Upcycling in Umbrelladelphia: An Interview with Taryn Zychal

20 May

In the coming months, Philly Swap looks forward to talking with local artists about their work, the recyclable materials that inspire them, and their favorite things about this creative city. Kicking off the series is Taryn Zychal of Recycling Zychal. Using broken umbrellas abandoned on Philly streets, this eco friendly soft goods designer makes both people and pets stay stylish and dry in any weather.

Philly Swap: Give us some background. How did you get into DIY work?

Taryn Zychal: I’ve always been creative, for as long as I can remember. My hometown of Scranton Pennsylvania did not really provide much entertainment for me as a child, but one of my favorite things to do was to try to make 2 non-relative battery operated dollar store gems, like for instance, a hand held fan and a flashlight, and try to put them into a way so that they became one thing. I was also very interested in taking things apart and putting them back together, but modified, and I was also very interested in other peoples waste, because I felt like I could always find something to do with it. This has continued on into my adulthood, and I live a DIY influenced life; I try to make things before I have to buy them, not always for the cost issue, but because I’m curious, and making things yourself makes you appreciate them more.

PS: What do you like about Philly? Is it a good place to do what you do?

TZ: I love Philadelphia and always have. I love the crazy sports fans, the murals, the food, and most of all, the culture that still exists here. Not many cities, in my opinion, have the heart like Philly does. And yes, being someone that works exclusively with reclaimed broken umbrellas, this city is perfect. I’ve coined the nickname Umbrelladelphia for this city, because when it rains and its windy, there are broken umbrellas sprinkled all over the streets almost like there was a broken umbrella explosion. I’m friends with a girl named Katie who runs a blog called Better Off Soaked, where she posts photos of broken umbrellas that people either send to her via email, or she snaps herself. I knew I was in the right place when I found out she was also based out of Philly.

PS: DIY projects have never been more relevant than they are right now. Whether the motivation is to minimize one’s carbon footprint or maximize what’s in the bank, people are showing an interest in reusable materials, local goods and creative projects to do at home. What are some simple steps we can take to be more financially-sound and environmentally-friendly in our creative projects?

TZ: My advice would be to just look around you; there are interesting and beautiful materials thrown away everyday, just waiting for some creative type to take the reins and give them a make over. I feel like a lot of people are turned away from upcycling because of the inconsistencies that come with using reclaimed materials and the inability (the challenge, as I call it) to modulate easily, but if you look hard enough, you will see that a lot of products that are thrown away are a standard size. The fact that trash is free is always a plus, but it can also lead to free publicity and as a crafter, that’s really important. When media and other resources see that you can design and fabricate something amazing first and then secondly that it was made from what most would consider trash they always seem to love it more and word travels faster. That’s what I try to run with, and that can only be achieved by challenging the resources and materials you are using.

PS: What recycled materials do you use in your work and where do you find them?

TZ: Broken umbrellas are my main material for EVERYTHING I make. I love its water resistant properties and I try to incorporate that functional aspect into my softgoods, as opposed to it just being used like a regular piece of fabric. I find the broken umbrellas on the streets of Philadelphia or wherever it is that I am when it’s raining. I’ve made a few trips to New York City to get broken umbrellas from people that collect them for me, and I receive about 200 umbrellas a year from people all around the world that want their broken umbrellas to go to a better place than the landfill. I also use a material for the lining of the coat that is called Eco-Fi Felt. It comes in an array of awesome bright colors and is made from 100% post consumer based recycled plastic. It’s a great material to use, especially for my Upcycled Umbrella Dog Rain Coats.

PS: Name your favorite 3 places in Philly to find reusable craft materials.

TZ: 17th and Market Streets, Rittenhouse Square, and Washington Square Park- after a storm, of course.

PS: How do you think about the audience for your work? Who is it you want to reach?

TZ: I don’t try to categorize my audience into a specific type, because more so than reaching my target customers, I am trying to let everyone know that I am the go to girl for broken umbrellas. Umbrellas are bound to break, they are just designed to eventually fail, and when someone breaks their umbrella I want them to immediately know that there is someone (me) who can upcycle it into something new. From there, people have no problem telling others about me, and it makes my market very general but appreciative and responsive.

PS: What’s your take on the recent proliferation of the DIY/craft sales online, such as Etsy? Do see this more as a network of support, or as competition for your sales?

TZ: Etsy has done nothing but help my business and I love the whole idea of having a craft market online. I always loved going to festivals and local markets to sell my products, but online platforms like Etsy make it possible to virtually be at a festival 24 hours a day, all over the world. I am in a few groups on Etsy as well that have really helped to kick start other aspects of my business.

PS: These days, we can learn knitting (or other folk arts) by reading an online tutorial, while past generations of crafters often learned in a knitting circle. How does this impact the artist community and the future of traditional folk arts?

TZ: This is funny, because, from experience, in my case, everything I’ve tried to learn from a tutorial online hasn’t been nearly as effective as when it is taught to me by someone in person. I feel like the online tutorials are there as a guide, but the aspect of the crafter still remains, we still flock to each other and encourage progress. In a way, I feel like the internet can really isolate someone who is trying to get into the craft community, but I also feel like it can provide you with the tools to make the connection into a crafting community, ie: Meetup.com, forums, etsy groups, etc.

PS: Many of us are not as good with tools as we’d like to be. What are some tips and tricks to fake it till your skills make it?

TZ: True story- the first Upcycled Umbrella Dog Rain Coat I ever made for ReadyMade Magazine, I had to hot glue and hand stitch together, because I didn’t know how to sew, at all. Once it received so much attention, I realized I needed to learn to sew in order to make my idea work. I buy books on how to do things all the time and that’s exactly what I did. If I don’t know how to make something, I try to find something similar and I make 3 of them, 3 is my magic number, but the 3rd time you do something, you should have all the kinks figured out. I write all the kinks down in a little notebook I keep by my sewing machine and when I go back to doing it again, I review the notes. My other tip is: take good photos! If you’re still trying to work something out and you have a deadline to meet, taking a good picture will make or break it. Personally, I have been saved many times by good photos.

PS: What do you hope the future holds, for you and for the arts and DIY scene in Philly?

TZ: I feel like the DIY scene in Philly is really growing. We have great art and design schools here, and the reasonable rent and studio space fees, the tight knit community of crafters, artists and designers and the new and currently existing resources make this city a jewel for the DIY scene, and I feel like it’s only going to grow and become more enriched.

Thanks, Taryn! Visit Taryn’s Etsy store today: www.recyclingzychal.etsy.com


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