American Made Profile | March 10, 2015
Above & Biondi
To process (used goods or waste material) so as to produce something that is often better than the original.
For most of us a flat bike tire or broken chain are a nuisance, but that’s not the case for Jennifer Biondi. If you would have asked Jennifer 13 years ago what she’s be doing today, she never would have guessed. Then again, she probably wouldn’t have expected to be on ABC’s 2001 reality television show, The Mole, either. That’s where I first met Jennifer. We were competing for a half million dollar jackpot. Jennifer was athletic, business minded and charismatic. Unfortunately, we both learned what it’s like to not win a half million dollars. Well, life is full of ups and downs. You just need to hold on to your pants and enjoy the ride! Consequently, Jennifer does both.
When Jennifer Biondi was a little girl she loved riding her bike and brainstorming cleaver ways to grow her piggy bank. With her brother Jeff at her side, the two built bike stunts and charge the neighborhood boys to ride. It is no surprise that she went to college for advertising. Life was good for Jennifer, she had success. Yet, there was something missing… her desire to create, her desire to make a difference.
Jennifer remembered her grandfather creating something new out of things her grandmother had thrown out. “He was an organized hoarder, straight out of the Depression Era. He was upcycling before we had a name for it.” So when she came across an old chain and an inner tube from her childhood bike, an idea started to form. Finding a box of her grandfather’s leather working tools was the final piece of the puzzle.
“Many times an old bike chain or bike part is sent
to me that hold a cherished memory. Maybe it’s
from a childhood bike or an important race.”
Without much thought, she began using the tools to make a belt out of the inner tube and a buckle out of the old bike chain. Before long she had put together her first upcycled creation. She named it “Lucky Buddha”.
Thrilled with her creation she started wearing her belt wherever she went. Soon she was being asked where she had bought it. That set this entrepreneur “on a new path of unlimited creative possibilities” as she put it. Jennifer quickly started getting custom orders as word of mouth spread. So in June of 2012, she decided to start UPCYCLE. Jennifer now uses old bicycle parts, inner tubes, tin can lids and other recycled materials to create one of a kind wearable art.
The first necessary task was to find second hand supplies. Jennifer enlisted an old childhood partner in crime (and her hero), her brother, Jeff. A paralysis has made things difficult for him. Jennifer explained, “Despite all of his medical issues, he continues to get up and move forward - which is the secondary meaning of UPCYCLE”. He soon was back out in the world on a mission, collecting truckloads full of used parts and doing an amazing job.
When I received my own UPCYCLE products, I was blown away. The quality and attention to detail was impeccable. The belts looks like leather and feel brand new. The craftsmanship is just beautiful. Jennifer’s advertising and marketing background has been put to good use. From product photos she’s taken herself to recycled cereal box product tags, she hasn’t missed a beat. Plus, these belts work on so many levels. The bike parts represent physical health and the spirit of adventurer. Knowing less waste is ending up in a landfill makes a buyer feel good, but the best part is the style. The UPCYCLED belts are a little bit Hollywood and a little bit Rock-n-Roll. The kind of accessory you’ll want to fashion your outfit around. On top of that, these belts can tell a one of a kind story.
Jennifer enjoys creating something that is meaningful to people. “Many times an old bike chain or bike part is sent to me that hold a cherished memory. Maybe it’s from a childhood bike or an important race.” She knows first had how her own bike memories have impacted her life and now livelihood.
The business has grown organically beginning with a Facebook page. Jennifer says it’s been a terrific launching pad and a great way to connect with people interested in her products from all over the world. She now has a website: upcyclebrand.com and her products can also be found at bike shops and boutiques.
One of her challenges has been finding financial backing. It could really make a difference at this point. “I come up with a product or two a day, so it would really grow the company if I had the capacity to put those ideas into production.” she added.
Jennifer uses a formula to create her products. Collect. Clean. Create. Collecting involves visiting bike shops and collection sites where drop offs are made. She then cleans the inner tubes and degreases the bike chains with environmentally safe solutions. Next Jennifer cuts the inner tubes to pre made size specific patterns. Using a 1972 Viking Sewing machine, she cuts, cleans, folds, and sews the inner tube into a belt and hand punches the belt holes.
For the buckle, Jennifer uses a tin can lid as her base. The design can be anything she dreams up or a custom order. Bike cogs, chains, bottle caps, or artwork is added before a coat of epoxy. Biondi’s creativity doesn’t stop at belts; she’s created key chains, magnets, bottle openers, coasters, stoppers, zipper pulls, and jewelry.
In Idaho, where Jennifer lives, there are many bike enthusiasts and environmentally conscious people. Word has spread quickly about what Jennifer is up to. This has lead to a ton of used parts drop offs, enough to fill her garage! Seeing all that has been brought to her makes Jennifer realize how much could be collected from bike shops all over the country, parts that currently go to landfills.
As for others upcycling, Jennifer feels the economy has made us rethink how we spend. People are now looking at upcycling as a way to make something new instead of buying something new. Sites like Etsy even allow people to sell their upcycle creations.
Jennifer talked about buying in America, “I think it’s important to remember what is great about America and be proud to live here and buy here…. we need to bring manufacturers back to America. If I could pay great wages to people building upcycled products from waste here in America, wouldn’t that be great?”
In 2014, UPCYCLE introduced dopp kits, cosmetic bags, and wallets. Jennifer continues to create amazing new belt and buckle designs. It is however, her new line of upcycled pet products that has Jennifer, as well as her dog Shilo, most excited. Check upcyclebrand.com for these fabulous additions throughout the year.
The Jennifer I know has a big heart, so it comes as no surprise to me that she has donated 25% of her profits to charitable causes. “I try to provide products to a variety of different charities to raffle or auction to raise money for their specific cause.” she said. Jennifer is also involved in after school upcycling projects, as well she donates award buckles at bike racing events. Jennifer plan is for her UPCYCLE brand to create jobs for people who need a hand-up. She would also like to develop a program in which abandoned bikes are rebuilt and donated.
Jennifer says, “Now, I feel like I’m 9 years old again happily riding my bike, building bike stunts and charging kids to ride them... The only difference now is that the bike stunts I build are much safer and I instead of going door-to-door… I go store-to-store. Basically, it has taken me 40 years to find the same passion for life and work that I had as a kid.”
I asked Jennifer about doing another reality TV show. She said she probably would, but she would want to pick the right one. It seems to me that ABC’s Shark Tank might be the perfect fit. I would love watching her take her business to the next level. Her ultimate goal is to drive across America with her brother collecting parts from bike shops and sharing the UPCYCLE story with anyone that will listen. What do you say ABC? It sounds like a great show to me!
Credits // Author: Wendi Wendt - Photos Provided By: UPCYCLE