Behind the Scenes
I spent one afternoon at Cyclus' offices, where I had the chance to meet with the CEO and talk about fashion, life in Colombia and future plans for the brand.
Cyclus is a brand of accessories made from recycled inner tube tires. In its inception the products were made 100% of recycled tires, but since the brand changed owners in 2013 it has integrated cotton and European-inspired designs while keeping the use of recycled inner tubes.
Normally, businesses start by validating their products in their own backyard before being export-ready. For Cyclus, it was the other way around. Their products sell in Asia and they are now growing in the local Colombian market. The timing is perfect, as the eco-friendly culture in Latin America is growing. When I started my undergrad, it was hard (or impossible) to find "hippie foods" in supermarkets in Panama (think quinoa, kale, gluten-free food), organic coffee was rare and only in the last five years things like local markets, craft beer, artisan chocolate, and an appreciation for slow fashion and slow food has started to emerge. However, we have always been addicted to avocados so we are ahead of the curve on that one!
The Cyclus Spirit
I asked Ralph to describe the person he had in mind when he thought of Cyclus. The first time I browsed through their website I was instantly transported to Europe. I thought of a woman riding her bicycle in Amsterdam, going on short weekend trips to neighboring cities, always chic while keeping it simple. It was very funny, then, when I stepped into Ralph Thoma's office and found out that he is Swiss (and from Lausanne, the same town I used to live in!)
Cyclus is for the man or woman who seeks experiences over things, is conscious of their well-being, the impact of their consumer choices and enjoys quality over status. He or she is probably a world traveller, an early adopter, with an open mind as a result of being exposed to many cultures (through music, art, food, travel and literature).
The brand identity is Colombian, which is reflected in the names they choose for their products: Usaquen, Macarena, Monserrate and Zona G. These are names of neighborhoods in Bogota. They have also done a modern version of the mochila, which is a popular bag style in Colombia. I hope that one day they create the Chapinero, that is hands down my favorite neighborhood in Bogota!
The Anatomy of a Cyclus Bag
Currently, the cotton is sourced from India (not organic). The leather is natural (not dyed) and is sourced locally. The recycled tires are also bought locally and are used to give stability and structure to the bags. I am as new as you are to the world of ethical fashion, so I had to investigate what the heck is a tire inner tube after my meeting with Ralph because I just thought that all tires were made the same way. Haha, NOT! If you are as curious as I am check out this post I wrote about tires and recycling (I think it is fascinating, I used to work in pulp and paper and I had no idea that "tire fuel" was used in this industry). One cool thing that I learned is that Cyclus resells the scraps from the tire cuttings, which is commonly used as roof tile isolation.
The staff at Cyclus keeps quite busy working on the Cyclus products plus two other brands that they sell: Pangolin and Crafted Goods. Each brand has its own identity and style, but one thing remains in common: it is made in Colombia by a small group of artisans. This 16-people staff has become like a family, there has been little turnover since the company restructuring and I could tell that this was something Ralph was very proud of.
The Way Forward
One theme that kept coming up in our conversation was the importance of defining your brand. The fashion industry is very competitive and your brand DNA is what will keep customers loyal. As an emerging fashion brand, it is important to define your brand yet remain flexible as this definition will evolve with the market and customer's preferences. Cyclus started with 100% recycled tire, then added cotton and leather, and they are still evolving. They are launching a new collection this year, and I got to see a little bit of it (won't be sharing photos because I don't want to ruin the surprise!). I'll just say that the new colors are cheerful :)
I hope they reach a point where they can source organic cotton! But they are on the right track with several things - their treatment of workers, incorporating waste material like recycled tires and staying fierce to their Colombian roots (many "Colombian" leather brands manufacture in India, for example).