“Up-bi-cycled”: from discarded bike tyre inners to beautiful jewellery

Ronja Schipper of re:purpose has been crafting lovingly up-cycled jewellery since 2015. By using under-valued resources such as discarded bicycle inner tubes to create her stunningly soft and silky feather earrings, she aims to highlight our relationship with our at-risk environment and its resources.


 

 
What do you make?
My “up-bi-cycled” jewellery range called “re:purpose” is made from discarded bicycle inner tubes, enhanced with new findings.

How did you get into your craft?
Having grown up in Southern Germany in a house hold where money was always tight, I learnt from an early age that you can always make something out of what you already have or can find lying around: from rummaging through skips as a child to find books and music tapes I couldn’t afford, or turning a discarded pair of speakers into a bunny hutch, to furnishing my tiny Paris student apartment exclusively from giant public container bins, or turning a truck tyre into a garden pond… all the way to my current junk jewellery range – another man’s trash has long been my treasure. I get immense pleasure from making something yourself that’s unique, rather than buying off the rack.

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Back in the day, I studied fashion and graphic design, giving me a great base of design and craft skills from pattern making, sewing techniques and computer based design processes, which have all come in handy over the years. Other than that, I am mostly self-taught through a learning-by-doing process and trial-and-error when it comes to my jewellery collection showcased here on Felt.


 

 

 
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
After discovering bicycle inner tubes as a readily available resource in 2015 while working on a submission for the “resource rise again” design competition, I got hooked on this gorgeously soft and flexible material for my main staple. It can be cut, hole punched, hand or machine sewn and will keep its shape while also changing characteristics with temperature changes, become even more soft or stiff in response. Apart from a pair of scissors and a small pair of pliers, I only use a microfibre cloth as well as massage oil ;o) and alcohol to clean the raw material. You can find a tutorial video that my boys and I created during lockdown last year on my instagram @ronjaschipper if you’d like to have a go yourself!

What inspires you?
I have found the lens of scarcity to be a great driver for creativity, as it forces me to look closely at all the possibilities hidden within a material or resource I’m working with. As a nature lover, I draw inspiration from the shapes and textures around me, especially all the beautifully timid birds we are lucky to have in this corner of paradise.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Absolutely! By using under-valued resources for creating my design pieces, I’m aiming to highlight the relationship with our at risk environment and its resources. I believe in changing the perception of so-called waste materials through creative transformation, setting consumers on a more sustainable path for our future together. With a planet of limited resources, we need to urgently look at alternatives to current production processes for almost all our everyday consumables and products.


 

 
What have been some highlights for you on your maker journey?
A: When the Mosque attack in Christchurch happened in 2019, I felt compelled to do something to help, so I created a special erring design called “tear drops for Christchurch” – all profits from the sales of this special edition went towards helping the victims and their families. So thanks to the amazing Felt community and everyone that bought a pair, I was able to make a contribution to this cause through my creations.

And then there was what is now known as “The Jacinda Incident”: When our Prime Minister wore her pair of up-bicycled double feathers on telly during the daily Covid briefing in April last year, things went a little bonkers! A few people started commenting on social media, mentioning my name and pointing to my Felt shop… and that was that! I spent what was looking to be a quiet and reflective time during level 4 lock-down, frantically filling hundreds of online orders with my husband polishing rubber and our boys bending findings, helping with the wrapping (in old sewing patterns) and packaging of the feathers. When I ran out of material, I put out a call on social media only to find neighbours and friends drop their old inner tubes off at our gate. I was utterly overwhelmed but grateful at the same time, so thank you to everyone for their patience and support during that crazy and exciting time. It truely was unforgettable!


 

 
Describe your workspace:
My studio aka dining table is in the centre of our living space, so my family’s patience is often tested with piles of black rubber taking over the common area. I love the fact that I can work amongst it all, have a coffee brewing on the stove while listening to the radio and watching the kids in the garden… The pictures of me working on the Tui Stool and Tui Chair, a collaboration with architect/interior designer Lyzadie Design Studio, show the giant blackboard that serves as a planning and creative space for all, as well as providing a grounding backdrop to the open plan living area. Here I am crafting the inner tube feathers as well as binding them with waxed cord and attaching them to the Pinatex material, a resource made from pineapple waste, before hading the cloak piece to the furniture makers to attach to the chairs.


 

 

 
Five words that describe your mind:
“That can still be used!”

What are you currently listening to?
My go-to album at the moment is Reb Fountain’s “Don’t you know who I am” from 2020 and her single “Hey Mom”. Her voice goes straight to my tummy and seeing her live multiple times last year was one of my highlights of 2020. Reb and I met through instagram after her friend Dianne Swann gave her one of my mis-matches earrings as a gift last year. We ended up doing a special edition collaboration together – based on a tattoo of a feather on her arm – which is only available through Reb’s band camp site.


 
Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
Every single person coming up with a sustainable solution to a problem facing all of us, be it environmental, health related or social, is my hero. There are so many amazing individuals out there, making a difference in their community, work place or society. Whenever I come across one of them, I make sure to congratulate them.

