OFFCUT: Upcycling our throw-away society
It may be best to start by defining what the OFFCUT project is not. No, OFFCUT is not a second-hand store. OFFCUT is also not an exchange for building materials. OFFCUT isn’t even really a store – it’s much more than that; it’s a socioeconomic vision. What some people throw away thoughtlessly is still worth its weight in gold (or at least a little money) to others. And even more inspiring than standardised, ready-made materials.
Raw materials instead of remnants
The question is this: How do you make things useful that were just recently seen as useless? Or: How do you bring those who thoughtlessly throw things away together with those who see the worth of the very same things and are grateful for them? The answer – the realisation of the OFFCUT idea – is a store in the form of a large warehouse on the Dreispitz-Areal in Basel. Here, OFFCUT offers everything from remnants, seconds and samples to materials from theatre and movie sets, which can be upcycled with the right idea. This doesn’t just mean recycling paper, for example, but rather creating something new, beautiful, exciting. A classic example is making bags out of old lorry tarps. Creatives such as artists see the greatest potential for this kind of upcycling.
The demand for a shop that carries such a multitude of things is indeed great in these circles, and not only in Basel. Founders Simone Schelker and Tanja Gantner are often asked when they are going to open branches in other cities. Even though they have more than enough to do in Basel already. But finally they asked themselves: Why not? Because there are more than enough reasons to extend the initiative beyond Basel. To make sure the OFFCUT idea works, it first has to be a recognisable concept – and not just for “users”, but also for “donors”: small industrial businesses, the general public, or even large companies.
From vision to concrete strategy
This means: expansion. Which is where Engagement Migros comes in. Thanks to its support, the founders can turn the OFFCUT vision into a concrete strategy – and bring professional project management on board. “We believe it is important that the founders can – and want to – scale their idea”, says Samira Lütscher, the manager responsible for this project at Engagement Migros. She was also convinced by the fact that the initiative to expand didn’t come from Basel or from the founders themselves. “The demand for this kind of business clearly already exists in other cities, which means the community doesn’t need to be built up first with a top-down approach”, says Lütscher. And Lütscher believes it is just as important that the project unites, in an exemplary way, social, ecological and economic sustainability – which is everything that Engagement Migros stands for.
“Reusing remnants has to become cool.”
The primary focus is now on building up an umbrella organisation and finding ways to convince Swiss people that upcycling is a good idea – but not just those who often deal in goods anyway: “Reusing remnants and used goods instead of just throwing them away has to become cool.” This is why OFFCUT is more than just a market idea – it’s about encouraging people to deal creatively with remnants and used raw materials. In this way, OFFCUT will offer know-how and techniques on upcycling in addition to selling materials.
Stimulating social change
The founders want to become active on a political level as well, because it would be even better if the upcycling philosophy became a natural part of government-subsidised waste management. In any case: It’s about “stimulating social change”, whether on the part of individuals or in business. A short-term goal, therefore, is also to get more companies to join in and to break up the waste management cycle on a large scale – the store in Basel is meant to be just the beginning.
The founders also see great advantage in spreading the OFFCUT concept throughout the country: there aren’t even that many production industries in Switzerland, they say, which means distribution must be looked at right away. Once the materials markets work together, the pool of their goods can be coordinated and as a result, the largest possible variety of treasures can be offered at all locations. The current vision is to be present in three cities. Zurich is next on the list after Basel, with preparations already underway.