The Opportunities for ReFunk to Revolutionise Upcycling

As the lauded Peter Drucker said, “the best way to predict the future is to create it”, and we have been striving to do just that by developing ReFunk, the ultimate platform for furniture upcycling. We envision a world where it is as cheap and easy (but arguably much more fun and creative) to repair and upcycle a piece of pre-loved furniture than buy the flatpack sort from IKEA. While we cannot predict the future, there are many indicators for ReFunk’s success in fuelling the circular furniture economy in the UK!

The ReFunk founders (Meredith Davis, Anna Sheehan, Ellie Walters and Ellen Ryall) who are bringing furniture full-circle!

The UK is the 2nd largest furniture market in Europe (after Germany) with a market size of £3.2b, yet 22 million pieces of furniture are discarded in the region each year. Thankfully consumers are becoming increasingly sustainably-minded when purchasing furniture, as demonstrated by eBay UK recording a 171% increase in search for ‘sustainable furniture’ and internet searches for upcycling doubling across the UK since 2018. Gen Z are driving the move towards the circular economy through their fashion choices, by supporting fashion resale and rental brands such as Depop, By Rotation and HURR.

Another thriving slow fashion platform, SOJO, facilitates clothing repairs and alterations and facilitates the same services of repair and improvement as ReFunk but in the fashion industry. The startup, led by Josephine Philips, secured £1.8 million in pre-seed funding with a star-studded list of angels including Simon Beckerman, founder of Depop, and Grace Beverly, founder of TALA and social media influencer. We hope to emulate the success of SOJO in the furniture industry, by empowering consumers to repair and upcycle furniture with ease. Furniture is the most obvious next step after the circular fashion revolution and we aim to position ourselves as an aspirational circular brand for Gen Z when they are graduating from fashion to furniture.

The Burniture team at work in their London studio

Another initiative in the UK that realised fast furniture receives less scrutiny than fast fashion is Burniture , a cross-disciplinary collective with a mission to tackle sustainability and instant gratification culture in the furniture industry by promoting a “taste for waste”. I was lucky enough to meet the founder, Georgia Gibson , who is taking a novel approach to tackling the fast furniture problem. She established a collective of furniture creatives which functions like a fashion house, dropping collections and holding exhibitions, the first of which I attended in London in March. They have joined us in taking on the difficult job of repositioning upcycled furniture from “shabby-chic” to art that belongs in an exhibition.

The Burniture signature rocking chair

Another person levelling-up the perception of upcycling is Chris Billinghurst, founder of the The House of Upcycling, the leading authority on professional upcycling for interiors (named to position itself alongside revered fashion houses). What started as a Twitter hour (#UpcycledHour) in 2014 to becoming the only Industry Partner of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID) associated with upcycling, Chris has revolutionised the industry and is now working to help the new wave of upcycling companies coming up the ranks to fuel the circular economy in the furniture sector. While Chris works with the cream of the upcycling crop in the UK, there are many well-established online upcycling community groups with the purpose of supporting each other in developing their craft, building their businesses and making friends as it can be a lonely endeavour - a prime example is Furniture Painters Unite UK which is 7.78k Upcyclers-strong!

In the UK, there is also an upcycling-specific marketplace called Upcite - which is similar to the original idea for ReFunk! Bigger interior marketplace brands are also catching onto the exponential growth of upcycling. Vinterior is the UK’s biggest second-hand furniture platform where people can buy and sell vintage and antique furniture, with over 2,000 people selling over 50,000 pieces. Their latest collaboration with heritage paint brand Farrow & Ball offers a limited-edition capsule collection of upcycled vintage pieces in the latest shades from Farrow & Ball. Vinterior’s brand director Lucy Ward commented that they have “seen a lot of interest in upcycled items in the past six months, it’s almost as popular as mid-century design… (and) this movement (is) continuing to grow”. Meanwhile Etsy, Ebay and Facebook have also each introduced an upcycled furniture section on their platforms. From our own research, 50-75% of upcycling is done on a commission-basis but this has not yet been tech-enabled on any of these platforms. The opportunity lies in “Upcycling as a service”, and making the growing gig economy element (of customers commissioning upcycled furniture) as convenient as buying fast furniture.

ReFunk upcycler Jeannette giving a pre-loved piece of furniture a new lease of life

It is clear this large community has not yet been effectively digitally mobilised, and the ReFunk team are determined to fill this gap and help bring furniture full circle!

- Ellie, Co-Founder & CEO