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WASTELESS WONDERS ON HANDMADE & SLOW LIVING

@wastelesswonders

HANDMADE CHARM ALERT! NOT ANOTHER MERELY ZERO-WASTE BRAND, BUT IS IT NEGATIVE WASTE. THE FOUNDER VALENTINA PROBES INTO THE MEANING OF SLOWING DOWN OUR LIVES AND THE WHEELS OF MASS MANUFACTURING, A BIRTHPLACE OF WHAT SOCIETY CONSIDERS AS “WASTE”.

Words By Natsumi Amano

Wasteless Wonders is a new sustainable home textiles brand based in Finland, designing and producing handmade goods for living spaces exclusively from waste materials. From tapestries, rugs to baskets that are all made by her own hands, heartful warmth, and one-of-a-kind unique features promise to cozy up any homes it rests in. To discover more about the production process and sustainability efforts that are in every corner of the brand, keep on reading! 

How did Wasteless Wonders start?

Valentina: I am originally from Germany, but I moved to Finland for my master’s degree. In my thesis project, I did research on ways to recycle yarns because for as far as I can remember, I have always been passionate about creatively coming up with ideas to solve waste issues, and as a designer, making things hand-made using fabric waste was my answer. After I graduated, I was working for a company for over two years, but I have always dearly missed hands-on work. In reality, I somehow never stopped quilting, weaving, and all things DIY as a personal passion project, which one day led me to develop my own brand because I had the urge to share my love of handmade with the world. That is a large part of the reason why I started Wasteless Wonders. After some preparation, I finally launched it in January 2020 with a mission to produce zero waste home textiles that are high-quality and hand made while not using up any new resource. I put sustainability at utmost priority; I use scraps and cut-offs that are generated in garment manufacturing and deadstock fabrics, which are leftover rolls of fabric, that do not make it into the final production run. Since everything is handmade, it is low-tech and low-impact.

What are the brand’s main values?

Valentina: For me, the most important thing when selling a product is not just to say that our products will make your room look nice and pretty (this is important, too!), but also to tell a story about how much time and efforts that are put into making this product. I believe it is my purpose to make people more aware of the resource-intensive nature of our current production system. For instance, if people buy something that is made from virgin polyester in a fast fashion shop for ten euros, it inherently means that you are consuming an incredible amount of human labor, electricity, valuable natural resources that are finite, in exchange for the price that is reflective of the true cost. It is exploitation for the people involved and the environment that we can no longer overlook. By showcasing how I produce home textiles through my hands as sustainably as possible, I hope to educate people on this important matter on consumerism and bridge the disconnect between makers and users.

Though it may sound serious, and it truly is at the core of what I do, making things handmade is so much fun and absolutely is my favorite way to spend time doing. It is nothing but my dream to live life doing things I love from the bottom of my heart. Of course, I have to work on the computer to deal with the business side and other stuff, but I wholeheartedly enjoy using my hands to create something. It is just that I am very passionate about making things and creating solutions to waste issues.

As for the handmade as a technique to recycle materials, I think making things with your hands is relatively underrated. Machines can only do so much; there has not been any technology to identify how much percent is cotton and this percent is polyester, or recognize what is the efficient way to stripe things down because they are so complex. As of now, the industry is struggling to separate and recycle, and textile waste is a complete mess. However, a person with their eyes and touch can tell part which material is suitable for crocheting, weaving, quilting, or other techniques. 

Making things by hand allows by far more rooms for flexibility and specification to play a part after the product served a purpose. You can see that upcycling by re-making things handmade is a brilliant way to use up resources to the end. 

Staiy: There is definitely something about handmade goods that machinery cannot replicate; magic of human touch. In this very disconnected and isolationist world, I think people very much long for and appreciate something that has been touched by human love. Your brand offers that fascinating element for sure!

The brand accepts end-of-life returns. What are your thoughts behind this policy?

Valentina: This is what is unique about Wasteless Wonders. I take back our products once it is out of use. I can recycle them in-house and use the materials once more for new products. If items are in a bad condition, they can always become fluffy pillow stuffing as a last resort. If the reason for returning is an issue of taste or that it does not fit into the place anymore, and the returned item is still in great condition, I would just fix some parts, clean it up, and resell it. As a little thank you for their efforts, for every returned item, they receive a ten-percent-off coupon for their next order to make up for some of the shipping costs associated with your return. At the same time, hopefully, I do not get many returns at least years from now because people can give it to friends and family or pass it down to their children for generations to come. Although I would be glad to receive one because it is by far a more thoughtful option than to just throw it away when they no longer need it, I hope my customers see sending back to the brand is the last option. 

As you can tell, Wasteless Wonder is striving to operate as circular and as zero waste as possible, that is why we care what happens to our products across their whole life cycle, until the very end. For me, it is very important because this is a collective effort to reduce waste, eco team-work, if I may say so. Nowadays, there is a lot of focus on individual effort to live with zero waste, be sustainable, and make a conscious buying decision. While it is encouraging and exciting, in reality, it should be the companies’ responsibility to hold themselves accountable to take care of it after the user is finished using it. Because they made it and put it out in the world in the first place, they know the best way to take it apart and make something new with it. That is why I made this policy.

