater Goods team – called upon by names like Nike and Arc’teryx. Names, it’s fair to say, that have even heavier preconceptions attached than “upcycling.”

How did this all happen? How did a small, London-anchored design studio with a focus on low-impact and low-waste design wind up working with some of the biggest brands on the planet? And how, given Tailor’s mindset and Greater Goods’ mission statement, do those things align?

Touching on philosophical friction (and connection) between brands, the art of turning “nothing into something,” and the pitfalls and possibilities of sustainably-inclined design, we caught up with Jaimus Tailor and spoke about working toward – you guessed it – the greater good.

How did this all start? Where did the idea for Greater Goods come from and how did it come to be?

Jaimus Tailor: I began Greater Goods while graduating university back in 2018; I was studying Graphic design which I enjoyed but have always preferred making things physically over digitally.

For my final project I produced a table that was fully upcycled and had all this hand-shaped plywood type. It was a wacky project, but it made me realize my heart was in designing with existing products. In 2019 I learnt how to sew through trial and error and the occasional YouTube tutorial. Greater Goods was the umbrella that I would share my creations under.

A lot of Greater Goods products appear deceptively simple until you start digging below the surface – into their function and how they were formed. How would you describe your design ethos?

JT: ‘Nothing into Something’ is the Greater Goods tagline. When trying to describe what I do, I try to avoid saying ‘upcycling’ as there’s often a preconception of what upcycling is. So, instead, I would always say I turn ‘nothing into something.’

We use old products as our raw material as it just makes sense to be resourceful. This ethos stems from my childhood and just being from a very resourceful family.

Our design process either starts with a garment we are deconstructing or the outcome we want to design. We’ve become very good at working both ways and pushing our design direction. We often host workshops where attendees have a taste of our process – it’s always great to see peoples minds in the creative problem-solving space and seeing a product come to life.

“I feel we’ve lost personal attachment to products and the labour behind them due to the scale of production. Nothing is special and if it’s special then it’s only for a micro-fragment of time.” – Jaimus Tailor, Founder of Greater Goods

Speaking of working collaboratively, you’ve joined with some huge names in fashion – Nike, Salomon, Arc’teryx, etc. – how do you end up connecting with brands like that?

JT: We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have brands connect with us and understand what we are about. Usually someone from the brand will get in touch via email or DM and then we just discuss possibilities, see if it aligns for both of us.

In three years we have never reached out to a brand, I’m actually working on our first brand deck… which is quite wild. Just like most relationships, communication is key and we are never in a rush.

Do you feel like they share your vision or more like you’re doing something good to make them rethink how they work?

JT: This is a great question and I feel it’s often a combination of both, but each collaborator varies.

We’ve worked on such a range of projects and experienced such a spectrum of problems to tackle, it’s very much case by case.

I feel we showcase what’s possible and what lengths are taken when it comes to working with deconstructed products. Most brands and companies share our vision, but as things reach global scale it’s extremely difficult to have our approach, where our focus has always been localized.

With that in mind, your own core range remains pretty streamlined in terms of what you create and, based on how quickly these items sell out, pretty low volume; are those important parts of the Greater Goods philosophy?

JT: Our webstore is our playground when it comes to design, it’s our research and design output. No guidelines or contracts, just us using our studio equipment and the materials around us to make things we like.

Everything is produced in our studio, which means it’s incredibly time consuming and probably not the most efficient thing – but we love it. We developed a muffler scarf that turns into a bag and that came about because I wanted to design a scarf instead of making one.

The low volume is purely because we are a tiny team and have limited space and materials.

I see upcycling as +30% of the additional time to produce something. Pattern cutting from garments to reduce waste, then using what waste there is, and patchworking that all together is one hell of a process!

“Sustainability is the byproduct of our resourceful thinking. A gardener collecting rainwater to water their garden, that just makes sense to me.” – Jaimus Tailor, Founder of Greater Goods

When someone says “sustainable,” what does that mean to you and, to your mind, how does Greater Goods fit into that?

JT: Sustainability for me means being resourceful. We create from old, damaged stuff because it makes sense. Sustainability is the byproduct of our resourceful thinking. A gardener collecting rainwater to water their garden – that just makes sense to me.

Greater Goods embodiments this way of thinking, we are by no means perfect but we have put a lot of time and energy into being resourceful.

Thinking toward the future, are there other brands you’d like to work with? Any particularly iconic collections or pieces you’d like the chance to rework or anyone who really needs a lesson in resourcefulness?

JT: There’s no brand that comes to mind at the moment, but I would love to collaborate with friends who are doing great work in their own field. It’s often hard to collaborate due to limited bandwidth, and everyone is busy but it’s always well worth dedicating the time to work with friends.

When it comes to iconic collections, I have a small collection of Nike Considered shoes and accessories: I’ve been a fan of the design direction and ethos for a while, and it’s something I think about quite often.

In terms of cutting up and reworking, I would love to rework some high-end designer garments. It’s not something we’ve done before, but I know we could produce some incredible outcomes if given the chance.

More broadly, what do you feel like people are getting right and getting wrong about sustainability in fashion and design?

JT: One thing I think has been considered a lot more recently is the aftercare of products: when the customer has worn a garment for years and damaged the product, what happens next? Lately, I’ve seen a lot more awareness on repair schemes and more thought given to this part of the product lifecycle.

That being said, I also feel we’ve lost personal attachment to products and the labour behind them – due, in no small part, to the scale of production. Nothing is special, and if it’s special then it’s only for a micro-fragment of time. Trends are so fast and marketing is geared toward making consumers feel outdated – like they constantly need the new thing.

I remember when I learnt how to sew and suddenly I viewed my wardrobe differently, I could see the work, time, knowledge and skill that went into a jacket.

Most importantly, though, sustainability needs to be considered at the very beginning of a product – that thought will (and should) change the whole design process.