Environmental awareness in Greece is slowly on the rise. The single-use plastic bag charge, levied at supermarkets since January 2018, gives shoppers pause. Prince Charles’ televised refusal of a plastic straw for his cold coffee while visiting Athens split commentators between admiring his eco-credentials and mocking his froth moustache. But even before the reduce, reuse, recycle movement hit the headlines, young Greek entrepreneurs have been saving throwaways from sea or landfill and using them to create homeware and accessories that are as alluring as they are ethical.
Rokani: As Wood as it Gets
At street bins around Athens, you’ll frequently see old drawers, bedsteads and pallets waiting to be landfilled. Rokani gives this junk a new lease of life. “It started when one of us was renovating his own home. We experimented with upcycling some of the pallets, and then thought, why not take this further?” says Stratos Hadjiyiannakis, one of Rokani’s five founding members. “We all came from a technical background. After the economic crisis we were looking for an opportunity to start something for ourselves.”
They set up in a small workshop, started salvaging pallets, door-frames and other pieces of wood. After cleaning, filing and sanding them, they refit them as bookshelves, beds, cupboards, tables, lamps, and even toys. As well as a small store in the Stoa Emboron arcade, they also do made-to-order pieces. If you see something you like online, send a photo to Rokani and they will send you an estimate and create it for you. If your space or style changes, they welcome back old items you have purchased from them—in any condition—and offer you 30% of the current value to buy something else. “As well as promoting recycling, we also promote a cyclical economy,” says Hadjiyiannakis. “Instead of throwing it out, give it back to us. We will find something to do with it.”
Prices €25-30 for a bookshelf; €150-400 for a table.
3Quarters: Awning Glory
It’s a practical, durable accessory, a zero-waste product, and a quintessentially Athenian souvenir, all packed into one super-stylish bag. Yet when siblings John and Gary (falia) Pitsaki left their respective jobs, as web developer in London and architect in Rotterdam, to create 3Quarters design in Athens, the entire project was a gamble. “Our idea was to come up with a product that was very low cost, using materials that are super-typical of Athens, used and wasted in large amounts,” explains Gary. Balcony awnings sprung to mind—the swathes of canvas that have been keeping Athenian apartments shady since the 1950s.
“We didn’t have a clue if they were usable,” says John. It took the duo a year of testing, overcoming the difficulties in sourcing, folding and stitching this tough fabric. Using old awnings was not practical, due to weather damage and the chemicals needed to clean them, so they decided to use leftovers that accumulate at awning-fitters’ workshops before being binned. Gary peruses each haul of throw-outs, selecting colours and assembling pieces; then John sews them into never-replicated bags.
The models include the bestselling ‘James’ backpack, the ‘Sophia’ clutch and the ‘Sunny’ beach/yoga bag, with loops to carry a rolled towel or yoga mat. Colour combinations range from fiery Kypseli orange or the bold blue prevalent in Exarchia. Lush tropical reveries, used on the inside of the awning to add an exotic edge to a drab 1960s apartment, reappear as vibrant linings in 3Quarters bags. Every bag, except (for now) the ‘James’, is available in a vegan option too, with canvas straps instead of leather.
Prices from €28 (‘Cookie’ lunch bags) to €165 (‘James’ backpacks).
Thela: Circles of Life
Moving from Mumbai to Athens in 2017 gave graphic designer Diti Kotecha the chance to plant a seed that had been rattling around in her head for 20 years. Starting afresh in a new country where plastic bags were handed out like there was no tomorrow, she combined her skills in crocheting, her creative background and her dedication to sustainability by launching Thela. A vibrant-hued collection of accessories, each piece is made entirely from discarded plastic bags. They are washed, dried, cut into yarn and then crocheted into brooches, earrings, coasters or floor mats.
