An Adventure in UpCycling

Words by: Taylor Burk

Photos by: Taylor Burk

This is a story about upcycling and how we can give worn out and unusable apparel a new life, to provide ongoing performance, utility, and most importantly—motivation to adventure by bike.

Meet Hamish Elliott. As an avid outdoorsman, Hamish appreciates well-designed gear, and has found a passion in creating functional products while incorporating recycled materials. This inspired a recent collaboration with 7mesh, leaders in bike apparel, to give new life to their returned, warrantied, and sample garments, creating gear that caters to one of his passions in the outdoors; bikepacking.

Intrigued and inspired by his dedication and innovation, I ventured out to document his process and test out his designs on a bikepacking trip in our backyard of Southern British Columbia. It’s been incredible watching his journey from ideation and design to hand-making practical and durable gear that breathes new life into returned clothing and excess scraps.

Hamish’s natural curiosity and experience working in the outdoor industry drove him to explore the design and development process of gear and apparel more seriously. In 2020 he began the Technical Apparel Design program at KPU Wilson School of Design.

He quickly became hooked on the satisfaction of using gear he had created with his own hands and sharing it with friends on their adventures, and has since crafted a variety of products ranging from outdoor apparel to backpacks and biking-focused bags.

He felt a sense of responsibility to incorporate more recycled contents into these designs, so it was a dream come true for him to collaborate with 7mesh on making bikepacking bags from excess material and beyond-repair returns that have been stored in their warehouse. Hamish has used everything from old pairs of shorts to torn up jackets to meticulously craft a variety of bags. Clothing that was designed for biking is now getting a second life on bikes, truly giving a whole new meaning to upcycling.

While 7mesh is working to develop apparel that is easily repairable and inherently durable, upcycling unwanted, unrepairable, or unusable clothing is an essential part of creating a more sustainable and circular economy. It keeps textiles out of landfills by utilising otherwise unwanted fabric and parts. The wider fast fashion and apparel industry is one of the world’s largest polluters; every year, millions of pounds of clothing—most of which can be recycled or reused—are thrown out. Giving items another chance helps reduce waste, water, dyes and other resources. Upcycling also cultivates creativity; there are so many ways to reimagine clothing and envision intentional products that challenge the mass production of cheap carbon copies.

As Hamish sorted and sifted through 7mesh’s donated garments it became apparent to him that there was a significant amount of useful items like zippers, notions and fabrics that were still in excellent working order. Of course there were some challenges encountered along the way due to the complex nature of the 7mesh designs. There are several patterns used to create 3D space to allow the user to move freely when wearing their garments. This presented some trouble in finding large, flat panels of fabric, which resulted in some creative combining of multiple panels together. He ended up with some interesting layering effects using different colours from different pieces to create the bags. You don’t want to use material that is ultimately going to fail you; so the technical fabrics that are used in their apparel, especially the waterproof shell fabrics, have very suitable durability and structural characteristics that are required when making bikepacking bags.

In May, after many prototypes and months spent at the cutting table and sewing machine, it was finally time to test out Hamish’s designs in the field. Joined by our friend Mack, we set out to ride the Discovery Islands on a 3 day bikepacking trip. Both Quadra and Cortes Islands have an idyllic mix of vibrant blue waters, lush rainforest and rolling hills with panoramic views of the iconic coast mountains. The best way to see these small islands and get a really good feel of the vibe is on two wheels, so we strapped on and packed our custom handlebar, frame and fork bags and hit the road.

We experienced a diverse range of classic spring weather on this trip—cold mornings, rain, and blistering heat in the afternoon—which resulted in the need to carry a mix of warm gear and camping equipment. Having ample storage and easy access compartments in the bags made snacking and carb loading a breeze while riding the steep and punchy island roads. The durable fabrics and waterproof zippers are dependable and withstand the occasional overpacking of beer and snacks from the local bakery that is inevitable and necessary for any bikepacking trip.

Ultimately, the ride was a success. The stunning scenery, comradery, belly laughs and type two fun shared between great friends is a combination that will never get old. A very rewarding end to following along with Hamish’s design journey, at least for now.

Knowing the story behind your gear helps you place more value in it, and I know that these bags will serve as a reminder of mindful consumption and the power of inventiveness. Thank you 7mesh for enabling independent creators like Hamish to further their creativity and prolonging the life of your products!

Hamish’s design collaboration with 7mesh was a test to see what was possible with a few old jackets and some creativity, but he hopes to continue to work on finding creative uses for old products more regularly. You can find more of his work here.