Reduce, Reuse, and Retail Recycle: How to Get Creative with Retail Trends

It’s hard to forget some things. Years ago, stumbling through an antique shop someplace, I came across a biplane made entirely out of Red Dog beer cans. Yep. Red Dog. There was so little shame, here, that they didn’t even feel the need to bother with even a marginally better-quality beer. Either that, or they just sold the entire squadron of Milwaukee’s Best prior to me coming in the shop.

I thought to myself, “I’m all for recycling, but man, beer can planes? That’s gotta be pushing it.”

One man’s trash is another man’s biplane, I guess. But the artist, whoever it was, did make a conscious effort to recycle something. The sentiment of it, at least, was admirable and Captain Planet would most certainly approve of this beer-can-MacGyver.

Paper airplanes are about as technically complicated as I’m willing to get when it comes to the business of domestic aviation construction, and although my skills sets didn’t match those of the artist, it did cause me to take a moment and think, “Well, how could I be a little more environmentally-friendly?”

My answer?

I take the looks and clothes I see in fashion magazines and store advertisements, and put them together for a fraction of the cost, with used or vintage items.

Here’s my latest adventure:

The other week, while I was finishing up the final details on my “J.Crew at the Liquor Store” post, I was assembling the photographs I wanted to feature in the article, and came across one of a table with nice wristwatches on it. Round-faced, plain-dialed, and two-handed, they looked like the kind of watch your dad would wear. Or your dad’s dad, even. Cool. Classic. Basic. J.Crew updated them with new, military-style nylon bands in bold colors, hoping to make them appealing to a younger generation. Well, mission accomplished by J.Crew. I wanted one immediately after seeing it.

Note the bold-colored, military-style nylon bands.

Turns out that innocent-looking timekeeping device was a wallet-devouring monster.

The pricetag? $3,995.

The brand? Omega: the brand worn by Daniel Craig in the new James Bond films.

(My guess is Bond spend so much time at that Texas Hold ‘Em table at the Casino Royale to pay off some of his wristwear collection).

J.Crew does offer a more affordable version. Their designers collaborated with Timex to produce a timepiece modeled after vintage military wristwear. It’s only the small sum of $150.


Well, it looked like my anticipated vintage wristwatch-buying spending spree at J.Crew’s Men Shop wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

It was a simple idea, though: take an older watch, ditch the standard, leather band, and replace it with something a little more colorful and modern.

Logging onto Ebay, I searched around for an older Timex watch.

Quite a few came up in my search results, but my eye kept darting back to one from the 1950’s. Mechanical, meaning “I’ve still got to wind it” (or, in more basic terms, the “tick-tock, tick-tock” kind). Almost 60 years old, and still working just fine. Since it was used – and since the strap would have to be replaced – I could get it for a deal, replace the strap myself, and make my own version of the watch I’d seen in the store pictures.

Watch? Check. Just needed a band like the one I’d seen.

I messaged the seller, telling him why I purchased the watch, and asking if he could offer me any advice on where to find the kind of band I was looking for. He not only got back to me, but even better, said he could duplicate the watch I showed him: he’d a few straps of the sort in his shop, and he’d gladly replace it, free-of-charge.

Strap? Check. And, just like that, and hour of Ebay-ing later, I’d the same watch.

Reduce. Reuse. And…avoid spending a bunch of money on a Rolex.

It finally came in the mail yesterday, and looks almost exactly the same as the one from J.Crew. Well, minus a few thousand dollars, plus some serious awesome points for myself.

It doesn’t hurt, either, than I spared another homeless watch from becoming yet another item for the city dump. What’s better than budget-friendly? Eco-friendly.

And that’s how I recycle.

Do you purchase used items to save money? Are there any unique or unconventional ways in which you recycle? If so, what are they and what inspired your own recycling?

Image credit to

Eric Labanauskas

Eric is a data entry specialist and contributing writer for the QLP Blog Squad. He is a city boy with a country heart, with an appetite for anything chicken-fried. He has studied as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, performed across the country as Buddy Holly in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," and can tie a bow tie by himself without the aid of a mirror. 1950's rock 'n roll is his soundtrack, especially while on road-trips with his lovely girlfriend. Suffice it to say, he is also the owner of some good cocktail party stories from his many experiences. You can also connect with Eric on Google+.


  1. Juliette Vincent

    Ye gods, that’s a lot for a watch!!

    I’m a constant thrift store haunter. 🙂 And it’s not just to save (though that plays a large role). Sometimes you can find some of the neatest things secondhand! I love to find awesome used items and give them a new home either with myself or as gifts for friends. I have a hard time leaving a thrift store without a cart full of books and a few other things that happened to catch my eye. One of my recent finds was a really cool vintage men’s fedora from the 1940’s for less than $10. I’m a sucker for hats and bought it without even looking in the mirror to check it out. Who can resist that kind of recycling?

