We asked Gilbert De Rooij head of upcycleDZINE a few questions about his journey to the world of Upcycling.
He also gives us an insight into his designs, interesting Eco initiatives in the Netherlands and whats in store for him next!
1. You originally started in Graphic Design, what was it that first sparked your interest in upcycling and encouraged you to start upcycleDZINE?
The economic crisis brought about some unfavorable changes to my previous company. As a result, most of us were laid off. It came as some sort of blessing in disguise because I was able to discover other areas of opportunity.
Twenty five years of my life have been spent on graphic design work so naturally I wanted to explore opportunities where my creativity will be put to good use. The crisis became a turning point in my life which allowed me to make a new start. My interest and love for design inspired me to create dutchDZINE, a blog site that aims to showcase and celebrate Dutch designs, as well as design in general.
In March 2012, the same year I started dutchDZINE, I went to Milan to attend Salone Internazionale del Mobile di Milano, the largest furniture trade fair in the world, to look for great designs and concepts. As the global benchmark in home furnishing, Salone did not disappoint. The venue was swarming with great designs, however, environment-friendly designs were scarce. There were not a lot of designs that truly stood out except for a few young designers who took risks to differentiate themselves. This made me realise that I was missing something.
I became convinced that designers should produce responsible designs – designs that are not just visually attractive, but also environmentally responsible and sustainable.
I did extensive internet research and learned that one can actually produce spectacular designs from discarded materials or objects. Upcycling is a brilliant way to turn scraps into masterpieces that are not only stylish and functional but also contribute to environmental preservation.
I’ve always cared about the environment, and upcycling strengthened this further. Blogging about upcycling ignited my passion for designing upcycled products. One aspect of design that I wanted to venture into is lighting. It came as no surprise to me since my father used to work for a lighting company. He became a big influence.
In April 2013, I started the blog upcycleDZINE by posting examples of eco-friendly or upcycled de-signs. My goal is to share this information with as many people as possible, to inspire them to pursue upcycling and provide them with some ideas for their projects.
2. UpcycleDZINE showcases Upcycle artists from all over the world, what interesting things have you seen recently?
You can see some great examples on my blog upcycleDZINE There are so many interesting up-cycled designs featured in the blog that are better seen than described. A short while ago I came across a collection of chairs made out of radiators by a Swiss designer named Boris Dennler. Another stunning design is a lighting design by a Canadian designer Samuel Bernier, called ’Achille le Grand’.
This year, in Milan, I saw these oil drums that were upcycled into libraries or “containers-on- wheels”. I noticed that oil drums are quite popular in upcycling. Here in the Netherlands is a design company called Indusigns and they create lampshades and other design from oil drums. Aside from environmental benefits, upcycling also generates jobs that help improve people’s living conditions. Locals are encouraged to participate in upcycling projects and one of the countries supporting this advocacy is India. Participants, often craftsmen, use discarded materials and turn them into beautiful upcycled products designed by world-renowned designers.
3. You’re an Upcycle Artist yourself, what can you tell us about past and present projects that you’ve worked on and what have you found the most enjoyable?
I’ve worked on two different upcycle projects. First I redesigned an old coffee table that I inherited from my parents. It used to be a dark brown mahogany table. With the use of chalk paint, I was able to give it a second life. It’s now a conversational piece that sits in the middle of our living room.
After that, I took on lighting projects. Like I said earlier, I have always been fascinated by lighting. Seeing so many great upcycled lighting designs inspired me to take on designing myself.
I knew it had to be a lampshade, but I could not decide what kind of material or object to use. I looked for things around the house for inspiration. It was then when I realized that we use and throw a lot of plastic milk cartons. Although we place them in a special recycle bin, these cartons still get thrown away and dumped in a dirt pile. That is when the lampshade idea struck me. After collecting several cartons and alot of trial and error, I managed to make my first upcycled design lampshade.
Since that first lampshade, I’ve made seven others. From an everyday object like a plastic milk carton, I was able to make 8 different lampshade designs. What makes this project enjoyable is the thought thatI could make stylish and functional materials from scraps and discarded materials. Another is the thrill of not knowing how the final product will turn out or look like, it’s an adventure! One thing I did notice is that I get quite restless when an idea strikes. I get anxious and want to finish the design right away to see if everything will work out the way I imagined it.
