The Philippines is in the spotlight yet again after having hosted the World Economic Forum on East Asia last May. Front and center in the CNN video highlighting the country? A social enterprise called Bambike, started by Filipino-American eco warrior Bryan Benitez McClelland.
Bambike crafts handmade bamboo bicycles using fair trade labor and green building practices, perfectly demonstrating how local products can be world-class. These revolution cycles are the gift of choice of PNoy (Philippine President Noynoy Aquino) and ambassadors to heads of state like the Sultan of Brunei and US President Barack Obama.
I caught up with Bryan at the official launch of the Bambike flagship store at the former Gawad Kalinga showroom in Intramuros. Fittingly, the launch coincided with Intramuros Pasyal, a car-less street fair organized by Carlos Celdran to showcase the best of local culture, right in the heart of Manila…
Bryan discovered his love for ecotourism as an Environmental Studies and Anthropology major at the University of Pennsylvania. He stayed at Penn another year to obtain his Masters in Environmental Resource Management, where he delved deep into the subject of sustainable community development and did consulting for Gawad Kalinga (GK), a community development program in the Philippines. He helped GK start their green building program (“Green Kalinga”) and eventually moved to Manila, his mother’s hometown, to start Bam EcoLogical Technology, Inc., a platform for his socio-ecological projects.
First up was Bambike. He convinced American builder Craig Calfee, who pioneered the bamboo bike concept in Africa, to come to the Philippines. Together, they trained craftsmen from a GK community in best practices for building.
Today, Bambike has become known for products that are “built to last and designed by people for people that care about style and the environment.” Its bicycles certainly live up to the description. Made of natural bamboo and abaca materials bonded with aircraft-grade alloys that have been tested for durability, crashworthiness, and stiffness, these one-of-a-kind and functional works of art are EN 14766- and EN14781-certified, surpassing the toughest standards in the industry.
Beyond bicycles, the company is a growing lifestyle brand — patterned after Bryan’s own lifestyle and passion for sustainability. With the scraps from the bamboo bicycles, Bryan launched a whole new product category, bamboo bow ties. Appropriately called (what else?) “Bambowties,” the playful accessories are available at the Bambike store and on Etsy. Furthermore, the Bambike retail location showcases various upcycled products (water bottles made from tire belts, among other biking accessories) – that includes the store décor!
There are several exciting projects on the Bambike slate. They just launched their guided ecotours of Intramuros (the right step toward a more bike-friendly Manila), and are now making a push into toys / bikes for children, as well as electric Bambikes.
Apart from providing direct employment to the GK community in Tarlac where its BamBuilders originated, 10% of Bambike’s proceeds go directly to the community, sponsoring school teachers and a feeding program.
Ultimately, Bambike stands for People, Planet, and Progress. Bryan’s goal is to show that businesses can survive on these principles, and that they are not incompatible with the other P – Profits.
ASK AN ENTREPRENEUR: Q&A with BRYAN McCLELLAND of BAMBIKE
What’s your favorite part about what you do?
I’m fortunate to do what I love. I get to create and help people feel like kids again — some of our customers never learned to ride bikes before! At the same time, we’re empowering communities and changing lives. It’s been a big journey.
What about the hardest part of what you do?
It can be lonely. I was doing this solo for a while… The team now includes several interns, including one who is helping with industrial design, and our tour manager.
What’s a typical day like for you?
There is no typical day… [My days include] riding my bike, learning my craft, running the shop…
(Note: Like most entrepreneurs, Bryan wears multiple hats. Case in point: As he chatted with me, he was simultaneously rearranging the store layout, working the counter, offering customers Bayani Brew iced tea and Bambrew coffee, and discussing his project on stormproof eco-shelters with strategic partners from the European Chamber of Commerce who dropped by.)
Who would be your five ideal dinner party guests?
The Wright Brothers, Charles Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci… and [Auguste] Rodin.
All builders, tinkerers, and inventors. All right, how do you eat an Oreo?
With ice cream!
What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs?
Be passionate about the product and the business. Otherwise, you will cut corners to get to the end goal, and the [product] quality and vision will suffer.
How about the best advice you’ve ever received?
(Pauses for a moment and then flashes a smile) Trust your instincts.
They haven’t led him astray so far.
Credits: McClelland, Bryan. Interview. Manila. April 27, 2014.
References: The Bambike: A Bamboo Bike Fit for Kings. http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/309968/scitech/technology/the-bambike-a-bamboo-bike-fit-for-kings-with-video