BUCK!T belts meets Sir Paul Smith, a review, and an interview
So, my plan for this website was to bring you product that was a little off the beaten track or things that could be used in an every-day context. This one should tick both of those boxes.
BUCK!T is a new-ish Adelaide based brand that creates belts out of used bicycle tyres as well as other bits and pieces like custom watch straps and earings and such, also made from salvaged bike parts. What started as a hobby has become a career, with demand for cycling related fashion/lifestyle accessories growing and the eco/handmade aspect on more and more people’s minds. BUCK!T sits directly in that niche.
I had a few minutes to sit down with the creator of Buck!t, Craig Northam, and chat about the what, why, how, and the past, present, and future of BUCK!T. But first, the belts:
I got my hands on a few BUCK!T belts recently to give them a closer look. I expected the belts to be a bit chunkier than they are. I’m not sure why, as I know full well that higher-end tyres are quite supple and, especially used ones, reasonably thin and light. The belts are no different. Granted, BUCK!T has a range of belts including belts made from heavier commuter tyres, but even then they aren’t any more bulky than most normal belts out there. The buckles are pretty traditional, clean and uncomplicated with no sharp angles, which means they’re both easy to use and don’t draw attention away from the point of difference these belts offer: the tyre.
Now, you don’t have to be a cyclist to appreciate the aesthetic. It helps, but they’re unique and can be one of those things that gives a little flair to an otherwise mundane business attire, for example. You can go slick and black, or bright yellow with a cut tread, and anything in between. If you are a cyclist, I think one of the best characteristics is the ability to keep and wear as a reminder or trophy the tyre that carried you to a personal milestone on a bike, be it a race win, completing a challenging ride recreational ride (think 3 Peaks or L’eroica), or riding a country or continent end to end.
The fit and finish are of a hight standard. The craftmanship is good and all parts, from the rivets (chain links) to the keepers (more tyre), come from re-claimed bike parts. Remember, though, that these are used tyres, for the most part, so although they are cleaned and he doesn’t use ones that are cut up or have holes or chunks taken out of them, expect them to have a used patina. Some people might not like that, but I think most people will. It’s part of the charm. Like anything, it fits a certain aesthetic.
As far as personal style goes, I like something reasonably minimal but with a unique angle to it. Clean and simple, but maybe with a little punch of colour here or there. There is a tyre to suit anyone’s taste out there. Craig has a selection on hand that you can choose from, but what I like most is that you can send him yours to have made up so you get exactly what you want (see the website for what works and what doesn’t).
If you need a belt, or ride a bike, or want a new fashion accessory, check these out. A number of big name pros have, and even a certain Sir Paul Smith, whom you may have heard of… Read on to find out the whole story.
SB: Who are you?
CN: I’m a small-footprint kind of guy who is a cyclist through and through! I don’t own a car, ride everywhere and like to keep my life as simple as possible.
SB: What is BUCK!T?
CN: BUCK!T is an eco-business, based in Adelaide, that designs and hand-makes upcycled fashion accessories. We’re best known for our belts, made from upcycled bicycle tyres and tubulars.
SB: Why BUCK!T?
CN: When I originally started making bespoke urban-wear in the late 90’s, I was looking for a label that would stick in people’s minds; but still have a quirky and slightly irreverent ring to it. A friend used to call me “bucket” as a nickname (don’t ask me why!?) and so the label came from that…
SB: What did you do before belts?
CN: I was an architect for 14 years. As an architect you need quite a broad spectrum of skills and it taught me the design, detailing and graphic abilities that I use now, as well as making me aware from as early point about the need for sustainable thinking in all that we do.
Oh, and did I mention that I rode a bicycle?…lots! I raced road, track, time-trials, stage-races, etc. when I was in my twenties…but like architecture, that’s another life and another story.
SB: Where were you when you decided that you would make belts for a living?
CN: I was at a market, here in Adelaide, close to Christmas last year. People were so happy to find something a bit different (and something that suits guys particularly, though we also sell to women!) that I was struggling to keep up with the constant demand – we sold out; on two consecutive days! I realised that there was a niche in the market that I could fill, and so I quit my day-job and have been a full time BUCK!T employee since!
SB: Why belts?
CN: Belts are a great way to make use of an old bicycle-tyre; which aren’t recycled like car-tyres (due to the high content of fabric and/or kevlar) so they just go into landfill. There’s a wide variety of styles, colours and tread-patterns for all tastes and it’s a way for someone to show their love of both bicycles and upcycling while they’re not on the bike. Some people wear them with their jeans, some with their suit to the boardroom!
SB: So how does a tyre become a belt and how long does it take you?
CN: First I ride around to the various LBCs and collect tyres, chainlinks and other scraps. (Without the shops, I’d have very little raw material!) Some people donate tyres, which is great, as most people throw their tyres away at home and there are a lot of good ones lost to the garbage-van! I check each tyre for cuts/slices/debris and choose which part is best to use, as well as what width to cut and which buckle best suits the tyre and/or width. I then cut them down to size, one at a time; punch and cut the end to fit a buckle, and choose the right material for the keeper to compliment the look of each belt. It’s hard to distill it down to a number (especially when you include photography, website maintenance, social-media, book-keeping, etc.), and varies depending on the type of tyre (tubulars are much more work!); but each belt takes between 45-60 minutes.
SB: You do more than belts. What else does BUCK!T offer?
