EU Circular Economy is a joint initiative by the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee.
The European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform listed About Blanks as Good Practice on their website.
About Blanks makes sketchbooks and notebooks from old books and recycled materials found in closets, attics and at book fairs.
The old book covers are reused by removing the pages inside and refilling the cover with sustainable blank sketch paper. Each About Blanks note- and sketchbook is different and therefore unique. Sustainability goes beyond reusing and recycling materials. About Blanks products are made in a social employment facility, where people with a disability or poor job prospects can get a job and participate in society.
Sustainability also means that a product should last a long time and so quality plays an important role, with materials selected appropriately. The sketch paper comes from responsible sources (FSC).
The idea of what would later become ‘About: Blanks’ started in 2013. At that time, I was studying at the Willem de Kooning Academie and spent a lot of time in the central library in Rotterdam.
One day, I discovered a stack of old books that the library wanted to get rid of for a couple of euros. I have always been fascinated by the look, texture and smell of old book covers, so I walked over to take a look. Most of the books were from the early 1900s. Back then, it was common to not only bind books, but also magazines, newspapers or theater plays for preservation reasons. Therefore, not all of them had a title, but a fairly plane cover design which reminded me of a notebook. That was the moment when I thought: ‘If these books are not read anymore, wouldn’t it be nice to at least give these beautiful covers a new life?’
A book becomes a blank book as thousands of letters make way for empty pages to which you can entrust your own life story. Kjell Betlem turns old books into beautiful new notebooks.
Not a Book: a notebook
How did you get this idea?
“I was lost the moment I saw a stack of old books in the library that had been written off, a few years ago. The covers of the books were so beautiful and, somehow, their smell was special, too. Some of the books really reminded me of a favorite sketchbook I used to draw in, and that’s how I got the idea. In the end, it turned into a business because more and more people I knew also wanted to have a book like that.”
Earlier Sieb from Good Ideas Grow on Trees interviewed us about our notebooks: Do you know that inkling feeling of happiness when entering a store and coming across a product that immediately just reasons with you?
For me that is what happened a few weeks ago when I came across the About:Blanks notebooks in concept store Daily Poetry. I tracked owner Kjell Betlem down, and asked him all about his notebook business
People were really enthusiastic about the notebooks I made them, so I decided to build a webshop. Because of my background in graphic design and photography I was able to do this, and my own branding, without having to hire outside help. The first few months I got quit a few orders but when it slowed down I realised I had to reach out to more people. An acquaintance of mine owns a store so I took a bunch of my books to her store, and she was happy to sell them! I reached out to more shops, and soon demand was up to a level that I couldn’t quit make them all by myself anymore. Luckily I found a social employment facility where my books are made to this date.