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tania lekhraj seated on stool laughing in studio.

imaginative upcycling: tania lekhraj

imaginative upcycling book. graphic design created by norm o’hagan.

imaginative upcycling book. graphic design created by norm o’haganphoto by leticia ferraz


inspired by the transformative nature of repurposing materials, tania lekhraj explores the concept of imaginative upcycling. through experimentation with various materials, crafts, and digital iterations, her pieces communicate the potential of everyday objects to be seen from a new perspective.

imaginative upcycling is the term tania lekhraj uses to define the art of repurposing everyday materials, bringing them to life in a new and unconventional form. “this reincarnation of materials allows these objects to live on in a new form, serving a different purpose than they were conventionally designed to do."


tania lekhraj upcycled bags.

photo by yatú espinosa


how did you first get into sewing and designing your own pieces?

the concept of imaginative upcycling fell into my world organically. as i was learning to sew, i practiced with everyday materials around me in an attempt to elevate the objects i had at my disposal and highlight their former utility. through this process, i was drawn to the transformative nature that upcycling came with.


tania lekhraj working with their up-cycled sweater.

photo by leticia ferraz


what sparked your interest in creating with upcycling/rework?

my interest in upcycling was primarily driven by the challenge of creating something unique out of everyday objects that can often be taken for granted, this passion was then amplified by trying to push the boundaries of how they can be reworked or perceived.


tania lekhraj working on floor.

photos by leticia ferraz


how did you decide which materials to use for making these pieces?

i first began upcycling with utility-based clothing (overalls, jeans, workwear, etc.), with the goal of not only saving but highlighting its former utilitarian features and altering the way in which it is used or seen. this curiosity then began to snowball into experimentation with new materials.

regardless of the materials i choose to work with, i typically try to follow some or all of the following principles when creating my upcycled pieces:

  1. utility-based: my pull towards utility-based pieces is driven by the desire to create new value and purpose to the objects’ reworked form.
tania lekhraj up-cycled bags.
tania lekhraj's up-cycled bags.

photos by yatú espinosa


example 1: utility - designed to mimic the way an overall is traditionally worn, utility is the focal point of the creation, and added functionality is incorporated with the front body pouch.

  1. dual-purpose: i view dual-purpose functionalities to be an added bonus to utility, like the accessories that take your fit to the next level. dual-purpose characteristics can live both in the focal points and details of upcycled artwork.
tania lekhraj's up-cycled sweater.

photos by leticia ferraz

example 2: dual-purpose - highlights the ease and casual wear of a hoodie with an enhanced overall pocket. photos by leticia ferraz

  1. concept over cleanliness: when working on a new piece i am less concerned about how neat, tidy, or put together the final product is. i care more about the concept and the unique qualities of the piece versus a straight stitch with no frays. i appreciate the beauty in the chaos that upcycled material carries with it.


tania lekhraj's upcycled sheer bag.

photos by leticia ferraz


4. an ode to its former life: most of my upcycled work pays tribute to the object's former use. whether that might be through symbolism (placement, details) or overt labeling.


tania lekhraj's upcycled candy wraper bag.

photos by leticia ferraz


example 3: white rabbit purse with clear, touch sensitive phone pouch - to order more white rabbit ;) iykyk


tania lekhraj's laughing.

photo by leticia ferraz


when you're creating, what kind of feeling or mindset do you like to explore?

while creating, my process is not focused on the end product, but rather on the journey. my pieces rarely ever turn out exactly how i envisioned them. in fact, i often start the process without fully knowing what it is i want to make. new opportunities and ideas can only come your way when you are open to accepting them. zoom out and translate this perspective to how you view your craft in general. remove barriers of entry that might intimidate you, like technical know-how, for example. skills can always be learned but your ideas are unique to you, irreplaceable, and completely yours. embrace it by choosing to have confidence in your ability to adapt and learn.

i have also experimented with upcycling outside the realm of clothing, though i have primarily focused on clothing thus far, this craft is by no means is limited to clothing. imaginative upcycling can find its home in all crafts, like jewelry for example, or mixed media to elevate the existence of the object beyond its physical attributes by creating digital iterations or communicating a narrative.


tania lekhraj's upcycled earrings.

photos by yatú espinosa


example 4: hardware hair clips in collaboration with sarah burkenbine.


tania lekhraj's upcycled bag drawings.

example 5: digital iterations


tania lekhraj's up-cycled drawing anatomy of overalls.

“the anatomy of an overall” exhibited at unfinished/2022. photo by marcus martinez


“the anatomy of an overall”, illustrates tania’s mindset toward imaginative upcycling. when working with reused materials, tania does her best to use them for all their parts, as every piece of the object has the potential to live another life and serve a new purpose.

as mentioned earlier, tania's creative process is driven by her journey towards the final output. workshops are a wonderful way to not only share one's craft but also to learn from others and deepen relationships through creative expression. tania recently had the opportunity to host her first workshop alongside campus complex, a fellowship designed to create and connect physical spaces as learning environments and creative outlets for under-resourced builders, artists, and researchers.

her workshop emphasized the ideation stage rather than technical sewing skills, with the goal of building confidence in sharing ideas and stepping outside of one’s comfort zone to create something unique and intentional. it was beautiful to see how different each person’s bag was at the end of the workshop and the sentimental value it held for being the only one of its kind.


follow: @tlekhraj


article by leticia ferraz
photos by leticia ferrazyatú espinosa  

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