In Nigeria, used tyres have become something of a plague. After a lifetime of aiding rapid movement on the country’s urban roads and interstate highways, they wind up littering the same paths they’ve sped through in their useful years – either as part of a mountain of garbage, or as ugly shreds clogging open drainage.
Turning tyres into furniture
Olabanke Banjo believes differently. She’s convinced that giving abandoned tyres a new lease of life – upcycling them – is a much smarter solution. And she’s having a spirited go at it.
Banjo is turning used tyres into furniture. Her business, Cyrus45 Factory, is transforming dirt-ridden rubber tyres into elegant looking, comfort giving tables and chairs. She’s making something that’s a blight on the environment into objects of rest which double as works of art.
Banjo’s involvement with the business of tyre furniture might appear odd from the outside looking in. Young, university educated and articulate, she probably doesn’t fit in with many people’s caricature of the “craftsperson”. But she says she’s always loved creating things and has been immersed in arts for much of her life.
“Art has always been an innate part of me, and it’s one of my first loves. As a child, my mother nurtured my flair and talent for the arts by buying me paint brushes whenever she travelled.”
— Banjo (Interview with The Guardian)
She also remembers being enrolled in art clubs by her mother. While she was in university, she started a jewelry and greeting card business. And in her days with the NYSC, she learnt to make handbags.
Besides her obsession with creating things, she was also concerned about the environment, and was particular about not letting things go to waste.
“I’ve never been a fan of discarding things just like that. I’ve always believed we could do something with them.”
These two interests, interdependent as they were, would later converge at some point in Banjo’s future, to birth an idea for which she has become known.
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The start of an upcycling ride
Banjo’s lightbulb moment came in 2016. Her sister’s neighbours had stacked up twenty tyres which they reckoned had outlived their usefulness. The tyres would be disposed of, like most others usually were. Banjo’s environmentalist instincts kicked in.
“I thought, ‘these things are really hazardous to the environment'” she recounts. “So I thought, ‘why not kill two birds with one stone? Why not keep the environment clean and also do something productive with this (the tyres)?”
She obtained the tyres and began thinking about what to do with them. Then an idea came to her: she could make them into tables.
“So I called my family carpenter and told him my idea. He made the first table, and that’s how we started.”
Banjo who now works with a team of craftspeople, is constantly refining her original idea and producing a wider range of useful items. The venture, Cyrus45 Factory, makes household furniture from used tyres for a growing number of customers. She points out that it’s still a working progress, and that they’re improving on things all the time.
“With the help of my carpenters, we’re discovering new processes daily. We do a couple of experimental samples, and we’re discovering new ways of doing things while on the job.”
Rolling into an environmentally friendly future
Cyrus45 has been getting a fair deal of press lately. Banjo has had her budding enterprise featured by local and international media. And with the growing attention has come a need for her to present her still developing entrepreneurial story to an interested world. She’s taking it all in her strides. For her, it’s a chance to inspire people, especially women, to get involved in environmental issues.
“When women see what I do, they are inspired to do something similar. If I don’t take care of my environment, who will?”
— Banjo (Interview with the BBC)
Banjo looks forward to expanding her workspace and widening her business’s reach. She says she’s getting orders from farther away, and is being offered more tyres than she can store.
As she works towards scaling up, Banjo has her eyes on the millions of used tyres strewn across the country’s roads and alleyways. Her vision tells her they aren’t just dirty ugly tubes. They’re shining value.
“When I see tyres, I see gold.”