22 Jun 2020
Cairo, Egypt
Sustainable Furniture

Characters do not typically self-identify with rubbish. Exceptions to this rule tend to be social outliers like Oscar the Grouch, the bin-dweller of “Sesame Street,” and The Trashman, Danny DeVito’s wrestling alter ego in cult TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Into this much-loved company steps Ibrahim Abougendy, the cheerful, self-declared “Trash Designer” and founder of Mobikya, a Cairo-based studio for upcycled furniture.

For years, Mobikya has re-fashioned abandoned materials into a striking range of high-end pouffs, mirrors, armchairs, coffee tables, and more. Mobikya places special focus on salvaging scrap tyres, which cause widespread environmental damage and are notoriously difficult to recycle. Abougendy believes that finding a new place for tyres inside funky furniture helps to educate consumers. “Our role is to prove that upcycling solutions work better than recycling,” said Abougendy.

Upon graduating from university, Abougendy wanted to use his education in design to create a meaningful product. He soon gravitated towards the idea of upcycling, viewing the concept as a valuable alternative to both landfill and traditional recycling.

“Upcycling requires less capital than recycling, is more effective in dealing with waste, and can be done without producing emissions at all,” said Abougendy. An upcycled furniture business would reap these environmental benefits while also giving clients a direct, personal experience with the everyday usefulness of upcycling.

But even though Abougendy had identified his professional calling, significant obstacles stood in his way. Egyptian manufacturers had precious little experience with upcycling, which led Abougendy to construct his own furniture designs at first. He began to market his products over social media under the name Mobikya, which derives from the Egyptian Arabic word for “junk.”

Times have changed remarkably since. Now, Mobikya outsources designs to three or four different manufacturers, and has more than 20 staff employed as sorters, designers, and marketing specialists. Social media still drives product sales, but Mobikya has cultivated a strong, lucrative customer base.

In sourcing materials, Mobikya has upcycled hundreds, if not thousands, of wooden pallets, washing machine drums, and oil drums. “But our star element is the tyre,” added Abougendy. Indeed, old wheels dominate many of Mobikya’s signature pieces, perhaps propping up a pouff’s cushion, or providing edging for a coffee table.

In a world stacked with waste management challenges, the humble tyre stands out as an especially troublesome one. Tyres are produced in huge quantities — 3 billion were made worldwide in 2019 alone — and often contaminate the local environment when consigned to landfill. Burning tyres releases harmful chemicals, and recycling tyres is very inefficient.

Mobikya, though thriving, still competes with some adversity. According to Abougendy, Egyptian investors tend to prioritise tech companies with funding instead of waste management. Abougendy also reports on a lingering stigma in Egypt about upcycled furniture, especially when being sold at the higher end of the market. “There is a taboo that upcycled or recycled products should be cheaper,” said Abougendy, even though Mobikya’s range involves intensive design and manufacturing processes.

Nevertheless, Abougendy sees a bright future for Egyptian upcycling, not least due to how far the industry has come in a short amount of time. “It is definitely easier to start now than when I did,” said Abougendy. “Now you have Mobikya and other companies that can help you build your upcycled product.”

 

Learn more about Mobikya through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Photos courtesy of Mobikya

David Wood is a freelance writer and researcher based in Beirut. He previously worked in Cairo.David Wood
Fantastic furniture — Egypt’s “Trash Designer” upcycles tyre waste into artistic pieces | The Switchers
Mobikya Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management
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