A New York bathroom, Kiwi ingenuity, and solid persistence are said to have been the key ingredients to producing the world’s first post-consumer recycled children’s bike.
Now Wellingtonians Jenny McIver and husband Rich Latham’s business Wishbone Design Studio is selling their bikes made from recycled carpet around the world, and have just won the Ricoh Mega Efficiency Innovation category at the recent NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards.
An unconventional origin story
Wishbone’s unique beginnings started in New York City after Jenny took a job as the New Zealand legal representative at the UN.
Rich was a home dad with their one-year-old, Noah, and having recently completed a postgrad Diploma in Industrial Design before leaving New Zealand, started playing around with the idea of designing a wooden bike for their son.
SEE ALSO: Looking to start exporting?
Jenny says his workspace was their apartment’s bathroom.
“It was sort of an accident in a way. Initially it was too big for our son so he flipped the frame over and that made it the perfect size to straddle. Then he couldn’t balance on it being only 18 months so Rich added a third wheel.”
What better place to test your product than Central Park, which was a 10min walk away.
“People would come running after Rich and ask where they could get one of the bikes. So he made about 10 of them in his little workshop in our bathroom.”
Back to NZ
After having a second child, the couple moved back to Wellington and started working full-time on Wishbone.
“We arrived back in December 2006 and registered the company name in April 2007. We were doing viability stuff during 2007 and burning through our personal savings, so it was in about August we said we’ve got to get something on the market or one of us has got to go back to work.”
She says they ended up using a local joinery business to cut the wooden frames out before finishing them by hand with Rich and student labour in their home garage.
“We sold 100 around the country before Christmas 2007.”
In early Feb 2008, Jenny went to the Nuremberg Toy Fair in Germany with a prototype they had made in China.
“It’s the world’s largest international toy fair and one of the largest trade fairs. We came home with orders for 2,000 bikes.”
An immortal investment
Jenny believes the bikes have taken off in New Zealand because people live an outdoor lifestyle and the bike encourages kids to be completely independent at a really young age.
“Kiwis want to get their kids going young. If you can ride a Wishbone Bike on 3 wheels when you’re 12 months, then you can balance on a 2-wheeler when you’re 1-and-a-half or 2, then you’ll be riding a pedal bike when you’re 3-and-a-half, 4.”
She thinks it’s that same principle as to why they’re popular around the world.
“Our whole brand is built on the principle of anti-consumption,” she says. “We’re designing products that will last a long time for a child, they’re really good quality, and they have more than one function. They don’t end up in a landfill at the end because they’re what we call 100% repairable.
“This means we make all of the parts available for after-market sale. So you can buy anything off it; if it breaks or gets lost you can replace the part, and keep the product for forever really.”
Dominating the market
Wishbone now has 7 full-time employees including a full-timer in China who is the quality controller and a part-timer in Seattle who looks after their US and Canadian retailers.
Jenny says currently around 8% of Wishbone’s sales are in New Zealand.
“Our sales spread has evolved over time. Initially it would have been 85% Europe, nowadays it’s around 45% Europe. Our sales are growing in Europe but they’re growing faster elsewhere.
“We wholesale directly to stores in NZ, Australia, and the US. In Europe, we have a lot of in-country distributors.”
The business now has warehouses in 6 locations around the world: Wellington, Melbourne, Toronto, New Jersey, Netherlands, and China.
From wood to recycled carpet
The original wooden Wishbone bike continues to be a best seller, but Jenny says they realised around 4 years into their journey that some people were concerned how wood would work in their harsh climates.
“Particularly in places like Russia and Canada where it’s really cold and dry, and parts of Australia where it’s damp; where people might think an outdoor toy with wood won’t last in their climate.”
So after 2 years of research and development, they started producing bikes made of glass fibre nylon and glass fibre polypropylene, both from recycled carpet.
“The polypropylene and nylon comes from end of use residential carpet taken out of homes from the eastern seaboard of the States. It’s recycled into plastic pellets which we ship to our factory in China.”
Jenny says Wishbone’s recycled bike sales are climbing and will more than likely exceed wooden bike sales before long.
Where to from here
Jenny says there’s no slowing down for Wishbone with lots of exciting new product development in the works.
“Our ambition is bigger and better. We’re working on extending our range of recycled bikes in terms of age through to adults.
“At the moment, we’re already the world’s first post-consumer recycled bike. We’d like to be the first ever, successfully mass-produced adult plastic bike as well. This could open up a whole new market for us.”
SEE ALSO: Looking to start exporting?