Originally from the Czech Republic, it was a job with Google at its Dublin base that first brought Veronika Kisela to Ireland in 2009. But a desire to start her own business, interest in environmental protection and surfing lured Veronika away from Dublin and to the west coast of Ireland.
Turning a problem into a resource
Veronika identified a problem that became a key resource upon which LX-upcycle is based: “Surfing can be quite toxic, despite its love for the ocean and nature. Your average surfer would buy a new wetsuit each year, which leads to over 250 tonnes of wetsuits being dumped worldwide annually. A wetsuit is made of neoprene and other durable plastics that take over 100 years to decompose”. Based in Sligo, LX-upcycle makes bags and wallets from recycled outdoor sports gear, such as wetsuits, but also a range of other items such as kites, sails and tents.
Local with love
Products are all designed and made locally. The company’s ethos is driven by the principles of the circular economy using ecological and upcycled materials to reduce waste. Environmental protection and education are key, as Veronika explains: “As surfers we love the ocean, we are inspired by it…but you have to think about the environmental impact of surfing. We should be protecting it, not adding to more pollution…the whole point is the creative re-use of materials and inspiring other people to think more about the way we produce and use materials”.
Supporting the development of the local economy is also central to the ethos of LX-upcycle. Veronika works closely with other local entrepreneurs, such as a seamstress and marketing strategist. The business is also supported by a wider local network of collaborators who share skills between their businesses. Veronika explains: “For example; my photographer Giles would do the photography for me and I work on his website in exchange”. In Veronika’s experience, there is a wealth of creative expertise and talent in the west of Ireland who are very supportive of each other. The company also has a number of ambassadors who help market LX-upcycle’s products, such as eight-time national Irish body-boarding champion and chef Shane Meehan, the singer-songwriter-surfer Adam Cross and botanical artist come graphic designer Giulia Carnevari.
Reaching wider markets
One drawback of developing a business like LX-upcycle on the west coast of Ireland is the small local market. That’s why the company is focused mainly on online sales (visit the e-shop). Most sales have come from the Irish market to date. Veronika aims to connect with customers in wider markets such as Germany and Scandinavia. A major challenge for small, start-up companies is growing their profile and connecting with customers. Veronika uses a range of ways to market her products, leveraging mainly the cost-efficient and easy-to-use platforms such Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She has also connected with a few local bloggers. A more comprehensive marketing campaign needs a significant, dedicated budget which small, developing businesses can little afford to finance. “My dream is to come up with a good and quirky campaign, which will go viral” says Veronika. She also notes how projects such as a creative momentum could be further developed through a collective brand that is actively marketed, such as towards specific consumer groups or seasonally adjusted campaigns. Veronika explains: “Mutual branding could help. Say something to drive people to the site and check out businesses from the west, or a campaign focused around buy something locally-made from these regions this Christmas”.
Although the west of Ireland has the disadvantage of a small local market, there are plenty of other advantages that are attracting people like Veronika to develop businesses here. The cost of living and doing business in locations like Dublin make places like Sligo a good base for a start-up. Not only is it more affordable, but also has: “a beautiful landscape, outdoor lifestyle and creative community” according to Veronika. To build professional networks in the capital, Veronika has decided to study Fashion Design in Dublin: “As my background is in Marketing and Management, studying fashion design will equip me with better skills for the future of my business and as well as help me to connect with like-minded people in the industry. I’m starting on October 2nd and can’t wait!”.
Veronika is planning to re-brand LX-upcycle gradually over the next few months. Watch out for the new brand identity that will fully launch in early 2018.
Find out more at LX-upcycle.com