06 Aug 2019
Beirut, Lebanon
Sustainable Furniture

“I have been upcycling since before I even knew I was doing it,” said Charbel Malkoun, the mastermind behind Collect to Create, a Beirut-based modern furniture project. Malkoun recalls his unconscious first steps towards becoming an upcycler when — as a young boy — he would convert empty plastic tubs of labneh (yoghurt) into lampshades. “Upcycling is our way of life: for my family, and for the Lebanese people in general.”

Now a grown man, Malkoun maintains his childhood fascination with bestowing a second life on discarded objects. He has swept up all manner of broken items — typewriters, juicers, hookah pipes — and made them useful once more. Malkoun asserts that upcycling is more beneficial for the environment than recycling, given that the process consumes less energy. But for Collect to Create, the challenge is convincing more Lebanese that upcycled products are a worthwhile investment.

Malkoun established Collect to Create in 2014, when he decided to make a profession out of his lifelong obsession with upcycling. He soon received plenty of encouragement from friends and acquaintances, who started handing over junk for Malkoun to work his magic on.

“When I finish transforming the objects, the best part is seeing these people’s reactions — when they are willing to buy their own items again,” said Malkoun.

When you consider some of Malkoun’s more outlandish innovations, it becomes easy to see why his clients are astounded. Malkoun has converted an ancient television into a comfortable catbox; a hand-press juicer into a stylish lamp; and a tattered hookah pipe into an eye-catching light fitting.

“Since upcycling is my mission, every time I see a broken object, I transform it into something useful again,” Malkoun said. But casting such a wide net presents its own obstacles for Collect to Create. Malkoun’s house has reached full capacity, bursting with objects patiently awaiting their glorious reincarnation.

Malkoun would like to address this issue by leasing his own shop, where he can store his belongings. Collect to Create will need more funding, but Malkoun accepts that these things take time.

The business faces the deeper challenge of changing Lebanese attitudes to upcycling. Despite Malkoun’s perception that Lebanese families upcycle without even thinking, this trend has not translated into Collect to Create’s customer base. At present, Malkoun sells products mainly to Europeans living in Beirut. 

“Upcycling is not that appreciated in Lebanon yet,” said Malkoun. “A main challenge facing Collect to Create is the Lebanese mentality, but this is gradually changing nowadays — for the better.”

Long may this trend continue, because Malkoun has loftier ambitions than merely expanding his customer base. “My dream is to make upcycling everybody’s hobby,” he declared.

That goal could send shudders down the spines of parents across Lebanon, bracing themselves for houses inundated with pre-loved items salvaged by enthusiastic young upcyclers. But if some follow in Malkoun’s artistic footsteps, the final product will be worth the clutter.


Learn more about Collect to Create through Facebook.

Photos courtesy of Collect to Create

Since completing his MA in Middle Eastern Studies two years ago, David has worked as a freelance writer based in Cairo and Beirut.David Wood
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