    • Amanda

      I agree Juliette! I also find all kinds of neat things in thrift stores. I love when you can find a very nice quality piece or a good brand for much less $ than the cheaper brand, new from a store. I recently bought our friend’s little boy 10 hardcover books that looked brand new for only $2.50–yes, only $0.25 each. Those would have cost probably $150 in a store. I love thrift stores!!

      • Eric

        You want used books? Amazon. They’ve folks that’ll sell them for a penny, and all you pay is S&H. Even if S&H is $2.99, that’s $3 for a book delivered to your door! Just bought one the other day I wanted for years from Ebay…a big, comprehensive collection of every built structure by Frank Lloyd Wright. Retails for around $100, and I couldn’t ever afford it. Caught it by chance on Ebay…$24! Win! Am I missing anything from not having it brand new? Not at all. Actually, they’ve changed the look and layout of the book, and this one I own is the same printing I spent my childhood checking-out monthly from the library. Sometimes the old stuff’s the better stuff. 🙂

        • Juliette Vincent

 is another great place for used books. I’ve found many an awesome deal on there. 🙂

    • Eric


      Jealous. Men’s hats were something back in the day, and every man should’ve owned one if he knew what was good for him. That said, they were made well, and if taken care of, would pretty much last a guy a lifetime. Doesn’t surprise me that they still turn up. Awesome bargain, too! There’s a shop in the city that started making hats for “Public Enemies” and now is making steady business helping costume Hollywood films. I’d love to have one of their hats, but those things go for hundreds of bucks!

      You find the neatest things, absolutely, and things that’ll last you through the years. It’s hard to find something not mass-manufactured, and owned by every fifth person in the nation.

      Kudos for some awesome finds, and for recycling, Juliette!

  2. amy

    Your finished watch looks awesome, Eric! I love hearing about how people repurpose items, they just have so much more charm than something that was mass produced.

    I personally haven’t done this before, but I’ve heard of other people doing it so it can’t be that hard. Again, a very cool idea!

    • Eric

      Here’s the catch: never fall for a retailer’s “re-purposed” wares. It’s crazy, but a trend caught on that has stores selling hand-picked, one-of-a-kind items, and marking them up big time. It came from ITALY??? Well, sure. It can come from a thrift store in Italy, and still be Italian, but that doesn’t mean it needs a 500% markup. is a little more reasonable for stuff like this, and most the folks making it do it for a living, or for supplemental income. That’s about as local a business as a person could support, so I’ve always considered it a good cause. And they’re usually a lot cheaper than the retail stores.

      Sure, you could set up a paper-making process in your home, and recycle all your old newspapers and bills…but if you’re looking for something a little less messy and a whole lot simpler, buy a used book. Give that fedora another lease on life. Those are ways you can recycle, too!

  3. Cybernetic SAM

    How am I eco-friendly? Let me count the ways… I have always been an eco-conscious person, though I do have my times when I still could be better and I always strive to be. I recently have fallen madly in love with Up-Cycling (especially furniture). It is easy for me because I have already done this stuff for years, but now it’s trendy so I don’t feel so weird modifying and adorning what most people would throw away! If I had the means to make a house with everything inside all completely up-cycled I would be happy as a pig in…….well, we’ll just say re-using his refuse! 😉 Great post!!!

    • Eric

      Preachin’. To. The. Choir.


      Honestly, here’s my thinking:

      A.) Spending less money in an economic recession? Good.
      B.) Saving something from being thrown in a dump? Also good.
      C.) Having something no longer made? It means it’s going to be a lot more original than those hundreds of coffee tables boxed-up and flat-packed at the IKEA.
      D.) And hell…things that’re old got to be old because they were well-built. I highly doubt – speaking of IKEA – you’ll see any funny-named, hex-wrench-assembled side table make it to be a century old. They should give a Guinness Record if someone’s ever makes it through four years of college!

      • Amanda

        HA! Eric, again you crack me up. And I 100% agree with you. The older stuff, most of the time, is made better. =) And if you can buy it cheaper, and save it from the landfill–total win! Excellent post! And awesome watch, that thing looks like it could have been right alongside the ones in that case going for tons of money.

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    Your new watch looks awesome, Eric! Honestly, I even like it more than the $4,000 one! It’s great that you found such a cool ebay seller that you hook you up with the new strap. Ebay sellers that know all about the products they sell and that are willing to go above and beyond on the sale are a rarity. But when you find them, it makes that shopping experience amazing.

    I can’t say that I’ve done this myself for clothing/accessories, but I also know zip about fashion. My motto is: “Does it fit? Does it look okay? Is it under $30? Sold.” I’m big into buying used books, though. It’s how I’ve collected a lot of literary classics. My friend once picked me up a copy of Oscar Wilde’s Complete Works that was published in the early 1920s from a recycling center. FOR FREE. It’s one of my most treasured possessions, and it’s definitely cheaper than the $25 new version at Barnes & Noble.

    • Eric

      Thanks, Mandy!

      The folks Ebay are usually pretty cool. I’ve always preferred finding someone who runs a mom ‘n pop operation because they’ll always make sure to add those little touches that sets them apart.

