Upcycling is both fashionable and environmentally friendly. Today we have an interview with someone who’s built a business around uniquely crafted upcycled bottles and jars. It’s a great example of how craft skills and imagination can combine to create an income from an enjoyable hobby.
Joanna Toll is originally from Ranworth in the heart of the Norfolk Broads (UK). A few years ago, while exploring ways of making a little extra cash, she came up with the idea of turning upcycled bottles and jars into decorative items.
What gave you the idea for your business?
I always enjoyed art, and studied it at A-level. As a teenager, I designed the sign for the village of Ranworth (in the UK).
I initially started making girls’ hair slides, and took part in a craft event. I instantly feel in love with the “crafting circle” – that was three years ago now.
Tell us a bit about what you sell
The girls’ hair slides were limited in scope, so I researched and came up with an idea that I thought I’d not seen before – one that made use of objects that would normally be thrown away. That’s when I started decorating upcycled bottles and jars. I use a variety of materials and add fairy lights to enhance them.
I had never done anything like this before so it was all a learning curve – Working out what items sell well, what prices to sell items at – and even how to set up my display stall.
If you like the idea of a business like this, check out this great book on upcycling projects.
Did it cost you much to get started?
Very little – only a few pounds. The jars and bottles are things that other people discard so people are happy to pass on things they would otherwise have thrown away. I had to buy a few basic craft bits but this wasn’t expensive.
How has your business developed?
I can still remember the feeling when I sold my first item. I still feel it now when somebody wants to buy something I made.
How has your business progressed?
Three and a half years on, there’s not a week that goes by when I don’t either receive an order or some inquiries about my products. It doesn’t seem real that my products are so popular.
It’s definitely exceeded my expectations. I have recently started selling my products in a couple of local shops too.
Do you wish you had done anything differently?
I don’t regret any decisions that I made. I love what I do and how I’ve learned what works best. I certainly wouldn’t do anything differently.
How have your upcycled bottles and jars been received?
I have had a really positive response. I’ve had some lovely reviews – and, in turn, the word of mouth recommendations from satisfied customers have helped the business to grow. As well as upcycled bottles and jars, I have been commissioned to make individual pieces for customers. For example, I made a set of items for teachers’ end of term gifts. Many of my items are unique and one of a kind.
I don’t always get it right but that’s what makes it enjoyable – talking to other stall holders, getting tips from each other. It’s like a community, and we all look out for each other.
How does your work fit in with your family life?
The best thing about what I do is that I can work it all around my family and work life. I make everything myself and from home so its fits perfectly.
It’s not a full-time job. I also work nights in a care home so I have days available while the children are at school. It keeps me busy.
Has the business improved your standard of living?
I wouldn’t say it’s improved our standard of living as a family but it’s certainly given us the opportunity to top up to our income – and that allows us to have days out and treats.
What advice would you give to other people wanting to do something similar?
If anyone else is thinking of starting a business for themselves I’d probably say just go for it, otherwise you’ll be forever wondering whether you should have done it.
I didn’t set out to make a business; I just saw something I thought I could make (and for a cheaper price), and I haven’t looked back.
I love every minute of it. I sometimes think it has to come to an end at some point but then I receive another like on my page, another nice message or another order.
Has there been a standout moment for you?
I think every order I make is a success – even if it’s just a small one.
However, I am especially proud of the large wedding orders I’ve completed. There’s nothing more special than having the privilege of making items for someone’s big day.
Feeling inspired to do something similar? Check out this great book on upcycling glass and other items.
You may also want to check out:
- This guide to making cash for Christmas with craft items.
- This article on setting up an online Etsy store.
- This detailed guide to selling on Shopify.