“My aim is to turn waste into beautiful products that are creative, sustainable and don’t look overly upcycled,” says Kotecha. The glorious slate-grey and yellow circular Chatai mat uses almost 60 second-hand plastic bags, rescued from ending up on beaches, fields, in oceans or landfill. And saving some of the estimated 1 million animals killed by discarded plastic bags each year. Nothing is wasted; Kotecha uses the bag handles and seams (which are not usable for yarn) to stuff pom-poms. Thin plastic bags are photodegradable. While crocheting makes the yarn resilient, Kotecha refrains from adding UV coatings, as these are highly toxic and prevent further upcycling. Years after their initial single-use purpose, the plastic bags transformed into Thela products may gradually fade away. But, as Kotecha says, “The longer we can delay [these plastics and chemicals] from entering oceans or landfill, the better.”
Prices from €10 (brooches) to €80 (floor mats).
PHEE: Shore Thing
Stavros Tsompanidis had his eureka moment walking on Marathon beach with friends. Idly looking at the seaweed banked along the shore created a question mark, he recalls. “What’s the story of this raw material? What are its applications? What are we doing with it now?” The answer to the last question was that the huge quantities washed onto coastlines are mostly cleared by municipalities and dumped into landfill. Finding the answers to the first two questions and providing an alternative answer to the third took a meeting of minds with mechanical engineer Nikolaos Athanasopoulos and three years of R&D before the birth of PHEE.
Tsompanidis was recognised as one of the Forbes ‘30 under 30’ European industry innovators in 2018. Patented PHEE-board—made from dead Posidonia Oceanica seagrass, harvested from the beaches of Achaia, in the Peloponnese—is crafted into sustainable items ranging from phone covers to beach racquets. They even produce sunglasses, in collaboration with Zylo, a Greek eyewear brand. This is just one of many strategic partnerships that PHEE are working on.
“We are a material provider; we know what we can do, and that we can’t do everything alone,” says Tsompanidis. “We want to find the companies that will take this treasure of the sea and move ahead with other applications.” PHEE-board can potentially be used as a green alternative to chemical-laden veneers in furnishings and interior design for homes, cars and yachts. Durable yet biodegradable seagrass also offers opportunities to replace single-use plastic items like cups and straws (Prince Charles would be pleased).
Prices from €22 (gift box) to €195 (sunglasses).
“We want to find the companies that will take this treasure of the sea and move ahead with other applications.”
Think Sea: Nautical and Nice
Think Sea invites donations of ‘retired’ windsurf sails at its base on the island of Paros. The design team transforms them into trendy and durable phone/tablet cases, bags, and wallets. Sounds esoteric? Indeed. But as windsurfing sails are not recyclable, every new rig discarded after a summer of wear and tear was ending up in landfill. Who knows, that bold colour-block duffel bag you are eyeing up might once have carried champion windsurfer Nikos Kaklamanakis to Olympic victory!
Prices from €25 (iPhone cases) to €78 (duffel bags).
Salty Bag: Totes Amazing
Salty Bag offers a similar concept to Think Sea, but with a different sport, island base (and price bracket). Using ‘decommissioned’ yacht sails, the team handcrafts a line of bags and luggage at their headquarters on Corfu. Given the durability and weather-resistance of sailcloth, it’s the ideal material with which to create sturdy luggage that lasts a lifetime. And it’s waterproof too, of course. Each piece is unique, with choices ranging from the Regatta-ready metallic Lacca clutch to the Ionian blue-and-white Kinira tote. All aboard!
Prices from €35 (envelope bag) to €350 (duffel bag).
Chris Alefantis has his social and environmental awareness hat on. You may have noticed people standing outside metro stations throughout the city in red Shedia vests selling a magazine by the same name. Aimed at empowering people in poverty, Shedia does much more than sell street papers. The leftover issues are used to create art objects, from lampshades to flower pots to clocks to delicate bracelets, necklaces and earrings, by people over the age of 50 who previously had difficulty finding employment. “We’re making the invisible visible again,” Alefantis says, referring to both the people that are being helped and the magazines that would have otherwise been thrown out for recycling. Check out their store on Kolokotroni street, which also just opened as a café and restaurant or the offshoot in the nearby Merchants arcade. Affordability and responsibility is the new black.
Prices from €2 (fridge magnet) to €100 (large handmade lampshade).
- 56 Kolokotroni Street, Monastiraki, 105 60