Giving new life to old and discarded rubber is what drives Paarl-based maker and creator, Roché van den Berg. She works magic with old rubber. She started her upcycling business Roche. Recycle. Relove creating wearable and usable art in 2006. Roché runs skills development programmes and has worked with school children and men in correctional facilities. She was nominated in 2014 for a Mbokodo Award. One of her latest designs are rubber collars with a laser cut design detail as shown below. We sent her a few questions about her brand:

Describe your work space?

I am very lucky that I can work anywhere. I only need a few tools, my hands and my lap, and I can find materials basically anywhere. I love working outdoors, especially on Paarl Mountain and at the Afrikaans Language Monument where I am surrounded by the sounds of nature. I do have a studio at my home in Paarl, which I regularly change according to the project I am working on. I like organized chaos. I know where everything is but I need to be able to walk in and get into the creative process in a rough and ready kind of way. I have collected a lot of tools and equipment over the years and I would much rather spend my money on new tools than shopping for a new dress… I love listening to music. Anything that speaks to my soul in a deep way, that I can connect with, from Pavarotti, Christine and the Queens to the Blaze and meditation music. I’ve always been interested in the mind, body and soul connection, the human experience and living in consciousness.

What inspired your work?

After I completed my studies in interior architectural design, I worked as a manager at a restaurant in Lower Church street in Cape Town. On my way to work one day I saw a basket full of the rubber inner linings of soccer balls and netballs, in the window of a Chinese shop. I bought all of them and was inspired to make foldable flower pots. A Dutch gallery owner exhibited them at an exhibition in Amsterdam where they sold out.

Why is the concept of upcycling important to you?

Buying mass produced stuff is out. Upcycling and mending is in! People are becoming more aware of the impact of production on the planet, of the story of the product. How was it produced? What materials are used? Where was it produced? How far did the product travel? What packaging is used? People are choosing to fix what they already have and invest in products and businesses with the same beliefs and morals and to which they connect to on a conscious level. This has really shown me the growing importance of upcycling.

Why is sustainability important to you?

Because life on earth continues after we die. We have a lot of everything, but we only have one planet Earth. We have created so much destruction, but we’re waking up, there is a growing collective consciousness about sustainability. Sustainability means taking responsibility with compassion, through connection to nature and the shared human experience. I want to show that sustainability can be high-end and that quality design can be produced by using what we already have, even if it has been previously used and discarded.

Do you use any other waste products besides rubber? 

I have mainly been working with rubber as a material but I am busy with a new decor and jewellery collection. The theme is colour and texture which has always been my forte. It is is going to be new and exciting and I can’t wait to share it with everyone!

From where do you source the rubber?

I go to tyre dealerships and collect the old tubes and tyres I need for the pieces I have to create.

What is your production process? 

Once I have collected all the rubber I need, I put it through a rigorous cleaning process. The rubber is then cut into the required pieces and shapes. Then I start implementing the textures required by punching, cutting, sewing etc. to create the desired piece. I manipulate the material so that the end product is so far removed from its original form that it is unrecognizable as waste material….. for a moment or eternity.

Tell us about your different products?

I made wall art and furniture for my first solo exhibition in 2011. I wanted to explore the idea of taking one waste material and seeing how many different pieces I could create using it. It is extremely important to me that there is a very high standard of design, detail and finish. I want to create high quality upcycled design. I am busy with collaborations and new decor collections. I am excited to be designing big again, but my love for jewellery and accessory design will never stop and new ideas keep coming. There is still so much more to explore with waste and I am only getting started…..

 Have you done any collaborations?

Many. I have worked with people in fashion, interior and other types of industries. In 2014 I collaborated with Marianne Fassler for the Africa Fashion Week and have worked with Binky Newman from Design Afrika and Sister, an entrepreneurship. I have also done skills development workshops with groups of children in Langa, Kimberley art students at the William Humphreys Art Gallery, previously disadvantage school kids from around Stellenbosch through KickstART kids and a group of men at the Tswelopele correctional facility in Kimberley.

Tell us more about the skills development workshops?

I try to make time for workshops throughout the year. I believe giving your time is the most direct and generous way to bring about change and impact. Human to human connection is always mutually beneficial as skills and experiences are shared between everyone.

Are you still upcycling soccer balls? 

Skop was started by Lara Nieuwenhuis and me to prevent large quantities of imported, damaged products or materials from ending up on our dumpsites. Instead we designed and manufactured new products from the potentially large amounts of waste. A few years ago, a sports shop owner contacted me through an interview he had seen about my business, Roche.Recycle.Relove and asked if I would pay a small amount to take 1000 soccer balls off his hands. He had imported the balls from China, but they arrived damaged and could not be sold by the businessman (a lesson to all). We experimented and created a great collection which received a lot of attention at the Design Indaba and other opportunities.

Where do you sell your products? And what is your price range?

The jewellery prices range from R250.00 to R950.00 and are stocked at Clementina van der Walt Ceramics at The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock and at the CDI Collective shop in the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront. We stock a few other local stores as well as some in France, Australia and Italy.