Take 5 with... Diti Kotecha from Théla!
by Kasia Galak
We love Greece, where our new guest is based in, but even more than that - we love socially engaged and educational projects! That is why when we heard about Théla, whose founder is based in this amazing country, we could not just let it go like that! Théla is a plastic up-cycling initiative that handcrafts products with discarded plastic bags. Since recently, you can find them in our brand directory, and now, we also want to present to you the woman-power behind it, Diti!
1. Tell us a little about yourself, where are you based and how you ended up doing what you do.
I am a graphic designer from India, currently in Greece, in love with design, making things with my hands and living mindfully and as sustainably as possible!
While living in Mumbai I helped with design strategy and branding for several sustainable fashion brands including a fair trade and organic clothing company and an organisation that up-cycles textile waste. During that time, I witnessed the growth of consumerism and plastic consumption in India and began learning about the harmful impact of plastic on the environment.
A little over two years ago when I moved to Athens to live with my husband, I was confronted with a much higher level of plastic consumption than what I was used to. It is indeed a global issue, one which is being addressed by a lot of countries globally but Greece is far behind. There is an overall lack of awareness and it felt like the right time to do something.
And so, already being in the field of sustainability, I put together my knowledge of design and my love for handmade and began crocheting with plastic bags. I called the brand ‘Théla’ which colloquially means ‘plastic bags’ in Hindi.
2. What inspired you to work with plastic and how do you see brands like yours alleviating the global plastic problem?
I grew up without plastic, with a lot less plastic at least. As a child I did not know of single-use, disposable products like toilet paper, nappies and kitchen rolls. There were no fast food and take-away restaurants and no supermarket chains either.
Here in Athens and also in London (a city I visit frequently), plastic consumption is so normal and a lot more challenging to avoid. Most people don’t know or have forgotten how they lived without plastic but I have been in a position to have lived through its emergence. Maybe that made me more sensitive to its impact and inspired me to do something about it.
I started Théla not only to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the landfills and oceans but to also increase awareness about its impact and alternatives – I organise workshops on up-cycling plastic and interactive talks to educate people about the plastic problem and how to live with less of it.
3. Being based in Greece - what tendencies do you see in both consumption and production? Is there any space for sustainability?
Greece is not at the forefront of innovation and sustainability. Things are certainly changing, but slowly – last year, for example, there was a government charge on supermarket plastic bags. Their consumption reduced by 80% but the decrease in production has been far less than that.
The high level of consumption and production may indeed be because of a lack of inclination to create change and I feel that this makes it a great platform to increase awareness and inspire people to make these changes in their daily lives – changes that are far more convenient than the permanent and harmful impact of plastic.
4. You are collaborating with local producers in India for weaving of plastics. What advantages and what hindrances do you see in working with factories or manufacturers there? What steps do you take to ensure that the whole process is ethical?
Until last year all the products were being made entirely by me, in addition to managing the branding, marketing and social media. By collaborating with more experienced & established, weaving & tailoring communities in India, I am able to diversify the product range, work with larger quantities, focus more on other aspects of the brand and overall create a much bigger impact.
This year has been the first time that I set up operations in India and so of course there were a lot of challenges and many things to learn from the lovely people that I am collaborating with. I suppose the distance could be a hindrance but I visit India for about three months every year which gives us the opportunity to establish a good working relationship with each other.
I believe that the whole process is ethical because I work very closely with the organisations in India. I have lived with them to witness the entire process and they too are sensitive to my ethical standards. The plastic woven textiles are made by a cultural craft centre in Kutch, Gujarat, providing employment and fair wages to waste collectors, medium skilled weavers, home based workers, senior citizens and prison inmates. Their plastic up-cycling initiative educates the neighbouring communities about plastic waste while reviving traditional weaving skills. The products are then tailored by a fair trade self-help centre in Mumbai whose main objective is to provide economic independence for and to harness the skills of underprivileged people through guidance, training, infrastructure and marketing.
Collaborating with like-minded organisations who share the same compassion for sustainability has not only helped the brand grow, it has also reinforced my belief in what we do and why we are doing it.
5. Any personal heroes or inspiration you could share with us?
Living and breathing sustainability, I am constantly inspired by the people around me – all the people who choose to act. Whether it is the long-standing perseverance of an ethical organisation in India or the good intention of a 10-year-old child who chooses to attend my workshop, it’s what keeps me going.