Rubber gets repurposed at Anonūm Design

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When you think of rubber, fashion accessories probably don’t come to mind, but an up-and-coming designer is hoping to change that.

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Anonūm Design is a collection of sleek, streamlined accessories made out of rubber printing blankets, which are threaded onto rollers in printing presses to place ink on paper, proving that repurposed and ecofriendly creations can be stylish and professional.

Olivia Buhren, creator of Anonūm (an unusual spelling of the word anonymous in German), moved from her native Cologne to Vancouver four years ago and wanted to continue what she’d been doing: making bags out of recycled vinyl banners. Unfortunately, the materials she found in Canada were lower-quality, so she began looking for another material to work with.

“At the same time, I came across a printer,” Buhren tells the Georgia Straight at her Burnaby workshop. “A friend of mine showed me this material and I was like, ‘Wait a minute, that’s garbage?’ ”

She started sourcing used rubber printing blankets from Enviro Image Solutions, an East Vancouver company that rejuvenates printing blankets so that they can be reused. The ones they can’t restore are given to Buhren.

She washes them, sends them to a die cutter who cuts out the patterns, and stitches them into her products. The washing and stitching process takes her roughly 40 minutes.

The fruits of her labours include belts ($35), card holders ($20), luggage tags ($15), catch-all bowls ($10), and iPad and iPad mini sleeves ($40 and $35). All the products are built simply, in bright colours including turquoise, orange, red, and yellow, allowing the material itself to shine through.

“The first intention is to make a great-looking piece,” Buhren says. “’Cause usually when you add functionality, you sacrifice a little bit of the look, and I prefer to have the look.”

Her belts consist of a single stitched rubber strip in a bright colour. The strip may have a pattern left over from the material’s printing days, but it has no holes or embellishments, just a single slide buckle with the Anonūm logo etched into the metal.

The card holders consist of a small piece of rubber folded over with slots cut for the cards. There’s room for a few cards and maybe a bit of cash, but you couldn’t fit all your change and your point cards inside as well.

Innovation comes naturally to Buhren, who gets her inspiration from worldwide fashion hubs. “I like to look at a lot of blogs from New York, or Japan even,” she says. “They’re very advanced in their styles and very courageous sometimes in what they’re wearing or combining and so forth.”

She has a number of new products in the works and consistently sets aside time to work on new ideas with her graphic designer. She’s developing passport holders, change purses, and larger pieces such as briefcases, which she hopes will be ready in time for the Christmas season.

Buhren expects to get an online store up and running in the near future, but for now you can pick up her pieces at stores including the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Gallery Store (750 Hornby Street) and Favourite Gifts (204–123 Carrie Cates Court, North Vancouver). She wants to expand and sell her products at more stores and craft markets across the country. When that happens, she might have to finally hire a helper.

“I realized the more I make, the more I sell,” she says. “People like the product, they like the story. It’s something new—as far as I know, nobody else in North America does it.”

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