CN: We also make wrist-belts (a mini-belt for your wrist) and earrings made from various upcycled bicycle bits (chainlinks, lockrings, spacers, carbon frames, etc.) Our current hot item is watch-belts which can be fitted to your favourite watch-face to add character and new life to an old favourite. We have also recently bought a selection of pre-loved, watch-faces in serviced, working condition to pair up with our custom-designed straps. These are unique and unusual watches which discerning customers should appreciate!
SB: What differentiates your product from the others?
CN: Attention to detail. Each belt is completely handmade, with a lot of care going into the design and detailing, right down to the individually numbered, home-printed, hand-cut labels; elastics cut from inner-tubes; 100% recycled envelopes for postage, etc. A UK-based customer last week pointed this out when he chose to buy from us instead of a local supplier, as our belts “smashed them out of the park!”
SB: Is it a one man operation? Will it continue to be?
CN: Yes, currently it is a one-man show. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so it’ll be hard to let others take over with the cutting and finishing of belts, but I guess it is possible!? There’s also a design element in choosing the final composition of each piece which is not a robotic process that could be mechanised, so they will always remain handmade.
SB: Sounds good. How long will the belts last?
CN: Bicycle tyres are tough! They’re designed to handle sun, glass, skidding, etc. so they’re a tough material to start with. As a belt, they have a small amount of give, so they don’t tend to tear at the holes, like most traditional belts, especially the cheaper ones! I have several belts that I’m still wearing 5 years later, with minimal wear, so I guess they last quite a long time.
SB: Will your range of belts suit a wide variety of styles for men and women?
CN: I use all sorts of tyres to make the belts, so the variety is quite wide. From narrow (20mm) to wide (45mm), black or colour, smooth/fine-treaded to chunky CX tyres and fine tubulars to heavier city tyres; there’s certainly a wide variety to choose from! I recently uploaded a range of unique and rare tubular belts, and I am looking to do a range of CX (cyclo-cross) belts next. With this wide range, it’s possible to find a belt to suit any setting, and many customers buy pared down versions (in black with subtle details) to wear with a suit in an office or business setting. They’re not intended to be specific to men; though most purchases seem to be either by men or as gifts for husbands, boyfriends, brothers, dads, etc. Of course women buy our belts too! Each BUCK!T belt is a one-off and so our belts are for a women who’s looking for something unique and individual. Our belts are not trend-based, but for the woman who knows how to style herself rather than relying on what is currently ‘on-trend’.
SB: For anyone out there wondering, are there any problems with wear or marking on light coloured pants?
CN: No, I’m not aware of any. The part of the tyre that’s against your clothing was the inside [usually a woven material, often cotton], so has not been weathered by elements and often looks brand-new, regardless of the outside condition! All our belts are thoroughly scrubbed and washed with eco-products before assembly too, so they’re squeaky-clean!
SB: What sort of person buys your belts? What do they care about?
CN: Our customers usually love their cycling or they are sustainably conscious or both! There are those who just think that they look cool (both cycling and eco-fashion are trendy at the moment), and that’s fine too; so long as we’re helping others reduce their carbon footprint while maintaining our values at the same time!
SB: Who is wearing you belts? Anyone famous?
CN: There are quite a few pro cyclists out there wearing BUCK!T belts – Fumy Beppu, Ben Hermans, Steve Morabito, Blel Kadri, Mathew Busche, Haimar Zubeldia, etc. At the last Tour Downunder, Fränk Schleck bought three (for him, his brother Andy and his lawyer!) and I have also made belts for some ex-pro’s like Marty Jemison (USA), and Adelaide’s own Patrick Jonker.
SB: You recently had some pretty good news involving a certain fashion designer with ties to cycling – how did that come about?
CN: I was recently in London, visiting friends and decided to gift one of my belts to Sir Paul Smith. As he falls neatly into the overlap between cycling and fashion, I was sure he’d appreciate the product. And he loved it! He immediately put his buying department in touch, and BUCK!T belts will go on sale in one of his London stores this month!
SB: How can people buy BUCK!T products? How can people from other countries get hold of your product?
CN: We currently attend a few markets in Adelaide, and also stock a number of shops throughout Australia; with plans for new stockists in other countries too (in addition to Paul Smith in the UK).
We also have a website (www.buckitbelts.com), where you can choose from a range of belts, earrings and watch-belts that ship all over the world; with customers in USA, Japan, Germany, Holland, Belgium and the UK.
SB: Can people send you their own tyres to make special belts? Anything you can’t use?
CN: Yes, we’ve done quite a few custom orders lately, turning a customer’s tyre into a belt as a way of remembering the trip they took to the Dolomites or the Ironman race they completed. Not all tyres make for good belts, so when donating or sending your tyres for a custom belt, it’s best to check with us first. There is a guideline available on our site – bit.ly/buckit_tyres
SB: What plans do you have for the future?
CN: I recently invested in a second-hand industrial sewing machine and have lots of ideas for new products in the pipeline…
SB: Favourite place to ride?
CN: Les Alpes Maritime – When I lived in London, I used to hire a caravan in April/May in the Côte d’Azur and spend all day riding up in the hills above Nice. It’s super cheap as it’s out of season; and best of all you can get there by train from London! – A beautiful journey in itself and a much lower carbon-cost than flying. When you arrive at the other end, you jump on your bike and ride to the camp-site; simples!
SB: Most memorable ride?
CN:Five and a half (self-sufficient) months cycling from Cairo to Cape Town with a friend in 2007.