Roses are Rubbish sells bags and wallets made from other people’s rubbish, such as stuff you might not think could be beautifully be re-used, like advertising banners, tents and car seat belts.
The company was founded by Nikki Danbom-McMurray in May 2010 while Nikki was studying for an MA in Sustainability at Exeter University, Devon.
On completion of her MA, Nikki stayed in Exeter and continued developing her business, having been awarded a small grant to help her get it started.
Nikki loves taking things that people would otherwise throw away and making beautiful things out of them
Upcycling In Exeter
It's kind of funny how the name came about, actually. I did not have a name, and I had been thinking all kinds of things like wasted, trashed ... but I didn't think of any that seemed to feel right. Then I was reading a book by a Buddhist philosopher, and there was a passage that I really liked called Flowers and Garbage.
Nikki goes on to explain that the passage was about how things in our world are interconnected and cannot be understood as separate from each other, and the book gave several examples. One was flowers and garbage.
He explained that if we look deeply, we can see that, although we have notions that garbage is disgusting and dirty, and flowers are beautiful and pure, flowers in fact can grow out of garbage and also when they die, they can become garbage. So, he explained, if we look deeply, we can see the flowers in the garbage and the garbage in the flowers.
Nikki really liked that passage, and also thought that it really did justice to why up-cycling is important. It’s about breaking down the idea that waste is something nasty and to be avoided.
Recycling – A Childhood Passion
Nikki has known since she was a child that she wanted to do something good for the environment. She also likes the creative aspect of her business and the fact that it’s something tangible. The idea to make things out of waste came to her several years ago when she was working in a cinema. She was frustrated with how much was being thrown away each night, and at the time was trying to lobby the company to get involved in the city’s composting scheme for businesses. One day she found herself at work, throwing away one of the bags that contained coca-cola syrup and she noticed how strong the plastic was. So durable and yet it was just being diacarded. Nikki made a bag out of it, by cutting the top off and adding a cloth strap.
She got compliments on her new bag. And then she made more, and sold them at the local market. It wasn’t until years later that she decided to actually begin a business, focused mainly on vinyl ad banners.
Nikki is passionate about the re-use of waste – each product she sells represents more material diverted from landfill. At the same time she makes things that are individual and fun. She enjoys making products that are unique and that 50,000 other people won’t have.
Upcycling For Exeter University
Nikki believes that our society is very removed from how things are made, where they come from and where they go.
It's not that I am against things being made in China, it's just that I think it's unhealthy to have a society where we are so removed from the things we use, wear, and eat. I think being so disconnected from things and seeing them as just items on a store shelf is both a symptom and a cause of a lot of other social problems.
Nikki knows that there are other businesses similar to Roses are Rubbish but feels her business is special because she is the only one of its kind in Exeter and with connections to the local area.
For example she makes recycled products from banners at the University of Exeter, which people affiliated with the University might be happy to purchase. Like the Sherlock Holmes Wallet made out of a banner for a recent production at the University.
As business grows, she would like to have a function online where you can see the entire banner and select an area of it, then select the product you would like to have made. This is something she thinks no other business does online. But she is not quite at that stage!
From Seattle To Exeter
Nikki did not always live in the South-West, nor even in the UK.
She grew up on an island in between Seattle and Vancouver. She does miss all the nature, her friends and family, the fresh salmon, the mountain views, and the more diverse and open culture.
But she loves the South-West for the flowers in the spring and for the ease of access to so much in Exeter without the need to drive a car.
Devon To Global
Nikki has clear plans for the future. In a year’s time, Nikki would like to have a dedicated work space where she can tackle larger projects such as furniture. In five years, she would like to open a shop which is all up-cycled. Ideally, it would be Roses are Rubbish teamed with other up-cycling ventures, and would be a high street answer to what you could find in any other shop. She thinks it might also stock some items that are recycled and some that are organic. But it would all be ethical and sustainable.
Nikki likes to convert customers who wouldn’t normally think about sustainability when shopping, but who are introduced to it when they fall in love with her products. She hasn’t had any famous customers yet but she still recalls the time when she served David Bowie a cup of coffee when she was a bartender in Woodstock! And she also served popcorn to Dave Matthews in a cinema in Seattle!
Although she is based in the South-West, she has made sales in New England and California. She attends festivals, offers special discounts (like for example, 20% off of a product made from a banner from a certain organization if you are affiliated with that organization), and uses social media. She sells through the Etsy website, but has a new website that she continues to develop.
Recycling With Enthusiasm
Nikki has come along way in a short time and has learned a lot along the way, like not to bite off more than you can chew – or in her case, not to acquire more than you can carry. In the early days, she saw an awesome, huge pink banner that was on a theatre in Bristol for a production of Dirty Dancing.
Because at the time she worked part-time at a cafe just across the street from the theatre, she was constantly seeing it, and knew when the banner came down, she wanted it. So she went in and asked, but was told to come back on Monday morning when they were due to take it down.
I showed up, and realised...the banner was not just huge, it was HUGE! I was determined to keep it though. I wish a had a video of myself trying to haul it, all rolled up in a pile, just across the street to the cafe. I am telling you, this banner, rolled up nicely, was bigger than me, bigger than five of me! I had the idea that I would cut it up and take it bit by bit on my bike. But I found that really, even the first bit, which was probably about a tenth of the banner, was too much. There I was cycling home, trying to balance the thing on my back, with great difficulty!
I decided to find alternative transportation for the rest of the banner and got a colleague to drive it away. Even at that, the thing barely fitted in the car, and we were stuffing and shoving it into the back seat for an age. I learned my lesson from that: pay attention, some banners are big enough to warrant a removal truck!'
You can visit the website at www.rosesarerubbish.co.uk/