A gift shows you care – but disposable packaging doesn’t. Amber Testino’s UPWRAP initiative offers a covetable alternative to this unsustainable waste

Photography by Anthony Costifas Text by Darcie Imbert

The age of coronavirus has laid bare the inefficiencies of an industry that had long existed at the expense of the environment. Changing habits is hard. We live in a society entrenched in disposability. But Amber Testino of Art Partner is using her professional experience and the strength of her personal beliefs to power a shift in the harmful practices that have become embedded in modern consumer culture.

Upwrap was born from a mission to provide a sustainable, ethical and luxury alternative to traditional paper gift wrapping; reusable fabric wrappers are made from surplus textiles donated by Testino’s close circle of brand partners. Upwrap has been developed so that it can adapt to an evolving landscape. When the pandemic hit, for example, Upwrap was able to rapidly shift resources to meet new demands, using waste materials to make reusable face covering.

Testino believes change will come when consumers insist on accountability. “Where we put our money is very powerful; we have a major voice through what we choose to buy.” While we await a unified government response, consumers and brands should take the first steps towards mindful consumption. Upwrap is challenged with changing the mindset around gift wrap. Terms like “gifting linens” imbue the concept with greater longevity. Testino likens the gift-giving process to the ritualistic process of eating with family and friends. “We would not set a special table at home with paper table linens or make up our bed with disposable paper sheets. We have a drawer where we keep these items and they are cared for, and used again and again.” Gifting linens indulge our yearning for meaningful, physical experience; let the wrapping be a part of the gift.

The environmental impact of paper gift wrapping runs deeper than one might expect. Consider the cost of extracting virgin materials, the impact of shipping (most paper is made in factories and shipped long distances), in addition to the social impact of machine-led production. All Upwrap gifting linens are made by hand. Mother-and-daughter duo Hana and Shahad Murdaa, who moved to London from Syria a few years ago, make up the core London team. Their swift pivot to producing face masks was a community-driven effort, sharing pattern and tutorials with volunteers, from fashion students to grandmothers, and connecting these individuals to local brands with excess material.

The Covid-19 crisis accentuated the need for fundamental change. Testino hopes this will accelerate reform, citing the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which encourages brands to share technology and best practices, and develop standards to transform industry to a circular model. “Collaboration will be the way forward. Brands trying to reinvent the wheel independently will always be inefficient compared to the prospect of working together.” As the fundamental truths of our existence are exposed, ultimately, it is in the best interest of the industry to group together to find sustainable, practical solutions.

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