By Christos Gerontidis
We are very excited to introduce you to the latest member of the Tolmee family: Théla!
Théla is an Athens based company the creates handbags and accessories using discarded plastic shopping bags.
Most of us have heard of or have had our community place a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags. Boston instituted a ban on the use of plastic shopping bags in 2018. California was the first state to completely ban the use of single-use plastic shopping bags. We are so grateful that states and municipalities are taking initiatives to reduce the use of plastic bags. It is estimated that over 1 trillion plastic bags are discarded annually; filling landfills and polluting our waterways.
It can be overwhelming to think about the numbers and magnitude of the problem. While local governments are taking initiatives to help, they cannot do it alone. Here is where companies such as Théla help!
We asked the founder of Théla to share with us their history and inspiration. What we learned truly raised our awareness of the problem and inspired us to be more conscious. We hope you find their story as inspirational as we did.
Tolmee: What is your name, where do you live and what is your relation with Théla?
Diti @ Théla: Hello everyone! My name is Diti, I am a graphic designer from India, living in Athens, Greece, in love with design, making things with my hands and living consciously and as sustainably as possible!
I am the founder of Théla, a small plastic upcycling initiative that I started when I moved to Greece.
Tolmee: What is your story?
Diti @ Théla: I grew up in the chaos of Mumbai, studied architecture in the calm of a village in Gujarat and reluctantly moved back to Mumbai to work as a graphic designer.
I started my graphic design journey at a big corporate branding agency. Not having any previous background in graphic design, I learned everything on the job and it was exhilarating – working on big consumer brands, seeing my designs on popular shampoo bottles or plastered on large hoardings…
Gradually, however, while researching and designing for these fast-moving consumer products, I learned about the unnecessary & harmful ingredients of the products and their packaging. This was a turning point for me, away from the emerging consumer culture and towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
I left my job and began freelancing as a graphic designer for social start-ups & ethical ventures. I helped with design strategy and branding for several sustainable fashion brands including a fair trade and organic clothing company and an organization that upcycles textile waste. I volunteered for ethical handicraft units and helped empower marginalized communities with handicrafts.
Tolmee: What is your relation to Greece? And how has Greece influenced your life/your work?
Diti @ Théla: I used to visit Greece as much as my tourist visa allowed to spend time with John, my husband (then boyfriend). During that time, I noticed a large amount of plastic consumption, much more than what I was used to seeing in India. It was during these visits that the thought of making something with the plastic waste was born. At that time, however, I had no idea that it would turn into an ethical venture…
And 3 years later here I am, from graphic designer to social entrepreneur, living in Athens with John and running a plastic upcycling initiative!
Tolmee: Tell me about your family, pets, friends, etc.
Diti @ Théla: My mother lives in Mumbai, my sister and nephews live in London and I am here in Athens with John and our 2 amazingly cute adopted cats.
I am very close with my family and we are together at least twice a year during the holidays. I go back to Mumbai for 3 months every year to manage some of the production for Théla and to be with my mom. We used to live together before I got married and it’s great to go back and do all our familiar things together.
Tolmee: What are some activities you like to do for fun?
Diti @ Théla: One of my favorite things to do is crochet and I am so fortunate that now it is also a part of my work. It is a beautiful, meditative craft and I miss it whenever I am busy with other things!
Apart from that, I love sitting (and napping!) in parks. I can spend hours in a park with a book or my crochet, a beach towel to sit on and some fruits to munch on. And I love yoga – I cannot do without my morning yoga practice.
Tolmee: Tell us a bit about Théla? When did you start the company? What was the inspiration behind it?
Diti @ Théla: While living in Mumbai as a child, we did not know of single-use, disposable products like toilet paper, nappies and kitchen rolls. There were no fast food & takeaway restaurants and no supermarket chains either. We grew up without plastic, with a lot less plastic at least. Later, however, I witnessed the growth of consumerism and plastic consumption in India and began learning about the harmful impact of plastic on the environment.
About three years ago when I moved to Athens, I was confronted with a much higher level of plastic consumption than what I was used to. Here in Europe, plastic consumption is ‘normal’ and 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.
And so, already being in the field of sustainability, I put together my knowledge of design and my love for handmade and started a plastic up-cycling initiative that handcrafts products with discarded plastic bags. I called the brand ‘Théla’ which colloquially means ‘plastic bags’ in Hindi.
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 harmful impact and it’s easy alternatives.
Tolmee: Tell us a bit about the products? Do you do all the designs? What do you like to focus on? What inspires your creations?
Diti @ Théla: The focus of Théla is to upcycle plastic and at the moment we work with plastic bags alone that have previously been used and discarded. We use two craft techniques – crochet and weaving and the process is basically to convert the plastic bags into yarn (commonly known as ‘plarn’) before it is crocheted or woven.
The crocheted products are made entirely by me here, in Athens. I first collect the plastic bags from garbage bins, laïkis (local fruit and vegetable markets), streets and from various collection points. By collection points, I mean shops, yoga studios and workspaces that are supporting us by keeping a box for people to drop off their used plastic bags. The bags are then hand washed and dried, meticulously cut by hand into yarn and finally crocheted and sewn into unique pieces.
I work with plastic bags that have previously been discarded and rely on colors that are available. The plastic bags themselves inspire me – here in Athens the plastic bags are very colorful and it is these colors and their availability that guide my designs.
Tolmee: Do you work alone or do you collaborate with others?
Diti @ Théla: The crocheted products are made by me in Athens, with a lot of help from John who manages the website development, product photography and sews the zips and linings on the pouches.
For the woven products, I work with like-minded, ethical and more established organizations in India. The durable woven textiles are made entirely with discarded plastic bags by a cultural craft center, Khamir in Kutch, Gujarat. The collecting, cleaning and cutting process is similar to how I do it for the crocheted products, only it’s on a much larger scale – Khamir collects approximately 100 kilos of plastic bags a month from Bhangaar Wadas (government waste collection points). They are then washed, dried and segregated by color and quantity, cut into yarn and finally handwoven on traditional looms. The textiles are then tailored into products by a fair trade NGO, C. C. Shroff Self Help Center in Mumbai.
Tolmee: Are your products made in Greece? Are they eco-friendly/sustainably made?
Diti @ Théla: The crocheted products are made in Greece and the woven products are made in India.
Yes, everything is made as sustainably as possible. All the products are vegan, all our accessories are reused or locally sourced and all production is carried out under fair trade conditions.
Tolmee: What do your customers say about your products?
Diti @ Théla: I have been told several times that the products do not look like they are made from discarded plastic or that they do not look ‘plastic-y’. This, for me is a great compliment because my aim has always been to turn ‘ugly’ plastic waste into something precious.
Tolmee: Anything else you would like to share with your customers in the U.S.?
Diti @ Théla: This is the first time Théla is going outside Europe and what a better place to be than the U.S.! Thank you so much for having me and I hope you enjoy our products.
All we can say is WOW! Thank you Théla for finding inspiration in the discarded and creating something that is truly beautiful, utilitarian and timeless. We thank you for joining the Tolmee family!
You have inspired us to become part of the solution. Visit Tolmee to check out Théla’s wonderfully colorful creations.