Two Dutch entrepreneurs have found a novel way to make money out of the thousands of bicycles abandoned in the Netherlands each year — by turning them into designer fashion items and furniture.
Industrial design student Lodewijk Bosman, 25, and Hidde van der Straaten, 28, founded “The Upcycle” in university city Delft in January last year to exploit a typically Dutch problem.
The Netherlands has more bicycles — 18 million — than its 17 million population, and around a million new bikes are bought every year.
However, with so many bikes come parking problems, and if they are left in the wrong place, or simply abandoned, the authorities pick them up and take them to the pound.
This happens to tens of thousands of bikes a year, and while owners can get their bikes back by paying a fine of around 20 euros (US$25), few do. Unclaimed bikes are sold to bike shops that sell them on second-hand, either in the Netherlands or abroad.
Lodewijk and Hidde also buy the abandoned bicycles and parts, but with something different in mind.
Take for example an Upcycle bedside lamp, price 88 euros. It consists of a bike light with a new LED bulb fitted to a stem made of a few chain links and intertwined spokes — all standing on a wooden base wrapped in plaited inner tubes.
Other products include a bracelet made from bike chain links for 10 euros. A belt made from a tire with a buckle fitted costs 30 euros. The Dutch duo have also come up with a dark and rubbery cubic stool made from waste wood covered in plaited inner tubes.
The name of their company, set up after winning a 10,000 euro prize for their innovative idea, is a pun on bicycle and upcycling, a process one step beyond recycling that consists of turning something to be thrown away into something of higher worth.
The company began selling products through their Web site in February and quickly attracted customers around the world.
“I’d say half our customers are in the Netherlands, the other half abroad,” Hidde said.
They hope to strike distribution deals with shops, including the Netherlands’ many souvenir boutiques.
“The bicycle is something typically Dutch, so why not turn them into souvenirs?” he said.
“The supply is practically never-ending because the Netherlands is ‘the’ country for bicycles,” Lodewijk said, his trousers held up by a belt made from a slashed bike tire.
His business partner shows off a wallet made from a piece of old bike saddle and a small piece of tire.
“We try to use bike parts as much as we can, but that’s not always possible, like with the belt’s buckle or the lamp’s switch,” Hidde said.
Upcycle also sells renovated bikes, made from recovered frames with new parts added where necessary, including Upcycle touches such as mudguards made from cut-up tires.
“Getting around by bike is making use of a sustainable, environmentally friendly form of transport,” said Saskia Kluit, deputy director of the Dutch Cyclists’ Federation.
“This business is taking the idea of sustainability a step further,” Kluit added.
The company works with the “Stunt” foundation, which helps retrain the unemployed for new jobs, giving the business a social aspect.
“In a way we’re recycling people,” Stunt supervisor Hein Laakes said.
Lodewijk says that his motto is: “People, Planet, Profit” — also known as “the triple bottom line.”
“In the end we’re a business that has to function, and with which we hope to turn a profit, but the social aspect is important for our business,” he said.
Orders are picking up, and the company has yet to start making money, but when cash does come in, half will go to Stunt.