Norwich designer turns old bike tyres into cool accessories

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One of Katri Kankkunen's purses, made from recycled bike inner tubes
One of Katri Kankkunen's purses, made from recycled bike inner tubes

- Credit: Lizz Kingshott

Katri Kankkunen, 38, is an upcycling artist and the founder of KatriKDesign.

Her roots are in North Karelia, Finland, and by moving and travelling around she found her heart, home and family in Norwich. She has a studio at Anteros Art Foundation in the city, where she works with reclaimed rubber from broken bike inner tubes and fabrics.

Katri Kankkunen has a studio at Anteros Art Foundation in Norwich
Katri Kankkunen has a studio at Anteros Art Foundation in Norwich

Tell us about your route into designing and making accessories…
It’s been a long and colourful journey for me to get here where I am now! I have a very impulsive and creative mind. I usually do things without thinking much and hardly ever regret it.

When I was little, my grandmother taught me how to sew. I always loved doing crafts and art. I also always had a very wild imagination (which sometimes I wish I could shut down) so new ideas just keep popping in my head.

In my early 20’s I got into college to study textiles, but quite soon I realised it wasn’t for me. I heard that in the same college there was a class for puppet making.

Without thinking too much I called the teacher and she took me in. I didn’t have a clue what it was all about, but three years later I graduated, I got a degree in puppet designing. I loved every moment in that school. At this time I was also playing in a punk band. We played a lot of gigs and tours. I used to print out T-shirts and patches for mine and my friends’ bands.

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All the do-it-yourself culture has always been close to my heart, [and it’s the] same with animal rights and sustainable living. That’s why it’s very obvious to me that my work runs around all that.

I also studied for a dressmaking/fashion degree, worked as a seamstress and ran my own sewing manufacturing business in Finland. After three years the business started to take over too much and I burnt myself out. I wanted to stop.

I quit my business, sold my belongings and moved to London. Soon I met my husband there, we lived in a small flat in Hackney, and I started working as a freelance seamstress for various designers.

When did you start working with reclaimed materials?
In 2014, my husband bought me an industrial sewing machine from Ebay, from this lovely old lady who used to sew designer bags. I’m still working with the same machine and it’s great, very heavy duty and perfect for what I do.

I always feel like in some ways I’m carrying the work that the previous owner did. I started making purses out of recycled fabrics. I collected material from charity shops, from friends and scraps from designers I was working for.

One day my friend who was a bike courier asked if I could make a wallet for him out of broken bike inner tubes that he had lying around. He wanted to give it as a present for his friend. I had no idea if it could work but I promised I’d give it a go. I’m glad I did! It hasn’t been all easy. The material is tricky and not easy to work with. I’m still learning every day.

Nothing goes to waste - Katri uses offcuts from bike inner tubes to make earrings
Nothing goes to waste - Katri uses offcuts from bike tyre inner tubes to make earrings

- Credit: Contributed

Where do you source the materials from for your designs?
In London I used to go around bike shops and ask if they have any broken inner tubes and sometimes I found myself digging their bins! Nowadays I have some shops who donate them to me. These are inner tubes that are broken, so they would end up in a landfill.

I’m glad I can give them a second life and save the planet even just a little bit.

Is there anything in particular that is inspiring your designs at the moment?
Inspiration comes anywhere anytime really. My mind never stops working, it’s constantly processing something! What really inspires and fascinates me is the roughness and imperfection of the inner tube. I like to mix that to make feminine products, I love the contrast.

Usually my designs start from customers' needs, like wallets and hip bags. I also love experimenting with new techniques. I’m not at all a “drawing sketches” type of artist, I usually just put my hands to work and see what happens.

A wallet made from old bike tyre inner tubes by Katri Kankkunen
A wallet made from old bike tyre inner tubes by Katri Kankkunen

- Credit: Contributed

Do you have a favourite piece that you've made?
I really like how the bike inner tube biker jackets look. They are complicated to make but it’s always a joy when I get one finished!

Same goes with bags. I like playing with the little details and that’s why all my work is one off pieces. I keep all the small leftover pieces of rubber and use them to make earrings.

You can get so carried away playing with the small pieces and putting them together. And the thought that you’re doing something good by recycling the material is an even bigger satisfaction.

To see more of Katri's work visit her website, and follow her on Instagram @katrikdesign

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