This post was sponsored by People for Urban Progress. As always I receive no editorial direction, but I am really excited to share their wonderful story.

Over the last few years we’ve seen a rise in popularity when it comes to secondhand items. From Ebay to thrifting to upcycling, there’s a lot more love and acceptance for creating new from old. But in this expanding world of giving items new life, I’ve never seen anything quite like what People for Urban Progress do.

Based in Indianapolis, PUP is a truly unique nonprofit bringing together elements of design, social regeneration, zero waste principles and civic sustainability to create projects and products that are unrivalled in their innovative, stylish approach. Although originally founded by production designer Michael Bricker, the team has now expanded to include multiple designers, stitchers and volunteers, all with a strong passion for the community, city and urban experience of Indianapolis:

‘We were tired of complaining about our city – it’s struggling transit, wasteful construction practices, mediocre design, and under-used public spaces. We created PUP to make the change we wanted to see in our city’

It all began in 2008; the Indianapolis Colts were moving to their new home of Lucas Oil Staduim and the RCA/Hoosier Dome,  a building famous for its iconic white roof, was slated for demolition. It turns out there were no plans for what to do with the roof. PUP stepped in, diverting nearly thirteen acres of Teflon-coated fiberglass from local landfill. They got themselves a sewing machine and a small studio, and started making. They realised that they were onto something that all cities are facing: the new challenges that come with ageing buildings. They recognised that in an urban setting sustainable can’t just mean solar panels and recycling, but rethinking approaches to waste and resource. In truly zero waste style they decided that used doesn’t mean unusable, and started salvaging other resources to create products and projects for the citizens of Indianapolis and beyond. Their first upcycled products, a series of wallets, clutches and messenger bags, began to provide funding for these further urban reuse projects. Before they knew it, they had unwittingly started a social enterprise.

The impressive work carried out by PUP can be categorised as such:

  • Reuse

They collaborate with local companies and communities to develop products and projects that define what it means to be a truly sustainable city.

  • Design

They showcase how design can be affordable, accessible, inclusive, and beautiful. They are both designers and active citizens, working towards creating the future of their city.

  • City

Their work positions Indianapolis as a leader in smart, sustainable, and resilient design. They are the future of urban design thinking, doing, and building.

It’s clear that PUP takes the mantra of ‘being the change’ and truly embodies it. Together the team has recognised the issues within their community, and actively works to create the responsible, resilient, sustainable city of the future. It doesn’t come without challenges, in fact it takes a ton of hard work both physically and mentally, but their willingness to tackle the challenge has helped them become a stand-out organisation when it comes to both the world of fashion and the world of urban planning. They’re the ultimate problem solvers, seeking out existing needs and finding ways to meet them with existing resources. Instead of giving up, consuming more or creating more waste, they simply connect the dots in smarter ways throughout their city.

‘PUP is creating a smarter, more sustainable, and more resilient city by combining good design with existing resources. We are stewards of Indianapolis’ resources and curators of its public spaces.’

And now, nearly ten years on, PUP has a pretty impressive resume to prove it. They don’t typically work with basics like steel, plastic or aluminium that can easily be recycled, instead finding new life for more unique items like fabrics, seating, and even an entire building. Here are some of my favourite projects that they’ve worked on:

  • Bush Stadium seat salvage: they diverted nearly 9000 aluminium and plastic seats from landfill, finding them find new homes throughout Indianapolis at bus stops, on The Cultural Trail, selling them to the public, and scrapping what was left in a responsible way.
  • Old City Hall transformation: transforming the old City Hall (built in 1909) into a temporary office space for planning and urban development. After sitting vacant for seven years, PUP redesigned the space using upcycled resources mainly pulled directly from the building. The Hall has been restored as a place focused on people and ideas, and is now a space for the residencts of Indianapolis to explore the city’s future development plans, visions and strategies, including a studio and gallery space.
  • Highland Vicinity Shade Structure: as well as products made from the RCA dome fabric PUP also used this material to create a durable, beautiful shade structure in a community park for the Highland Vicinity neighborhood. Through funds generated from the sale of Dome Products, PUP was able to make the canopy roof panels at no cost, and to this day it helps people stay cool.
  • Super Bowl XLVI: two weeks before the Super Bowl PUP was offered all fabric, vinyl and fence wrap. They ended up with 49 pallets, aka 5 miles of material. As well as finding some community homes for it, including room dividers for The Platform at the Indianapolis City Market, the fabric has also been incorporated into their product line.

In fact, I now have a little bit of that fabric for myself.

People for Urban Progress were incredibly kind and sent me their Ambassador Clutch to try out. Like all of their products it is designed and hand made in Indianapolis, and it is so cool! The white fabric is from the RCA dome, whilst the blue comes from the Super Bowl banners (also because it comes from banners you can choose from a TON of colour options). The most immediately obvious thing is that this clutch is crazy durable; both something to be expected, seeing as its main material used to be a literal roof, and something that makes it a worthwhile investment as you know its going to last a long time. Sustainable in its upcycling and its durability credentials, and also making it waterproof to keep your things safe! This clutch is an oversized one, meaning that while it fits in your hand it can also hold larger items, even including 10” iPads. It’s the perfect blend of not being one of those tiny pointless bags that’s can’t actually hold things, whilst also being small enough to work as a bag for a function or evening situation, in fact it’s now my go to for weddings from because it’s also so versatile.

But beyond all that, it just looks stunning. I’ve never come across something that looks quite like this, making it even more fun when people ask about it because there’s such an incredible story to tell. Whilst PUP do great work in urban regeneration, at the end of the day the cornerstone of their work is good design, and that’s evident in their products. Their pieces are unique, quirky and fun whilst also remaining classy and timeless. There’s really nothing else out there like them, and you get to both divert waste from landfill and put your funds into more sustainable development. I hope to see them taking over more cities in future.

Oh, and I also love that I get to feel like I’m carrying a little of Indiana with me, pushing me one step closer to being real life Leslie Knope.

You can shop more PUP products here, use the code ‘PUP15’ for 15% off your next purchase!

Until next time, stay magic y’all.

Photos by Gianna Scavo.