“I am the one who is making it, so I am also an expert in unmaking it.” – Valentina Lachner

While I think it is my responsibility as a maker to take care of the products after consumer’s use, for me personally, I feel the best if I take it back and reuse it properly so as to make sure that what I put out in the world does not end up in the landfill or in the ocean. 

I would like to see these types of return policies implemented in other industries including electronics, furniture, and the like to make a circular economy model more of a viable option. In fact, the governments in some countries/regions enforce this in the private sector, which I believe is one of the fastest and efficient ways to make a change. We cannot forget the fact that the pressure from the general public to tighten regulation also goes hand in hand with change-makings from the company’s side as they are forced to act on the demand of consumers. The more we as consumers realize how powerful our consumer decision is, the so-called “the vote with your wallet”, the more likely that both the public and private sectors react.

What does the design process look like?

Valentina: Since I only use ugly-shaped production scraps and small bits of dead stocks, most of the designs come from the material that I find at a local recycling center and second-hand shops. I do have certain colors, texture, materials, texture, yarns that I am drawn to, but what I usually do is to keep collecting from things that I find from different places and to come up with rough ideas in my studio. The practice of only using waste fabrics puts me in a unique challenge of being a bit spontaneous and thinking outside of the box because unlike the conventional production process, I cannot assure that I have enough to create things that I have envisioned. With the characteristics of fabrics, tools, and techniques that I have, I improvise to create one-of-a-kind home goods. What also adds to this approach is that my expertise is not in textiles as I extensively learn interior and furniture design, and I am breaking all the “rules” of making textiles. As for quilting, the “rule” is to use the same type of fabrics so that you do not risk the surface being bulky and bumpy. However, what I do is to mix and match different types of fabrics not only because I have to, but I have also learned as I make that I can smoothen the surface out as long as I am paying close attention not to let stripes too wide and selecting materials that are fairly even and flat. 

There is no burden on how things are supposed to be imposed on me, and that freedom allows me as a designer to experiment as I like. 

In terms of inspirations, despite there are many sources, the impactful ones are nature, gardens and especially, my life in Finland itself. The simplistic Scandinavian style has much emphasis on the simple use of colors, geometric designs, and texture. I think I sometimes go a little bit too funky with colors, influences of minimalistic Scandinavian balances the jazz out to a cozy and calming, yet flavourful color scheme.

Slow life & slow living; why is it important in personal life and in consumerism?

Valentina: What 2020 so far has proved to us is that slowing down is important and beneficial, not only for our personal lives to be present and to truly seize the day but also for the environment. The fact that the Earth overshoot day moved back to almost the end of July to the end of August still surprises me, which nearly nobody expected to happen without a number of enormous, serious, and multi-layered efforts. In addition, though we often say, “We have to save the planet.”, it is not the planet we are trying to save, but human beings. I think more people have to understand that the planet can survive without us but thrive per ce, but not vice versa.

Now that we are far from what it used to be “normal”, many people are questioning the status quo. I do not want this to merely be a trend but I want us to come back even better than where we entered. I am sure that slowing down our daily lives, work, traveling, economies, and many other various aspects of our lives have impacted and been reflected in many different ways based on each individual, both positive and negative.

 

With that being said, I think one of the advantages of living slower for many of us is to have more time to think where we put our money and more opportunity to make things yourself. It could range from cooking at home, harvesting your own vegetables in your garden, and essentially thinking of ways to upcycle old jars for probably something like flower pots, instead of buying something new. There is some benefit for your mental health as well; there are studies that state that doing something with your hands crafting things, that slow and meditative process, increases well-being and a sense of happiness. If you are interested in DIY and you have the privilege to do so, why not try it out? You will have something that is perfectly fitted for you, and that nobody else in the world has. If you make things yourself, you will also get a better understanding of how much work, skills, and knowledge that are required to make things look the way they do on store shelves. When we repetitively buy this and that, it almost feels like products are made available within a snap of your fingers and just instantly appear in front of you. If you move your own hands and make something, it is not only enjoyable to patiently work your way up to see how things turn out to be, but you get to be more aware of what it all takes to create something.

“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” – Rumi

As for the production level, there are multiple aspects that the “fast production” stresses the supply chain and consequently, anything that is involved including laborers and the environment. In such a manner, particularly in the textile industry, they order roles and roles of fabrics to make sure that they have enough to quickly manufacture things (which creates deadstock fabrics) and excessively produce finished products much more than they need in order to meet the demand because they prioritize profit over environmental sustainability. In the design process, it is often the case that the shape is not intended to efficiently make the best use out scraps that people cut out because again, the eco-friendly effort to minimize scraps would be more costly. Did you know that the current garment production using conventional fashion design and pattern-cutting techniques results in approximately 15 percent fabric waste? Making things fast and not thinking about considering is pretty “normal” as sad as it is. 

