Upcycling in Dubai: Sisters put new type of bike in the frame
After a summer spent cycling in Montreal, the Palestinian-Canadian sisters Rania and Zaina Kanaan were determined to buy decent bikes for their hometown of Dubai.
But while Rania, 27, bought a new bike for Dh5,000, her sister Zaina, 30, decided to make her own instead.
“I wasn’t willing to pay a huge amount of money for a bike, especially if it wasn’t in the colour I wanted,” says Zaina. “Over the Eid break, we used our parents’ balcony as a workshop and made an entirely new bike with our hands.”
That was two years ago and to use Zaina’s own words, she “upcycled” – moulding a new bike out of broken or second-hand models with her sister’s help. The duo acquired wires and brake handles from friends’ old bikes and repainted a second-hand frame in Zaina’s favourite shade – aqua blue, with off-white rims.
While the siblings had no mechanical experience between them, they learnt how to disassemble a bicycle by watching YouTube videos – a process Rania particularly relished.
“I’ve always been practical,” she says. “I got shouted at as a kid because I was always taking my parents’ radio and different electrical appliances apart. It’s just trial and error.”
The potential of bicycle upcycling as a business only dawned on the Kanaans when the remodelled bike began attracting attention around Dubai.
“People stopped us to say: ‘I want your bike,’” says Zaina, who adds that the first client for their Charicycles brand was the Bollywood superstar Anushka Sharma.
“Her stylist saw us on the streets and wanted to use our bike as a prop for a shoot. We didn’t know at the time who Anushka Sharma was. Now she’s on big billboards in India, on our bike.”
Their second client was a 12- year-old girl.
“She’d just come here from Australia and was feeling homesick,” says Rania. “Her dad asked us to make her a very Australian bike – the beach cruiser. It had a basket with flowers around the rim.”
Depending on the customisation needed, prices range from Dh1,200 to Dh1,700. Buyers choose between 54 shades that can be mixed and matched, and a basket design (wooden box, metal or wicker). It takes seven to 10 days to produce each bike.
The duo then strip and repaint the frames and reassemble the bikes with brake pads, wires, grips, handlebars, pedals and wheels. “Everything safety-related is purchased new, but the frames are vintage,” says Zaina.
As orders started coming in, the Kanaans needed a reliable source for old bicycle frames, with Japan their chosen supplier.
“Japan has an overstock of bicycles because they produce so many of them. The ones nobody wants any more are shipped to countries such as Kazakhstan, Iran and Iraq,” says Rania. “They [the ships] stop in Dubai to change papers and containers, and that’s when we get them.”
The sisters were brought up in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Montreal and say it was living in Canada that fostered a passion for cycling. “There cycling was a way to commute. Even in minus 30 degrees with snow on the ground, the cycling lanes there are always clean,” says Rania.
They moved to Dubai five years ago and set up their first start-up, ananasa.com, an online marketplace that enables Middle East artists and designers to sell their creations worldwide. The site now showcases the home-made works of more than 800 artisans. The duo also have jobs – Rania as a reputation-builder for a consultancy and Zaina as a freelance digital consultant.
Their Charicycles brand officially launched six months ago. They’ve produced more than 70 bikes, and business has been doubling month on month.
The sisters hope to nurture the cycling community not just in the UAE, but in their native Palestinian Territories too. For every five bicycles sold, Charicycles funds a bicycle for a child living in a refugee camp near Ramallah.
Rania and Zaina’s bicycles are sold online at charicycles.com, and through pop-up shops and markets in the UAE such as the Ripe Market. The next step is to distribute overseas; they have already been approached by potential clients in Amsterdam.
“Internationally, very few people are upcycling bicycles,” adds Rania. “This is a product we can proudly say is made in Dubai.”
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