Call it the eco-curse. From toilet rolls strung into garlands to rugs made from messy scraps, homewares made from recycled materials have long been blighted by poor quality and looks only a hippie could love.
But the tide has turned. Around the world, designers have proved pursuing green cred doesn't mean sacrificing style: ''upcycled'' products often look far more upmarket than the waste used to create them.
It's no longer a cottage industry, either. Last year, luxury brand Hermes released a line of accessories made from factory discards and, more recently, top French designer Philippe Starck collaborated with US furniture manufacturer Emeco to create a chair made from waste polypropylene and reclaimed wood fibre.
Called the ''Broom'' chair for its ability to ''clean up'' rubbish, it's as slick and polished as any designer product.
The trend gives old materials a new life, says a designer, Tracey Trinder, based in Avalon on Sydney's northern beaches. For the past three years, she has salvaged men's silk ties to make into jewellery, skirts and bags. She came across the idea for her label, Trinderella (trinderella.com), during a family trip to Tasmania, where she saw recycled ties used creatively at a market stall.
Trinder began trawling op shops for old ties and friends donated discards from their fathers or husbands. A few months later, she heard about a charity stunt in Bathurst, where thousands of ties were strung together in a world-record attempt. She rang to see if she could pick up the leftovers, and soon she and her family were driving home with a trailerload of ties.
''I feel like I have the history of ties in my garage,'' she says. ''Some are incredibly beautiful - Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci. They're beautiful silks and in incredibly immaculate condition because they [don't] … go through the wash.''
The owner of Surry Hills boutique I Ran the Wrong Way (iranthewrongway.com), Melinda Tually, says upcycling is no longer a fringe market and ''you can shop with a conscience and still be cool''.
Her products, including wallets made from old police uniforms, cement sack totes and bangles from salvaged plastic, look street-ready, yet make no attempt to disguise their less-than-glamorous origins.
''It's re-imagining waste,'' Tually says. ''You could use a shopping bag and make it cool; you're not having to tweak it or cover it up.''
Part of the appeal is the mix of old and new, says a Melbourne importer, Andrew Reeves, of online shop Bazaar Bazaar (bazaarbazaar.com.au). He and his wife, Natalie Motta-Reeves, sell Turkish rugs stripped of colour, shaved and overdyed in vibrant pinks, blues and greens. The couple stumbled across them while honeymooning in Istanbul.
''The pieces we stock look modern, but what people find interesting is that they do have that story,'' Reeves says. ''They've got a kind of distressed look because the base pattern is still evident and you can see a beautiful illustrative design in the background … so they still have character.''
For others, upcycling unleashes exciting creative potential. Martina Long, of Newcastle, fashions industrial-style furniture from wood pallets and agricultural junk for her online shop, crabapplevintage.com.au. She sees possibilities everywhere, including the top of a windmill she found online.
''I don't know what I'm going to do with that yet,'' Long says. ''It just caught my eye and I thought, 'That's something I could use' … Why would people buy something new when they could buy something old for half the money that's helping the environment as well?''