Since November 2014 Bonaire has gained a new, young and innovative company called Phish Phaktory. The company is managed by Eunan Doherty and Suuz Zelders, who have both been living on Bonaire for three years. The reason for interviewing Eunan and Suuz is because of their inspiring sustainable business concept. They make new innovative products out of used materials with the help of a gigantic heavy-duty sewing machine from the seventies! Their products include mostly the recycling and reusing of materials for various other means. Driftwood sculptures, the use of old sail cloth for handbags, car roofs from old sail and even tarpaulins found on dives have been transformed into bags.
Before setting up their company Eunan and Suuz were both working in the dive industry. In their free time they created creative products and helped out friends by stitching up sails and cushions. Their creative minds took priority and they decided to set up a company: Phish Phaktory.
Asking about their first assignment I noticed a combination of excitement, horror and pride in their eyes. They were asked by Lelle of Navegante Boatyard Hato to fix a sail at the harbour using his machine. The small job took hours in the blistering heat but by the end of the day it was finished. It was their 1st job and it was on a 100ft yacht’s mainsail. Lelle was very pleased with the end result and encouraged Eunan and Suuz to continue and after a period of a few months they moved the machine to their house and invested in proper thread and needles for heavier work.
As for all new starters there is always the fear of: dealing with the administrative process; will I have enough customers; will my products be good enough; will I earn enough to pay the rent and what if it doesn’t work out… Asking them about their experiences with these fears they express that their biggest challenge was the administrative procedure. They went to apply for a permit at the Spatial Department Planning (DRO) but were sent away. Given Eunan is from Ireland, he was not entitled to set up a company unless he would have a full bag of money to start off with or hold a sedula for at least 5 years. Though some say that you can set up a sole trader as a foreigner, the staff at DRO doesn’t seem to think so, which is the start of a long road in the direction red tape lane. To speed up the process Suuz, with her Dutch nationality, started up the company as a propiertorship. Hopefully the local government will move forward to a more entrepreneurial friendly process to stimulate local economic development in this area.
Besides the administrative jungle, importing material was also quite a learning process. Though Phish Phaktory uses mostly used materials sometimes they need to import fabrics, foam or machinery from abroad given it is not available on-island. Trying out different transport companies they have figured out which delivery service to use for what product. Parallel to the challenge of choosing the right delivery service, is hoping that they will deliver good quality material as you are not in the position to check it in person. This also comes at a cost as the majority of the products are very expensive. As Suuz and Eunan say, it is all a learning process, especially because “we are on an island and we do not have everything in reach”.
Given Phish Phaktory is a home based company all materials are stored in the attic, living room and the porch. Thinking there would be no space left they are more than happy to welcome your used materials, specifically sewable flexible materials like air matrasses, sails, tarps, fabric signs, or boat covers. So if you call Suuz or Eunan they are happy to stop by and spare you the trip to Plaza Medio Ambiente.
Asking about the market response I receive a big smile. So far they have no shortage of customers. By word of mouth, more and more people but also local companies are finding their way to Phish Phaktory, which means having a proper weekend off almost becomes a challenge. People like the fact that Phish Phaktory has a fine blend of creative re-usable and fashionable products, which are made locally.
Future plans hopefully include a ‘leermeester’ program at Forma to train local kids how to design and sew, with the goal of expanding the company. This is something Suuz would really like to do, but it will depend on the possibilities offered by Forma and the languages for the course available. Eunan, by origin a craftsman, shares with me his aspiration to have a healthy balance between custom design and own design.
Asking Eunan and Suuz if they think Bonaire has become more sustainable; they mentioned that they know there is a willingness of local residents to recycle but that a lot of people are loosing faith in the use of their efforts. The government could definitely support the willingness of people to recycle by supporting the necessary facilities for recycling on island.
If you want to find out more about check out their Facebook page Phish Phaktory and there is also a website in the works!