      Far as fashion goes: I’ll see a look or an outfit in a magazine, say, GQ. I’ll go on Ebay, and search for the kinds of pieces I saw. Sometimes I’ll find the exact item, used or discounted, or sometimes I’ll find something I like better.

      Free? Well, you can’t beat that. Nice save, both financially and in terms of eco-friendliness! I’ve never been lucky enough to score a book like that…my library sells books phased out of their collection all the time, but never anything of note. Makes me wonder if I should dumpster-dive the Newberry Library, et al…

      • Mandy Kilinskis

        I don’t even know how my friend found it. It was in Naperville, so I like to imagine that some late billionaire donated his collection to the public library. The library couldn’t use them all, so it ended up at that recycling center/museum/whatever. But hey, someone’s loss is my gain.

        If you ever go dumpster-diving at the Newberry, I’ll be more than happy to accompany you. I could give all of those rare books a good home.

  5. JPorretto

    One of the most famous guitars of all time, Eric Clapton’s “Blackie,” was created in almost the same manner. He bought three beat up and virtually worthless guitars, picked the best parts of each to make one fine axe, and the rest is history.

    I love the “essence” of this post. I try to do things like this all the time. Not only for fiscal reasons, but more so that you get something UNIQUE every time. It’s not the same mass quantity consumer good that everyone else has. And I’ll care about for much longer too…

    • Eric

      #$%^ing Clapton. I wish I had the budget to find three vintage American Strats, and Frankenstein them all together like he did. Smart guy. Want the ultimate in playability and tone? Take the best parts of three guitars, and make one really awesome guitar. And thus, he made Blackie.

      Think you hit the nail on the head in the last paragraph, there, my friend: UNIQUE. I hate, hate, hate getting something out-of-the-box, or off-the-rack, that I know 45789789443 other people have got. If you can make it unique yourself? All the better. I literally paid for some luthier to beat the uniqueness into my guitar. Good news is, I won’t ever have to feel sore about dinging or denting it again. Awesome.

  6. Jen

    Really cool post, Eric! I love what you did with the watch, I actually do the same thing with jewelry I already own. I get really bored with the same thing, so when I break a necklace I keep the beads/charms, to make a new piece. I never pay full retail price for any of my necklaces or earrings and I get multiple looks from them. It’s really easy but a little time consuming and strenuous on the hands if it not something your used to…so I don’t do it too often, but I enjoy it when I can. 🙂

    • Eric

      Really smart idea, Jen, and I guess it must be nice never having to worry about breaking something, knowing you could just make something even better out of it. To be honest, that’s a skill to be admired nowadays. Years ago, if something broke, you usually only had one option: fix it yourself. Buying a new one would be too pricey, and you’d be crazy to toss it out. It’s AMAZING how many people, these days, will break something and then have to seek out a professional for a simple little repair. Respect points for that!

  7. Jill Tooley

    $3,995!?!?!? I would never, ever, EVER pay that much for a watch. Good lord! Even if I had the money I’d balk at that price. $150 is too much for me, too. Maybe I’m just a cheap-ass, but do people seriously pay that much on a whim? Must be nice…I spend 15 minutes debating whether or not a $20 sweater is worth the price!

    I adore your eBay watch, and actually think it looks better than the pricier versions. The new ones may mimic the retro look, but yours is the real deal! Love it.

    Like Sam, I’m really into upcycling as of late. The packrat in me never wants to throw stuff away because I always feel like there’ll be another use for it someday…and every once in awhile, I do find one! I’ve snagged many deals in thrift stores, antique malls (if their prices aren’t outrageous), garage sales, and “give away” ads in newspapers/Craigslist. One time I found antique mahogany endtables at a garage sale and talked the seller down to $15 for the pair — they’re GORGEOUS and would have cost me at least 10 times that in an upscale antique store! Plus, I had fun polishing them up to perfection. Thriftiness not only saves stuff from landfills but it also proves to be much more fun than buying pre-made items! 🙂

    • Eric

      Some things I get. But four grand for a damn watch? Yeah. Beats me, too. Sure, it tells the time. So does the $35 Fossil I wear every day (thanks again, Ebay).

      Problem? Not being able to tell the time. The you can get the same solution for $50 or $4000.

      Amen on those endtables. I saw some I liked in a Restoration Hardware, but, it being the store it is, they were anything but affordable. Cool? Yes. Expensive? Hell yes. Had them on my mind for awhile. Well, I was down in Coal City, where Shelley’s folks live, and we were browsing through a craft store, there. They’ve a local artist and furniture maker who takes reclaimed barn wood and makes tables, shelves, cabinets from ’em. They’d actual history. They were repurposed. They looked good. Okay, so, they’ve got to be expensive, right? Nope. Think the most expensive one I saw was a couple hundred bucks, which won’t get you so much as a table leg at RH. Plus it supports a local business and artist.

      Props to you, Jill, and the rest of y’all at QLP doing your part of upcycling.

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