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Sustainable Art: How This Philippine Start-up is Giving Life to Old Tires

Siklo Pilipinas is upcycling rubber tires to make durable bags

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BY Pauline Mendoza - 05 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In 2010, Philippine-based start-up Siklo Pilipinas began working with a new material for bag-making that was a bit unexpected—old rubber tires. Yes, the familiar tires you see every day from cars and bikes. Instead of leaving the rubber tires and inner tubes to pile up in landfills or street corners to serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, the company gave them a new life.

“We do island backpacking adventures and so the need to waterproof our gadgets [came up]. My husband thought of the inner tube lying around in our home. It was easy to dry and could protect gadgets from a fall or bump,” says Clarice Ecuacion, co-founder Siklo Pilipinas.

Since then, Lyndon Ecuacion, artist-designer husband of Clarice, started working on the possibilities of old rubber tires as a material. They started with belts, purses, keyholders, and bike accessories, such as a saddle pouch and pannier.

The joy and struggle of upcycling

“Since there is no known disintegration rates for tire rubber to decay, upcycling this material implies durability that can outlive our generation. That's what makes it more exciting,” she says.

The husband-and-wife duo collects raw materials from bike shops, scrap yards, and vulcanizing or tire shops around Metro Manila and as far as the Laguna area, around 64km south of Manila. Ecuacion says, “Rather than putting it away for garbage collectors to collect and dump on landfills and dumpsites, we encouraged [residents] not to throw away their scraps but instead contact us when they have enough and we will buy it from them.”

The difference between upcycling and recycling, Ecuacion explains, is that “upcycling has very low carbon footprint in manufacturing a product and usually involves more people in the process,” while recycling to make a new product generates more carbon footprint because there is more energy and machines involved.

“Upcycling and recycling has totally different manufacturing processes because unlike recycling, which you dictate the materials, in upcycling the material dictates upon you,” says Ecuacion.

In their design process, Siklo Pilipinas conforms to the innate form of their raw materials. No material is ever the same, which means subjecting it to a certain manufacturing process does not yield a 100% success rate. “I guess that's why upcycled products are low in supply than the recycled ones,” she adds.

She also says that there were attempts to reverse engineer some of their products, which prompted them to seek IPO registration for their designs.

“Some of our clients abroad asked us if they could put their own brands in our products to market to their countries. This is a welcome development to boost the eco-ethical lifestyle we've been working on. Our products lobbied its message in itself. However, we have to keep the difficult solutions from the long tedious process our trade secret.”

Living an eco-ethical lifestyle

With a team of six, Siklo Pilipinas has inspired people not only in the Philippines, but abroad as well.

“Though other countries have this upcycled tire rubber products, several customers complimented us like: ‘I saw innertube bags in Thailand and I'm proud as a Pinoy that yours is better’, ‘I brought your bag to Vietnam to show my NGO friends how good you did it,’ ‘I have innertube bag I bought in Oregon but yours are well made,’ ‘I like to sell your bags in California because I haven't seen better than this there,’" Ecuacion says.

A Siklo Pilipinas bag price ranges from PHP1,500 ($30) to PHP4,000 ($80). Their product line includes backpacks, gadget bags, messenger bags, tote bags, 2-way hip pouch/cross body made from inner tube or a combination of tire and inner tube. They also have lifestyle accessories like wallets and purses made from inner tubes and bike parts.

“We didn’t expect the encouragement and support we got from the locals and expats alike. People in the market started making suggestions and requested customized designs. It was a challenge my designer husband gladly accepted,” she says.