What’s behind upclycing, recontextualising, and repurposing? The case of Tree Change Doll.

Recycling old material or products to give them a new life is not something new.

People are doing it at home, for instance. Coke bottles designed with a special cap are turned into spray bottles in Thailand (as part of their 2ndLives campaign). This is called upcycling.


Designers or artists use recycling as a mode of expression or public awareness, like this giant fish sculpture made of plastic bottles in Rio de Janeiro.

Some companies are even built around the recycling of old material to make new products, like Freitag bags made of old truck tarps, or Naty Moskovich‘s furniture using plastic crates. They call it “recontextualizing”.



The reason I am talking about this general recycling trend today is because an extreme example of it caught my eye the other day: Tree Change Dolls.

Tree Change Dolls are created by Sonia Singh in Tasmania. Sonia removes the “make up” of second-hand Bratz dolls and repaints them. She fixes their broken parts and changes their clothes, giving them a “more down-to-earth style”, as she says on tumblr. Sonia is in a way “down-cycling”.

The before-after picture says it all.


I find this project absolutely fascinating from a marketing standpoint, for several reasons. First, Sonia is actually redefining the meaning of these dolls, going against their mainstream objectification and hyper-sexualisation. She subtly and radically changes their symbolism through their looks.

Secondly, initially using what we could coin co-creation or consumer bricolage, Sonia has actually created her own brand. A brand imprinted with authenticity, values and societal impact. A much more powerful and respectable brand than the original one, if you ask me.

I think this is a unique and extreme version of product recycling, which goes much further than other forms of repurposing or upcycling of old material, in that it is laden with strong meaning.

The dolls have become popular and Sonia has started selling them on Etsy and they have gone out of stock. In the meantime you can buy postcards and even knitting patterns to make your own doll clothes. Maybe she even has other by-product in the pipe…


Do you know of other similar projects? I’d love to find out more about success stories like Sonia’s!

(Find more about Tree Change dolls on their Facebook page)

2 thoughts on “What’s behind upclycing, recontextualising, and repurposing? The case of Tree Change Doll.”

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