A favourite quote:
“On a planet with limited resources, endless growth is impossible!” – David Attenborough
or
“If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”


 

 
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
If you have a passion, this will be easy for you as it won’t feel like work at all. Sometimes ideas emerge as you go, so just get started and see what happens. And just remember: only good ideas get copied, making this the ultimate form of flattery.

Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
Having short distances between production and customer is ideal for multiple reasons: You keeping the environmental impact at a minimum while putting food on the table of a fellow Kiwi and a smile on their face. And you can take joy from the fact that someone took time and care to craft something unique just for you ;o)

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
Recently, I purchase a hand carved wooden soap dish off another Felt maker, Bearwood Workshop: I love the craftsmanship and skill captured in this everyday item – the perfect combo. ;o)

What’s in store for for the near future?
I’m looking forward to some upcoming kids workshops, making junk robots and baroque junk frames out of e-waste and found objects – it’s priceless to see the lightbulbs going on in these little faces when confronted with a table full of “waste” materials and told that they can just go for it…


 
Prizedraw for Felt readers!

Ronja would like to share the joy by putting up three sets of her stunning “Jacinda” upcycled bicycle inner tube feather earrings (see above) as prizes – for friends that Felt readers think could do with a pick me up! To enter the draw, just leave a comment below telling us what you like about Ronja’s story and creations, and telling us about a friend you think could do with a dose of joy after this last crazy year. Once we’ve drawn the lucky winners we’ll get back to you for your friend’s delivery details and a note to go in their surprise. 🙂

The draw closes at 5pm Monday 29 March and is open to New Zealand residents only.

Photography by @degraaf.photography, @toakiokano and @ronjaschipper.

19 thoughts on ““Up-bi-cycled”: from discarded bike tyre inners to beautiful jewellery

  1. I’m also a huge fan of Reb Fountain, and your work Ronja. Your feather ear rings were the inspiration for my Wild in Art Auckland Big Hoot ‘Life Cycles’ piece.
    I’d like to nominate my friend Hafsa who tirelessly works to support her community, her students, her family and others.

  2. I’d love to nominate a friend of mine who always has encouraging comments , I won’t write her name in case she sees! She’s a supporter of handmade too.

  3. I’ve been a long time admirer of Ronja’s earrings, I have yet to own a pair myself. I loved reading her story, especially how her family all got involved when things took off in lockdown. I would like to nominate my friend Kathy to win a pair, after having a crap couple of years, she could do with a pick me up.

  4. I absolutely love my earrings from Ronja. They are so well made and I love that they’re recycled. Too much waste is happening so it’s awesome to see old tyres going to great use. I’d like to nominate my Mum. A fabulous strong wahine and an inspiring teacher ❤

  5. What a fab story! I love the fact your products are recycling an otherwise useless product, and I absolutely love the earrings I purchased a while back (Jacinda mania got me good during lockdown!). Would love to win for by friend who has recently been dealing with the ill health of her brother, and has family in the USA who can’t get home yet because of COVID.

  6. Great inspiring story about an inspiring Woman. Thank you Ronja for your philosophy on life. I am with you all the way. As an avid bike rider (10 thousand Kms in the last 4 years just to get my groceries and post my orders) I try to do my bit for the planet. I am looking at my spent tyres and tubes in a new way now, maybe garden ornaments!
    My God daughter in Germany would just love these to cheer her up..they are still in lock down for months now.

  7. An amazingly talented artist who produces the most stunning earrings!

    I would absolutely love a pair for my gorgeous friend Unity Wara to wear ❤️ Special earrings for a special wahine!

    x

  8. I’m a huge fan of this amazing boss babe’s creations. I have two pairs of earrings and a necklace. I was so excited when I discovered her a few years back. I am all for any and every way to make sustainable art. And always supporting NZ boss babes whenever I can.
    I would love to gift a pair to a fabulous gal pal who I miss dearly since she left Auckland to live on a dairy farm. Kerri would absolutely rock these.

  9. Everything you said In the interview resonated with me, right to Reb Fountain! I absolutely love your creations and I know your work inspires many to see the beauty and potential in all the stuff that would end in landfill.
    I want to nominate my daughter Claire who manages to work in a bakery (early starts!) and study a pretty full on university degree. She hasn’t got much time to dress up and be fancy, but a pair of earrings would do nicely🤗

  10. I couldn’t help but order some, and can’t wait for them to arrive! But would also love to nominate my lovely birth mother in Christchurch to win a pair; she recently sent me a ‘just because’ cake and it was so needed!

  11. “I have found the lens of scarcity to be a great driver for creativity”. And beauty, too.

    I would give these to my former sister-in-law Etain. A tireless worker for her immediate family, and whanau, she would look gorgeous in these. (BTW, my system’s spell check highlighted ‘whanau’, and a little box popped up saying “no replacements found”. So true.)

    Oh, or Jonathan at my work, I suspect he’d look wonderful in them too. Oh no!

    No, Etain it is.

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