The Genteel
November 28, 2020


Screencap from
The Upcycle bicycles netherlands

Friends Hidde Van Der Straaten and
Lodewijk Bosman of The Upcycle.
Photograph courtesy of The Upcycle. 

Each year in the Netherlands, government officials collect thousands upon thousands of bicycles - some abandoned, some parked where they shouldn't be - and bring them to dumps or depots where they are picked apart for their scrap metal.

But thanks to two friends, these so-called "orphaned bicycles" are now finding new roles in homes around the country - and around the world. In March of this year, Hidde Van Der Straaten and Lodewijk Bosman launched The Upcycle, a business that recycles old bicycle frames and transforms them into new and improved versions of the vehicles, which they call "upcycles." The Upcycle also uses bicycle parts as raw material for a small line of home décor and fashion accessories

The idea for The Upcycle came from Bosman's own experience of collecting his bike from a depot after leaving it parked incorrectly. The sight of the thousands of abandoned bicycles struck a chord in Bosman, who currently studies industrial design and previously studied industrial ecology (an examination of industry from an ecological perspective).

Related: Bicycles are the latest statement piece. 

In the latter half of 2011, Bosman got Van Der Straaten on board; together they began to develop a business plan that combined the used bicycles with Bosman's areas of study and the entrepreneurial skills of Van Der Straaten, who runs his own business building stands for festivals. By the end of the year, the pair had won a €10,000 grant from the province of South Holland government, which had put out a call for sustainable initiatives.

The two believe "waste is food for creativity" and they are actively trying to spread this message.

Bosman and Van Der Straaten then spent all of 2012 developing their products and setting up the business, which goes beyond traditional recycling and upcycling (the process of revamping an item so as to add value to it). The pair also added a social welfare element to their venture by partnering up with the Stunt Foundation, a Dutch organisation which provides those out-of-work with a means to contribute to society through projects in which they can participate. In the case of The Upcycle, people working with the Stunt Foundation dismantle the old bikes and also produce the company's range of home and fashion products, all designed by Bosman and Van Der Straaten.

Related: Madrid's Dale Pedales sells refurbished vintage bikes to a growing cycling community in the city.

"We have a close collaboration with the boss of this social workplace," Bosman explains. "He's really supporting us in this development and he sees that it's added value for [their participants] as well because they make something that is in stores. Before, maybe they just painted something and it could be placed in a school, but now they are part of a production line, so it is really good for these people."

While the workers gain new skills, Bosman says they don't receive any financial compensation, as the national social security programme supports them. The Upcycle does, however, pay the not-for-profit Stunt Foundation, and these funds help it continue and grow its programs.

Bosman adds that the collaboration with the social workplace is an integral part of The Upcycle. "That's actually part of our philosophy," he says. "If you look at sustainability, you look at the planet, the people and also the profit - that's the triple bottom line, as I've learned at school. I think the way we produce is really important."

The Upcycle bicycles netherlands

In addition to upcycles, The Upcycle also
has a line of fashion and home decor
products created from recycled bicycle parts.
Photograph courtesy of The Upcycle. 

Together with the Stunt Foundation and a similar organisation, Biesieklette, which builds the upcycles, the company produces custom-made turquoise bicycles with recycled frames. These bikes also feature mudguards crafted from old tires, while the saddles and handlebars are new. Other parts of the bikes bought from Fiets Depot, such as inner tubes and headlights, are put to use in The Upcycle's desk lamps, belts, bracelets, ottomans and cardholders.

Related: Canada's most fashionable biker gang: The Deadly Nightshades.

All of The Upcycle's products are available on its website, while the home and fashion lines are also available in two locations, Amsterdam Roest café and venue in Amsterdam and De Jongens eatery in Haarlem. The Upcycle also sells at markets in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, as Bosman explains, to allow for direct contact with the public. 

So far, the public has had a positive response to the company and its innovative and sustainable approach to the bicycle business. "If we sell it to Dutch people, most of the them are already into this recycling and upcycling, so they like the idea and they like what we're doing and they also like the social story behind it," Bosman explains.

Still, it's not only the Dutch who are buying Upcycle products, as Bosman and Van Der Straaten discovered when they placed their stock on Etsy. "We were really flabbergasted by all the orders we got from Australia and Switzerland, from the States, from Italy," Bosman says.

The pair has also found - to their surprise - that visitors to the Netherlands are potential customers for their bicycles. "Tourists really like the fact that it's a bike because a bike is of course a really typical Dutch product," Bosman says. "If you come to Amsterdam, there are a lot of bikes and it's just one of the tourist attractions, so that is also something we are looking into now. Maybe we can sell it as a souvenir, or something like that. … Our story is, of course, important for us, but we try to get our products to a broad public, also people who are not really interested in these kinds of issues."

Related: Georgia In Dublin's line of "elegant Irish rainwear".

The Upcycle bicycles netherlands

Part of The Upcycle's sustainable approach
to business is partnering with social work-
place organisations to produce their items.
Photograph courtesy of The Upcycle. 

Although they are happy to sell The Upcycle products to people who aren't interested in the social and sustainable goals of the company, Bosman and Van Der Straaten are still very focused on the issues, especially changing the way people look at waste. The two believe "waste is food for creativity" and they are actively trying to spread this message.

"It's not just bikes," Bosman says. "There is a lot of waste in every sector and in every home, actually. Just go to your garage and look at what you have. There's so much stuff and with a little bit of creativity, you can make some beautiful products out of it."

For example, at the end of August The Upcycle will have a table at a local festival. They're planning to put a bunch of bicycle parts on display and let people put their imaginations to work making their own things.

Bosman and Van Der Straaten also hope to make their own new creations and expand their product line, but for now they are focused on retail opportunities. The two are actively looking for new shops to carry their items, both in the Netherlands and overseas, according to Bosman.   

"Getting on the market, that's now our main focus," he affirms. "Then after that we will try to continue developing more products, because in the end our goal is to have 100 percent of the bike being used. … There are a lot of parts we don't use yet in our designs but it's in our minds, you know, we are thinking of it."



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