Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An East Village resident's effort to make bike helmets a little more fashionable

After buying her first bicycle in college, Danielle Baskin quickly realized that most bike helmets are pretty dorky looking. (Functional, yes.) So she decided to start creating her own... Her Belle Helmets are hand-painted and vinyl-printed designs for cyclists. We're all for entrepreneurship (and we like the helmets) ... so we asked the East Village resident, an illustrator by trade, about her burgeoning Belle Helmets business.

How long have you been creating the helmets? What inspired you to do the first one?

I've had a business painting helmets for four years. My first "Belle Helmet" was actually made six years ago, when I was a sophomore in college, right after I purchased my first bicycle in New York. I didn't really want to wear a helmet, but riding a bike in Manhattan warrants one. I'm a painter and I wanted to do something with it.

My idea was to buy a helmet and make it "invisible" by making it look like a sky. I painted it shades of blue with fluffy white clouds and varnished it with a glossy finish that would reflect the actual sun. While I didn't really camouflage the helmet, I ended up making a cool, surreal object. I was excited to wear it. I painted a few for friends, then over a few years developed a small collection of ideas that would work well on a curved surface. The business turned real my last year of college when I set up a website. Which worked as the Internet does! People all over the world found me and emailed me. In my first year I was psyched to ship a few helmets to Australia, Spain and Norway.

However functional, bike helmets can be rather hideous looking. Do you think this is a reason why some people decide not to wear one?

Definitely! It's an accessory that should be modified to personal taste. The worldwide helmet market is rather small, and so the same exact designs end up appearing in every bike store, often in a limited color pallet that's been picked over. It makes sense; there's the issue of production. Small batches of varying designs are nearly impossible to create in a factory. And certain designs would be too intricate to print on a helmet's surface by a machine or the image could get warped.

There are a few helmet companies creating interesting colors and whimsical designs, but some turn out too quirky or are missing a personal touch. My goal is to get more people to wear helmets by having options that are subtle, that could be seen as a fashion accessory, or options that are just plain cool and good conversation pieces, like homunculus diagrams and phrenology charts, or options that are tailored specific to a cyclist's personality, which is why I have the choice of customizability. It's like I'm making art for your head.

Is Belle Helmets a full-time job for you now?

It's a full-time project that's also a company. A roundabout way of saying: I'll be painting and designing helmets for a long time to come, but I have a few other things that I hope to do simultaneously.

And it's just a one-person operation?

Yep. For now. I typically always have around 40 helmets in my apartment at various stages of completion. While I'm currently handling all aspects of the operation, even non-painting projects like selling helmets out of a tricycle, or making my website cooler, I'd like to one day have a small Belle Helmets team and a studio space, so more work can be made.

And we can't let you go without asking for your thoughts on Citi Bike. Three-plus months in, what do you think of the bike-share program?

Bike share is progress for humanity! It's incredible that Citi Bike has made biking as mode-of-transportation much more inclusive and popular in New York than it was pre-bike share. It has invited a lot of folks to start cycling who wouldn't have otherwise ridden a bike due to the commitments that come with owning one. Once glitches are worked out with the software, and dock distribution matches commuting patterns, Citi Bike has a promising future.


Because someone may ask: The helmets are CPSC-certified, ASTM-compliant (which means they're totally safe to wear). The designs are created with acrylics, archival ink, and vinyl then treated with a non-toxic, non-corrosive, water-resistant polyurethane sealer to prevent chipping and scratching. More details here.


marjorie said...

these are FABULOUS. (the avocado! the klee! the kiwi! the phrenology chart!) good for her. wish her much success.

nygrump said...

Its a bike rental program , not a bike share. Is Hertz a car share? no. didja see they moved all the bikes around Cooper Union too.

Sam Timberg said...

I'm psyched to see this profile. I need a new helmet and I know where I'm going to get one now! Thanks Grieve.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the kids seems like a good young lady but like nygrump said, it's a corporate bike RENTAL, not share.

My question is how did this interview come about? For example, we are told when an interview is by Mr. Maher the photographer of an EV resident/worker.

Was this post just a commercial for a friend who could use an uptick in her business?

Transparency please.

Anonymous said...

there's definitely a difference between bike share/bike rental. as there is between car share(which exists)/car rental.

but i don't wanna get too nuanced here; might be accused of being a shill.

not to let the point of the post get lost in the usual griping, these helmets look great! well done!

EV Grieve said...

@ anon 10:44

I've never met Danielle before... didn't know anything about her except that she had been creating these helmets, which I've seen around... so I asked her if she'd be interested in doing an interview. I sent her questions via email. She answered them. Her responses are as you see here, with a few exceptions. A few answers were a little long and I trimmed a sentence or two.

As I wrote in the intro, I appreciated her entrepreneurship. This was an attempt to highlight an East Village resident doing something creative and interesting, in my opinion.

And it's something different from the usual this restaurant is going out of business or this building will be torn down.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Grieve! I'm commenter 10:44.

EV Grieve said...

@ 10:44 & 12:18

Sure thing!

Greg Masters said...

Love this piece on a fantastic EV artist and entrepreneur. Thank you, EV Grieve.

Anonymous said...

I'll keep my streamlined, well-aerated helmet, thank you! :)

Anonymous said...

Although the helmets are out of my price range, they are indeed beautiful, and I love the combination of art and utilitarianism. Lots of luck to Danielle!

PS. Dear EV Grieve readers, please also note that not all of us 20-somethings in the neighborhood are useless woo-hoo douchebags! Some of us do cool things and contribute :-)

Anonymous said...

Helmets should not be forced on anyone!!!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:03, Of course helmets should be required. That's just silly.

IzF said...

I've seen those helmets in person and they are adorable. HOWEVER, they are still helmets and we all look dorky in them. Albeit, a little less dorky.

Anonymous said...

Uhm, no they should not. :)

Anonymous said...

Even if it was for a friend , i'm happy to see a someone doing something new and different from our community. Grieve, it's your blog, not the freaking Times. Enough big brother, pc, watchdogs! I think you should write whatever you damn well please. And the uptight readers should go read the Gothamist.I cant afford the helmets, but if I could I would buy one.