Tampa Upcycle Launches In The Roosevelt 2.0, Ybor City

Can you see the value in a piece of vintage fabric? Spools of rainbow-colored thread? Baby food lids? Sounds like an odd collection to some, but 27-year-old entrepreneur Morgan Abdallah is confident there are other crafters and "self-proclaimed thrift store junkies" in the Tampa Bay area looking for valuable odds and ends.

Abdallah is the owner of Tampa Upcycle. What is upcycling? The practice of taking used items and repurposing them into something of higher value -- art, jewelry, accessories, clothing, etc. It's a hip way to create green-minded art.

It's been a part of her life since childhood in Rochester, N.Y. After graduating Tampa's International Academy of Design & Technology in 2006 with a marketing degree she moved back home to find work.

When she relocated back to Tampa in August 2011 she began searching for a way to turn her love of upcycling into a career. It was then she learned of Autumn Wiggins, founder of The Upcycle Exchange in St. Louis.

It serves as a materials market for the St. Louis creative community and offers "post-consumer art and craft supplies at pay-as-you-wish pricing."

Shortly after its launch in April of 2011 Wiggins became overwhelmed by the response and began outsourcing her business model.

"She was giving everyone her whole business plan and saying, 'Take this and spread the word!' " Abdallah says.

She began hunting for an eco-friendly place to launch a Tampa Bay chapter of Wiggins' plan and contacted The Roosevelt 2.0's Managing Partner Nick Algee for advice.

They quickly realized how perfectly the idea aligned with The Roosevelt's mission. Tampa Upcycle became the first business to participate in the space's incubator program.

Items for the store's material exchange have been procured through trips to practically every thrift shop in the Tampa Bay region (the Goodwill in Wesley Chapel is her favorite), Craigslist and donations collected at drop off locations inside The Roosevelt and Eve-n-Odd Gallery in St. Petersburg.

Beads, Buttons, Ribbons Galore

Abdallah's shelves are lined with fabric, jars filled with multicolored buttons, sewing books, ribbon and numerous art supplies -- all at pay-as-you-wish pricing.

Since its Feb. 1 opening the response has been "incredible," according to Abdallah.

"They'll find beads and say, 'Do you know how expensive these normally are? I can't believe someone was just going to throw this out,' " she says.

Tampa Upcycle hopes to begin offering crafting classes in the next three weeks and is looking for volunteers to teach.

"People want classes -- not hand-holding, but a place to get together," she says.

Tampa jewelry artist Linda Evans was eager to check out Tampa Upcycle after learning about it through Facebook. She plans to show off how her purchases have been repurposed at upcoming art events such as Learning Gate Community School's EcoFest on April 14.

"I'll be able to say I got this stuff here and look what I can make," Evans says.

Eventually, Abdallah hopes to offer her own upcycled creations for sale inside The Roosevelt and online at virtual marketplace Etsy. She'll start with kits -- packages containing fixtures and fabric perfect for creating your own custom-made iPad case. For now, she enjoys being a supplier for other people to create their own works of art.

"People come in and see the same value in things that I do," she says. "It's not junk. It's all cool, usable stuff."

Matt Spencer, a University of South Florida grad, is a native Floridian who enjoys sharing his love for Patty Griffin, browsing produce stands, spending hours in record shops and gawking at the ice cream selection in grocery stores. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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