Tony Gum, You Are Me & I AmYou, 2019
Tony Gum, You Are Me & I AmYou, 2019 Image Credit: Supplied

I’ve always felt that there’s a visceral aesthetic appeal associated with anything that has been repurposed. Growing up, my grandmother always saved fabric scraps and Danish cookie tins, which would then, sometimes tauntingly, turn into containers for sewing kits.

It may have just been bric-à-brac, but it carried a valuable, restorative lesson that wastefulness isn’t a good idea. It also referenced how an artistic triumph can be achieved long after what may have been presumed as the culmination of the creative journey. The global cultural sphere is on board. There’s a concrete shift in perception that nods to preserving resources and upcycling – the process of giving a facelift to found objects and unwanted materials to create pieces with greater artistic and environmental value. This is also the flip side of the complicated Covid-19 coin, as the pandemic has bolstered appreciation for repurposed-everything, slowly but surely creating awareness about the world’s anthropogenic practices and often callous disregard for the environment.

As the appetite for upcycling gets more ravenous than ever, a few individuals have been making great strides and producing boundary-pushing pieces in the worlds of decorative and wearable art. As curated by the queen of repurposed art herself, Sarah Coleman, we share the most prolific new creatives, who are (re)producing art with a purpose.


Daisuke’s Prada Korean Seaweed Rice handbag
Daisuke’s Prada Korean Seaweed Rice handbag Image Credit: Supplied

Japanese designer Daisuke, known as Dimda, is cooking up insatiable fashion. In his fantastical world of imagination and reimagination, anything is possible from a Louis Vuitton bag turned into coasters and milk capsules that are fashioned as rings, to a toilet-shaped micro purse dressed in the Fendi monogram, a red Balenciaga Hourglass to a two-tone Burberry mini bag made of – get this – bread.

A rising name in the upcycling movement, Daisuke uses materials from luxury accessories that he finds at vintage and secondhand stores, and his own bags and wallets to create his designs. As Japan’s luxury resale market continues to expand with consumers embracing a more minimalist lifestyle, greater value is associated with unique products that are akin to wearable art.

Daisuke fits right in, as he breathes new life into iconic materials in an eco-conscious way to make one-of-a-kind pieces. Among the highlights of his fashion-inspired edible creations are a Prada tie bedecked with popcorn, breaded Axel Arigato sneakers, and a Danse Lente bag that will whet your appetite. We know we’d love our cappuccino with a side of Bottega Veneta bread. Would you?


Tony Gum

The art world’s avowedly favorite new Capetonian is here to make an impact. Tony is a 26-year-old self-portraitist, who shot to fame in the digital realm when she introduced her Black Coca-Cola series in 2015, which was then officially released a year later.

An exquisite meditation on consumerism in the age of globalization, the photographic works feature Tony in the traditional Xhosa garb, as she carries Coca Cola crates and bottles, seamlessly blending Western pop culture iconography and her own African heritage.

In doing so, she produced a new prism for viewing contemporary African art and culture. The gripping series caught the eye of Christopher Moller of the eponymous Cape Townbased gallery, which has exhibited her artworks across South Africa and at international art fairs.

Tony has been described as the new ‘plastiglomerate’ – an artist who is able to blend the moral with the synthetic, and the high art with trash to capture the buzz of this specific moment in art. She often uses materials and inspirations found in everyday life contexts to create her multimedia art, which spans genres like photography, film, painting and sculpture.

She’s naturally drawn to being resourceful when approaching her works, which encourages viewing objects from a vantage point that’s different from what they were originally intended for. Through her lens, objects take on a different life, from a bottle of Coca Cola being cradled as a baby, to a yellow continental pillow cover being used as a headwrap.

Among her most seminal works are the Free Da Gum, uTwiggy, Milked in Africa (2016), Ode to She (2017), and Kat’emnyama (2019) series, which have set the tone for her distinct aesthetic vocabulary.


Ashley Harris

In the flourishing ecosystem of beadwork, New York-based Ashley Harris has emerged to the fore. She’s a collector and curator of beads and has a great eye for aesthetic delights.

Her brand name, Don’t Let Disco, is a playful take on the words ‘Don’t Let This Go’, which is her way of reminding people of the good times and their best memories. And she happens to like disco music, so the name just works.

There’s a sense of childlike wonder in Ashley’s creations, handmade charm bracelets and necklaces are supercharged with colors and varied beads, like the bunny (and ducky) shaped ones that immediately catch the eye. The brand offers a wondrous coming together of global artisans and craftspeople, as each charm bracelet and necklace tells a story about its maker, and boasts cultural significance, energy properties and intricate techniques. “By ordering from me, you’re supporting my black-owned small business, but also conscientious artisans from around the world who produce my beads,” she writes on the Don’t Let Disco website.

Most of Ashley’s jewellery are made using vintage and second-hand pieces, or deadstock and reclaimed materials like Nigerian glass and brass. She has a low-waste approach to her craft, as she prioritizes utilizing what’s available on hand before buying more stock.

At Don’t Let Disco, collections are produced in small batches.On thop of that, each piece is handmade and unique. For those looking for one-off designs, tune in to the brand’s

Ari Serrano Instagram account every Friday for Ashley’s ‘One Hit Wonder’ drops, which are created with beads she has collected over the last 15 years., @Dontletdisco

Ari Serrano

Please Look At My AriSerrano upcycledconverse-style sneakers, made with Louis Vuittonhandbag scraps.
Please Look At My AriSerrano upcycledconverse-style sneakers, made with Louis Vuittonhandbag scraps. Image Credit: Supplied

Meet the Rumpelstiltskin of the creative world, who has been spinning trash into treasure, or better yet, ‘trashion’. This Puerto Rican designer was born and raised in Norwalk, Connecticut, and quickly gained recognition for his upcycled creations when he relocated to New York City in 2017.

Completely self-taught, Ari has been sewing and repurposing fashion pieces for the last six years. Peruse his Instagram account and you’ll come across a string of creative marvels that have been reimagined in unimaginable ways. Think about a handbag that turns into pants, made with the inner pockets and lining of a Louis Vuitton bag. Yes, you read that right.

In his world, you can look dapper in a duct-tape jacket, which he once made for artist Sarah Coleman, ride a skateboard made of a Louis Vuitton duffle bag, adorn a singing bowl clutch, and make a statement in a face mask created with a Gucci sneaker.

Ari loves working with designer brands and, as he says, “making something that they could never in their right minds think of creating.” Among the centerpieces of his work is a Louis Vuitton sneaker stool, which is inspired by artists Sarah Coleman and Sean ‘Belchez’ Cort.

He often surveys second-hand shops and thrift stores to find inspiration and new fabrics and mediums to work with, which means that there is never a dull creation. As a 90s baby, he loves to depict the grunge mood and aesthetic sensibilities of the decade in his pieces.

Ari is currently taking a break from reconstructing clothes and focusing on establishing his own brand. The PLEASELOOKATMYAS collection is coming soon., @PleaselookatmyAS