Another thing I like about upcycling is that I see things differently now. It seems that everything has more value and I can see so much potential for other upcycling project initiatives.
4. You live and work in the Netherlands, what are the go-to places for people to gather materials and inspiration?
Gathering materials is not always easy. I still work with materials that I find inside the house, like old CDs, milk cartons and other plastic cartons. Every several months, I visit flea markets and thrift stores, hoping to find new pieces to work on. Most of the time, though, I get disappointed because even the vintage and old stuff are sold at a high price. Plus, I definitely have more fun working with stuff that virtually costs nothing.
I get my inspiration from things I see every day. I draw ideas from architecture magazines, and the internet. Other upcycle designers also have a big influence on me, but I never copy designs. Their work pushes me to create something completely different every time. Even a walk around town can give me design ideas, so I take advantage of every opportunity.
Oh, I almost forgot, I went to Milan, Italy to attend the Salone Internazionale del Mobile and the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. Both events showcased a lot of creativity and one can always find little treasures in these conventions. One thing I noticed though was that there were not enough Upcycled designs to be found. There were only a few, and I hope to see more in the
5. Any smart eco initiatives being implemented in the Netherlands that could be adopted in other parts of the world?
There are two eco initiatives currently being implemented in Netherlands which I think could work anywhere. They may already exist in other parts of the world, and I think they’re great.
First, there is the initiative called ’Goedzak’ by Dutch designers Waarmakers. They’ve created transparent sustainable rubbish sacks for discarding unwanted items in good condition, in the hope that they will be picked up by a new owner instead of ending up at a landfill site. Once full, you’re supposed to put these bags in the streets along with normal garbage so passers-by can pick them up and make use of their contents. If no one picks up the bags when the garbage truck arrives, then they will be taken away with the rest of the garbage. In the Netherlands, ‘Goedzak’ means ‘do- gooder’. It is also a combination of the words ’good’ and ’bag’ which is fit for the advocacy they are running.
The Second initiative is called ‘The Upcycle’ where bicycle wastes are transformed into beautifully- designed ’Upcycles’, incorporating everyday products such as chairs, lamps, and belts into the de sign. Here in the Netherlands, there are more bicycles than people! Bicycles, which are abandoned for whatever reason, are picked up by local municipalities and brought to different bicycle depots or dump sites. For instance in Amsterdam, of the 64,575 bikes that were brought to the bike depot in 2012, 15,146 were claimed by the owner. Almost 78% of these bikes were unclaimed which is an enormous amount of waste!
A small percentage of these bikes are sold to other bicycle shops, but most of them are shredded to produce metals which are not very environmentally friendly. After careful planning and research, the Upcycle team has found a way to re-use old frames. Old frames are transformed and are then used as a base for new unique bicycles that they brand as ‘Upcycles’.
Instead of hiring professionals, the Upcycle team built a production team staffed by people from social workplaces. Not only did the Upcycle team help the environment but they also gave people job opportunities and alternative means to earn an income.
6. Anything new in the pipeline that we should be looking out for?
Well, there are so many things that I still want to do. First of all, I’m working on improving my blog, upcycleDZINE. I intend to provide more interesting content and designs to show people what upcycling is all about. With such information, I hope to capture a bigger audience and inspire them to take this approach. There are still so many stunning designs to be discovered and to be shown, so I am continuously working on that.
Then there’s my upcycle lighting design. Today, I’m working on five more lampshades. The materials I use include familiar things like CDs and plastic. Besides these lampshades, I’m working on a lampshade model that is quite different from all the others that I’ve made so far. The design is quite simple, but the materials and objects I used to create this makes it a stand-out.
Next, I want to start selling my lampshades. I know, that is a whole, new, different ball game, but I see an opportunity in this. More and more people are taking an interest in my work so, who knows? Furthermore, I want to make video tutorials that feature a few of my designs to encourage people at home to start making their own lampshades.
And, last but not least, is the promotion of Upcycling through t-shirts. Recently, I started designing t-shirts to promote upcycling. So if you are an upcycle fan, you can start promoting the movement by wearing these t-shirts. You can choose from several t-shirt designs and order them in a color you like at upcycleDZINE