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Out of Office: Why This Coke Employee Dresses Up For Carnival Floats

By:  Marieke Sepers Oct 31, 2013
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Christophe (middle) and his group, The Neighbors, compete in the highest category of the Halle carnival.

This #OutofOffice monthly series highlights many of our Coca-Cola employees who agreed to share what makes them happy when they're away from the desk. This series was brought to life through our Coca-Cola Europe team who was sharing these stories internally. One story was sent to us, the Journey team, and we knew we had to open these up to the world. The stories are inspiring, fun and thought-provoking.

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"The Neighbours" have won the top carnival group prize three times.

Most people at Coca-Cola know Christophe as a Lab Specialist ICE (Immediate Consumption Equipment) at KO Labs in Brussels. Outside the office, he is a passionate carnival enthusiast. With his carnival group, Christophe spends months backstage preparing for when the quiet market town of Halle erupts into one of Belgium’s biggest carnival festivals for a three-day extravaganza. We took a minute to ask Christophe a few questions about his passion beyond Coca-Cola.

How did you first get involved in carnival?
I first got in touch with carnival ten years ago, when my girlfriend invited me to Halle for a behind-the-scenes look. She was part of a local carnival group and we celebrated my first carnival together. I was absolutely amazed by the spectacle, from the colourful costumes, to the long procession of floats and dance performances. But most of all, I was impressed by the huge organisation behind it. There is more to carnival then meets the eye. People spend an entire year preparing. From the election of Prince and Princess Carnival in November, to the three-day and night celebrations in February. It’s great to see all the work and energy that people put in to make this spectacle happen , and the fun they are having doing it. 

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Christophe and members of his group in action.

Tell us more about your carnival group.
My carnival group is called ‘De Gebeure’, which translates as ‘The Neighbours’. It was founded 35 years ago by a group of neighbours in Halle. Today, our group comprises around 50 people from all different ages and walks of life. We have electricians working side by side with business executives, and young and old people all getting involved. No matter what your age or background, we work together as a team. 

We have a lot of fun together, but our group is also very serious about carnival. We participate in the highest category and have won the Halle carnival three times. It requires a lot of time and dedication, but you get lifelong friendships in return. We get together to do lots of other activities. For example, we recently took part in a running and cycling duathlon, which was great. 

carnival out of office cycling group 300

Christophe is also a keen cyclist.

What is involved in your work for carnival?
Although the carnival weekend itself doesn’t start until February, there are activities throughout the year. We usually come together in September to start working on our float and costumes. The women work on the costumes, which they create entirely from scratch, from picking out the fabrics to cutting the patterns and sewing the clothes. The men are responsible for the float. My job involves designing and creating the figures on the float. I sketch the figures on big blocks of foam (3 to 6 meters long), cut them out with a hot wire, carve them out by hand, and paint and varnish them. There could be up to 40 figures on our float, which could be up to 5 metres high and 30 metres long. 

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Christophe hand-carves giant figures for the float.

As we get closer to the carnival weekend, I could be working on our float up to four times a week and spending all my weekends at the warehouse as well.

Tell us about your highlight so far.
In 2009, we celebrated our carnival group’s 33rd anniversary. As carnival revolves around the number 11 – the fool’s number - a multiple of 11 is regarded as a jubilee. We spend an entire year creating the biggest carnival float Halle had ever seen! It took up a lot of time, but it was absolutely worth it. It is still being talked about in town! 

Tell us about your role at Coke .
I started working at the KO Labs in Brussels eleven years ago. In the first lab I worked, we performed quality controls on all kinds of products, ranging from the ingredients in our drinks to packaging materials. Now as the Lab Specialist ICE, I’m involved in the physical tests on coolers, dispensers and vending machines. We conduct tests on performance and energy use to ensure our products meet high quality standards and provide certifications. We also provide support to the research and development teams to help test new products.


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The group working on a float behind the scenes.

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Christophe and his girlfriend share a passion for carnival.

How do you strike a work-life balance?
Being passionate about carnival has a positive impact on my job. It motivates me to get the most out of my days. Maintaining such a busy schedule requires a lot of planning and dedication. Luckily, I don’t need much sleep! I usually start working at 7 AM to live my day to the fullest. I have also learned that you can achieve a lot more when you work as a team - both professionally and privately. Everyone has to play their part and help each other to get the job done.  

I’m a highly energetic person and I bring that to work. I work out every day at the office, and I also love mountain biking and cycling. I get together with my cycling club on Sundays when we cycle up to 100km each weekend.

Because my girlfriend and I are in the same carnival group, it’s great that we see a lot of one another and have a shared passion. We are actually expecting our first baby in February, appropriately right around carnival time! 

What values do Coca-Cola and carnival have in common?
Coca-Cola is a brand that brings people of all ages and backgrounds together, encouraging creativity, optimism and happiness. This is exactly what carnival is all about. Carnival is a festival for everyone, where young and old come together to celebrate, have fun and generate positive energy.

Do you have a story to tell when you get off work? We've started a campaign to share everyone's happy hobbies when they're #outofoffice. We'd love to hear yours: Share your story here.