Midriff Subversive, Part II: Velo-re Belts
Wednesday 22 April 2009
There’s no such thing as an original idea. For every rule there is an exception.
I hate to start with clichés, but it seems only appropriate. You know, there are thousands of belts out there; there are leather ones, coloured leather ones, grosgrain and ribbon, elasticated, woven and even suede. Every brand has them in their range, and all are trying to reinvigorate the same ideas. And then there is a Swiss woman called Betty, living in South London, quietly working away with her friends Javier and Agata.
These wonderful belts are actually made of bicycle tires, believe it or not. It seems an utterly bizarre idea, but sometimes that’s exactly what originality requires. They certainly provide something different to the ribbon and grosgrain belts that are the uniform this summer. The back story and detail behind them is just as interesting as the belts themselves.
I found them whilst on a forage to Portobello market, which is a wonderful source for inspiration, second hand clothing, cheap accessories and antiques, and, as in this case, the odd original independent designer. They were being sold by a very pleasant chap named Mal, who was selling them along with his own brand of T-shirts (which you can view on his website). It was he who put me in contact with the maker Betty (short for Betina); and one Friday evening she and I had a very enjoyable chat over the phone about what she does.
There are things in life I expect not to know anything about, and bicycle tires are just such a thing. But the more you know the more you understand what makes each one unique and the concept so original. Betty explained that there was a wide variety of bicycle tires, each made with different rubber compounds. Some are very valuable and highly prized. For example, there are special edition tires as well as bespoke limited edition race and country tires for noted professionals in the cycling world. Eventually they all find their way to Betty and provide the distinctive colours and patterns you see. In addition, the way the tire is used, weight of the rider and surface upon which it has travelled affect the eventual condition of the tire and become part of the design. What you see are the tires as delivered to Betty, no later addition or tweaks to the design, she then makes them into the belt.
I asked Betty who buys her belts; as you might expect she and her belts have quite a following amongst the mountain bike and racing fraternities. Indeed, her latest devotee is gold medallist Nicola Cook, who uses, so Betty told me, very rare tires which are to be made into belts.
Therein lies part of the reason behind the following, Betty also does a bespoke service. For example, if you want a memento of a race you’ve won or biking trek across Africa, why not have the tire made into a belt. Betty told me that she gets quite a bit of work this way, particularly in light of the popularity, and relative accessibility, of biking tours across the far flung corners of the globe. It’s rather a neat idea –the belt not the trek. Many professional racers like to give the belts as gifts to friends and sponsors, using tires they’ve raced on.
I was curious as to how the idea came to her, and just how she makes them. Betty (full name Betina Galaizzi) is, it may not surprise you to learn, a cycling proficiency instructor. The belts she makes in her spare time and she described it to me as “a labour of love”. Indeed, a big sponsor came across her belts and offered to work with her, but she turned them down: “Its’ just not my thing”, she told me. As the following for the belts grew two friends came on board to help fulfil the demand.
And there is quite a bit of labour involved to make one belt. To begin with the tires have to be thoroughly washed to remove grease, dirt and stones. Having been washed, each belt is then cut and sewn together by hand. They ‘re pre-punched with eight wholes and come in two sizes, SM 30-34inches and ML 36-38 inches, but you can have any size you like, simply get in touch with Betina.
The idea actually came from a friend of hers back in Switzerland, and when Betty came to England she brought over a few of his belts. Her friend then suggested she try making them, so she did. Adding what she described to me as “a woman’s touch” these belts sold even better than her friends. Betty so enjoys what she does she continued.
In fact it has turned into a way of life for Betty. Part of the reason for making them in the first place was an enthusiasm for recycling. According to Betty, bike shops have piles of old tires because recycling rubber is too expensive in this country. So they’re only too happy to give them to Betty. She tells me she’s “as much a collector as anything; I can’t leave anything alone”. Everything in her Herne Hill workshop is stored in old banana crates, and even the packaging for the belts is made of old potato sacks re-sewn and printed upon. So, as well as original and distinctive belts, there’s a pretty sound philosophy behind it all.
My particular favourites are the multicoloured ones, which would sit as well with jeans and chinos as they would shorts. If you fancy one there are a few ways to get one, and prices vary but are all reasonable for a hand made original. They’re available on Betty’s own website at www.velo-re.com. You can also find them on Mal’s website (along with his t-shirts) and the Natural Shoe Store –a useful place for distinctive garments in its own right.
So there you have it. I bet you never thought there was so much to be said on the humble bicycle tire.
Velo-re Belts: www.velo-re.com
The Natural Shoe Store: www.thenaturalshoestore.com
Connection Clothing (Mal’s website, love the song with this video): www.connectionclothing.com
Posted by Stealth