Ironically, in a perfect world, my company would not exist, but here we are to make the best use out of what society recognizes as waste. Our brand also is looking to educate on pre-consumer waste. Most people, of course, know what they throw away in the trash bin goes to the landfill, but it is not so well-known in the general public that waste is created in the production level before the product reaches the final consumer. I am thinking about so many exciting new ideas to do more things experience-based in the future, which I will talk about more later.

What were the main difficulties you encountered, how were you able to leverage on them?

Valentina: I think I am not good at bragging about my brand, so it is not the easiest thing for me to get people to understand that it takes 10, 20 to 50 hours to make hand made things. Though it is made from waste, taking time to hand-select fabrics and having to readjust the way I create things makes my products expensive. On top of that, in a world where I cannot sell things in a craft fair, a pop-up store, or anywhere that I can talk to people in person, communicating all the extensive effort is even more challenging. 

Staiy: We understand your struggles, but we think you do tell the back-story very well on the website. There is a section in your product description detailing the exact amount of time it took to make an item, the number of repetitive actions taken, and the amount of waste recycled. We hope this allows people to have a better idea of why your price is at the price point it is now and how purchasing one of your products impacts the world.

“Good things take time.”

What do you think the world needs more of?

Valentina: I wish that the world has more empathy especially with other people and what they are going through. I think there are many things that are going on that concern sustainability in the end because, at the core, we fundamentally tend to value money more than we do people. Especially in the textile industry, the consequence of the mindset is very prevalent in the sense that a range of problems in the matter of social justice and exploitation of the environment is too often overlooked. The CEOs of big fashion brands are one of the richest people on earth who indulge in abundant luxury while their employees at the bottom of the supply chain may live below under the poverty line. How meaningful is it for them to have an incredible amount of wealth at the cost of exploitation of others? Inherently, the wealth is not distributed fairly and this disparity is a byproduct of our economic system based on capitalism. If we indeed want to change how it is, we have to treat the root cause of prioritizing the health of people and the planet. A large majority of people associate people with money, power, and other social statuses, but those people need to think through and redefine what it means to be successful. I hope that more people prioritize having a human connection, feel empathetic, and caring for each other.

“Redefine what it means to be successful for you.”

What can we expect from the brand in the future?

Valentina: In terms of the release of new collections, it does not have a specific date, but it oftentimes depends on when I finish making them. After keeping on collecting fabrics and making something with them, there always comes this point where all the styles look coherent and nice. Sometimes, things take turns and go wrong because putting two colors side by side does not necessarily mean the combination of those two goes well. Over and above, I never know what kind of material I can find. If I have a specific vision, it might take a few months to source materials that fit into the theme, so that the production process usually follows organically. 

In the near future, I would like to work with small brands a lot more to accept their scraps and make upcycled home textile items in collaboration, so that they can maybe sell it on their platforms. If they especially use sustainable material that is made in an ethical manner and there is no other place to go other than the trash can, I cannot stand; what a waste! In reality, I recently started working with a local company that manufactures bedding from hemp fabric. The company has been so aware of it that they wanted to do something about it. Now I have a box of beautiful hemp that is worth months their deadstock, and I have been able to make so many beautiful decor items with them. It is a bit of a sneak peek, but the next collection would be things made with the beautiful natural fabric. 

In my wildest dreams, I have this vision of holding workshops one day when we become able to safely meet again. I imagine it would be genuinely fun to teach people in person; to see them learn something new and be proud of what they have made with their hands. I would love to engage more in the local community by getting everybody involved and giving back to people in the form of offering experience-based activities. 

As I am aware that what I sell is relatively expensive and that not all people can afford it, teaching entry-level weaving and quilting skills in the class face to face, or maybe online can be a great alternative. In one way or another, I would also love to share small guides on how to get started with DYIng home textile items from sourcing materials sustainably to amplifying what they know about knitting and quilting which they may have learned from childhood or a personal hobby. Sometimes it is hard to know where to start, so I can be a little kick starter. 

All in all, Wasteless Wonders is still a very new brand so I am still experimenting with new avenues of activities and exploring new opportunities, so stay tuned! 

Is there anything you want to say to our readers?

Valentina: Start asking yourself and question where things come from and how they are made. You do not have to dissect everything that you buy, but take a moment to look at the objects around you and redeem the values that they bring to your life. 

Being curious about the impact your consumer behavior has on the world and your personal connection to the objects you have is, I think a good start. If you are even slightly interested, I highly recommend making something with your hands. It is fun, rewarding, and relaxing to get away from screens and focus on what is presently in front of you.

We are sure you feel her true passion and love for everything crafty and handmade, and making things slow and sustainably. The products will be available on Staiy from the beginning of next year. Find out more at wastelesswonders.com and @wastelesswonders.

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