Remade Meets Bike Inner Tube Upcycling Business, Velo Culture
The Remade in Britain team took a trip up north to the mighty North East, we met up with cycling upcycler Bev Blakeman from Velo Culture! A specialist in recycling inner tubes, Velo Culture transforms material destined for landfill into handy accessories the cycling community. Bev explains how she developed her business with a domestic sewing machine on her kitchen table, to a thriving business with upcycled products flying off the shelves!
Creating Bike Inner Tube Accessories
Talk us through your style, range and designs… What are your influences?
My first ever upcycling project was in fact a Cake Stop Caddy, which is now one of my best sellers! This was at first an experiment, using my Mum’s domestic sewing machine I created a wallet that I still use today! The Cake Stop Caddies are exclusively for cyclists with a sweet tooth, great for holding loose change and notes -for those who are inclined to just one more slice of cake!
The cake stop caddy soon evolved into belts, wash bags and even satchels! I received a custom order from lovely Gary from Green in Mind who wanted a satchel created from recycled inner tubes and rubber. Although this was a challenge, it has helped propel my business and pushed me into creating new, innovative designs!
I then took a stall at The Festival of Thrift, based up in Darlington I met so many great contacts and members of the upcycling community, including Remade in Britain! I started supplying stock to an ethical giift shop called Cherrydidi in Keswick; they have been flying off the shelves!
Cake Stop Caddy: A Minimalist Inner Tube Wallet, Vegan Friendly!
Getting into Upcycling
How did you get into upcycling?
I was made redundant during the recession and decided to combine my two hobbies, cycling and craft and create a business from my kitchen table. I have always been conscious of the environment and as a cycling enthusiast, I could see the potential in inner tubes. They are a material that are otherwise unusable, widely un-recyclable and cheaper to replace than repair, inner tubes end up in landfill which is such a waste!
“bike inner tubes are the throwaway material of the cycling world”
but the response that I have had from cycling community nation has been so positive! With bike shops and cycling cafes across Gateshead and Northumberland providing dump bins, each week I am supplied with such generous donations.
Photo source: Velo Culture
Bike inner tubes are collected from local cycling contacts and transformed into fantastic useful items such as this inner tube toiletry bag.
An Upcycler in the Studio
Take us through a usual day in your studio…
In the mornings I answer my emails, normally these involve bespoke orders for customers wanting something extra special. Then I start packing orders, I am trying to build up stock of smaller items such as the wallets and cake stop caddies. With exciting events such as the Festival of Thrift on the horizon it’s important that I have plenty of stock to dip into! However this can be difficult, my wallets are flying off the shelves, so it’s sometimes difficult to keep my stock replenished, especially around Christmas time.
A studio full of cycling memorabilia
Storing stock for dispatch: In the studio of Velo Culture
Upcycling Business: Social Media
Social media can take up a huge part of my day, Twitter is a great tool for me to communicate with other upcyclers, makers and designers! However it’s so easy to get distracted so balancing my time between marketing and making is somewhat of an art form!
Stitching with Inner Tubes
In the afternoons I sit on my industrial sewing machine and stitch away, sewing onto inner tubes is such a satisfying feeling. I like to get a good production line going in my studio, it’s great to know at the end of the day there is a pile of stock ready and waiting for my customers.
Photo of Bev’s trusted Brother sewing machine
Tiring of a Throwaway Society?
Do you think the throw-away society we live in are becoming more aware of saving the environment? Do you think people have tired of a throwaway society and why?
Definitely! Upcycling and recycling has reached a peak, as a nation we are growing more aware of the environment. I have noticed an increase in the demand for handmade products, people definitely searching for more unique products and wanting to know where their products came from and the story behind them.
Handmade Vs. Mass-Produced
How do you think upcycled products compare with high street finds? Why should people shop for upcycled and repurposed goods?
Upcycled products are something completely different from anything you can find on the high street. Giving an upcycled gift, shows more thought, shows care and attention to detail, knowing that you can buy something completely unique and ultimately support small businesses is something that needs to be celebrated!
Investing in an upcycled product is revitalising traditional skills and ultimately saving materials from landfill!
A bike inner tube upcycler’s essentials: Thread and Fabric
Upcycling Business Awards & Achievements
What do you consider your biggest working achievement to date?
I was shortlisted Guardian’s Upcycling Awards back in 2014. This was a fantastic opportunity and gave great exposure for Velo Culture!
I was also selected to exhibit my upcycled wash bag at Re-Art, which is an initiative to promote artists who use upcycled mediums to create their work. I discovered Re-Art at#remadehour, they are based all the way in Australia, this just demonstrates the power of social media – I was able to make a great connection and as a result got a fantastic opportunity in my living room!
Running Your Own Upcycle Business
What is your biggest challenge in running your own business?
Not having enough hours in the day! Seasonal periods such as Christmas, are always a challenge, a great challenge though! It can get tough keeping on top of orders and hitting deadlines during the festive period.
Managing social media and managing orders is always a delicate balance. It’s important that I deal with bespoke orders as they arrive, but vital that I promote Velo Culture on social media. As I have a creative mind it is sometimes quite easy to get distracted!
Photo of Velo Culture’s oranised workspace
Have You Always Upcycled?
Would you say that upcycling is a new term? In the past, did you upcycle either intentionally or unintentionally?
Upcycling is a new term, however I think that the idea recycling has been around for generations! Programmes like the Great British Bake Off and The Great British Sewing Bee has propelled the idea of making and creating, especially around the recession there was a definite change. Where we began utilising what was around us.
Coming from a family of thrifters, I have always been crafty. As an avid collector I love a good rummage in a charity shop, however back when I was making a purple cushion in my Home Economics class, I never thought that this is where I would be!
Upcycling Business Planning
Do you have any exciting plans for the future?
So many! There are some great festivals on the horizon that we are attending. I’m particularly looking forward to L’Erocia Britannia in Bakewell, in June. Three days of music, food and lots of shopping! We are also attending the Festival of Thrift based in Darlington at the end of September too! This was great fun last year. I am also planning to release new products, these are bigger products, still using recycled bike parts. This will be great to push myself into creating new designs and widening my customer audience.
A handy workspace
Upcycling Business Tips
Do you have any top tips for any budding upcyclers reading?
Give it a go, there is nothing to lose! Using recycled and reclaimed materials means that you have a fantastic, free (or almost free) products to get upcycling with. Have a play, experiment and link your passions in with your projects.
Networking is vital, social media is a great tool to reach your customers and get your upcycled products noticed! Instagram is a particular favourite of mine, it’s a more visual platform, Facebook is also my main tool, it allows you to leave links and interact more freely with customers and upcyclers alike!
Where the upcycling happens
We would love to thank Bev for a guided tour around the Velo Culture studio and a wonderful insight into life as an upcycler. We would like to also congratulate Mr & Mrs Velo Culture on their recent wedding!
Image sourced from: http://www.remadeinbritain.com/lined-upcycled-make-up-bag.html