Whereas crafts are almost forgotten in the modern era and pace of living, Pletivo Plezir isn’t just bringing a minimalistic version of decoration but they are “knitting with pleasure”. Their ethical home décor wants to help local artisans who are experts in neglected traditional crafts combined with a modern eco-friendly approach. Their true desire is to create a business which helps the planet and the local economy meet halfway. Through their ecological knitted cushions, they are bringing back the wool business in Serbia. But the brand also serves a higher purpose: empowering female-led enterprises in a business which involves women of all ages, educational backgrounds and interests.
Meet Teodora Kovrlija on this amazing interview, which will take you to the learn more about Serbian history, and eventually… you will get some goose-bumps! Promise this is not just about trendy or ecological knitted cushions!
What is your background?
We are a passionate all-female team from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, a small country in Eastern Europe. A few months ago, my co-workers and I were looking for some eco-friendly goods to shop for our homes, and realized there is a lack of appropriate choices. In Serbia, ecology still isn’t one of the top priorities, so we wanted not only to give customers an opportunity to buy something handmade, eco-friendly, and ethical, but also to give an example of how we all can improve our communities, cities, and countries by manufacturing products which don’t harm our planet.
What does your brand stand for in the world of slow fashion for home decoration?
Collectively, as a society, we need to slow down. Low-quality products are everywhere; products made not to last on purpose. Some people think it is ok to buy cheap unethical products relatively often, and that it gives them an opportunity to update the appearance of their homes regularly, therewith justifying low-quality purchases. The truth is, our planet can’t keep carrying the burden of our excess consumption anymore. The planet is over-polluted with garbage because of our wrong choices. Luckily, there is always time to change our practices embrace small changes in the right direction. Pletivo by Plezir was created to embody that optimistic belief.
We want to show that traditional work can be combined with a modern eco-friendly approach and that it all can serve a higher purpose: empowering female-led enterprises in a business which involves women of all ages, educational backgrounds and interests. Although Serbia is statistically at the European average, with 28,5 women entrepreneur’s (%), almost half of those businesses don’t make it through the first year. In fact, 47% will go bankrupt by the end of their first 365 days of work. We wanted to demonstrate that a successful way of empowering women to lead a business doesn’t have to involve huge companies – you can start small and make a change of a global impact by changing your local community first.
Also, by producing high-quality products which will last for a long time, we want to inspire people to buy fewer things, to become smart shoppers and invest in products that have a good story and an ethical message. Each piece is unique and special because we were inspired by wabi-sabi philosophy, which embraces imperfection and uniqueness, but also with minimalism and giving the advantage to quality over quantity.
What does Pletivo by Plezir mean for those who don’t understand Serbian?
Knitting with pleasure. Plezir is a Serbian online magazine dedicated to ecology, fashion, design and culture. “Pletivo” started as an idea pursued by one branch of our editorial staff, myself included. It is often neglected that in rural areas people enjoyed practices that were far more sustainable than those we have today. That is why for many people located in the countryside, living an eco-friendly lifestyle means going back to what they already used to do, and unlearning what the consumerists society taught them in the last few decades. With “Pletivo”, we wanted to help local artisans who are experts in neglected traditional crafts and innovative “ecopreneurs” with the desire to create a business which helps the planet and the local economy meet halfway. Knitting with pleasure and enjoying ethical home décor, knowing it was made with pleasure.
Why did you decide to start the business on ethical fashion related with ecological knitted cushions?
We want to use recycled materials, with the focus on locally sourced materials. In our country wool, which is used for filling our cushions, was almost forgotten. Many small farms in Serbia perceive wool as a by-product of raising sheep for meat, so after the animals are sheared, the wool is gathered on one big pile and burned. Decades ago, all pillows, matrasses, cushions and duvets used to be stuffed with wool. As the years passed and technology influenced everything we did, selling wool to the textile industry became a very unprofitable practice since it takes a lot of physical labour and time to clean the sheared wool, comb it through and prepare it for further use. It is cheaper to just burn it. That is why, when we began contacting farms to ask them to provide us with wool, nobody took us seriously at first. It is sad to see that people gave up on a source of income and burned a valuable resource as if it were just trash. We wanted to make a change in their perception while encouraging them along the way and helping the residents of rural areas of Serbia find their place in modern businesses in today’s economy. We wanted to make an overall healthy product of high-quality, which helps local economy with each sale. When we buy this wool from small family-owned farms we practically put the food on their tables.
What materials do you use for the ecological knitted cushions? How does the process of creation look like?
It was a long process of searching. We will be happier once all materials are locally sourced, but unfortunately, at this moment, this isn’t an option. We found one Spanish brand which does an amazing job with recycling cotton and transforming it into beautiful, tiny threads. It has a good selection of colours and great quality, which is our primary concern.
Wool, cotton linen, and zippers are obtained locally. Three women from rural areas of Serbia are involved in making each and every cushion for our brand. In Serbia, these women are usually seen as a category of people who are difficult to employ given their age, lack of formal education and skillset focusing on crafts that are almost forgotten in the modern era and pace of living, where everything is made by machines. These amazing, talented women are supporting their families by sewing and knitting. It is our pleasure to provide them with ways to do it every step of the way! I am so grateful to them for being open to modern business ideas and for willing to take part in my eco-quest, which is a quite an unusual one for this part of the world. One lady is in charge of knitting, the other one is sewing pillowcases and stuffing them with fine wool, and the third one is sewing our zippers on a big, industrial sewing machine. It is slow, but a really exciting process. I am happy to say no waste is produced in the process! All the yarn which isn’t used for one pillow will be used for another one. The same goes for the wool, and the cotton for pillowcases – since all our cushions are of rectangular forms, no scraps are left during the cutting part of the making.
How much cotton do you estimate you Pletivo Plezir has recycled?
Well, data like that is hard to find in my country because it isn’t collected on a systematic level. However, we can certainly tell that each gram of wool used is a gram of wool saved from burning. That means that all 15 kilograms of wool we have used so far would have been wasted and turned into a bunch of harmful dust and emissions of gases such as CO, C02, H2S and HCN. Not many people know that hydrogen cyanide (HCN) is an extremely toxic substance that is released in the process of wool, wood, paper, silk, nylon, etc. combustion. I would also like to mention that not many people realize that using wool actually is an eco-friendly option. Some believe that to be environmentally responsible means to be completely vegan in conducting business. However, sheep aren’t harmed in the process of small-scale farming – on the contrary. They are relieved when excess weight is removed from their backs, and extra pressure removed from their legs. At the same time, using wool helps with encouraging local communities to see something they perceive as trash as a valuable resource.
What type of packaging do you use for the knitted cushions?
We use recycled paper for wrapping and a little bit of duct tape and twine. Since the cushions are pretty heavy, we want to be sure that package isn’t torn apart during transport. Unfortunately, duct tape is a must, since there isn’t a more eco-friendly option on our market at this time. We are keeping an eye for one, though! We are doing the best as we can in given circumstances and work on becoming better along the way. Of course, if anyone has any suggestions on how to better tailor our brand to the needs of both the planet and the customers, we will always be happy to hear them.
What makes your knitted cushions and creations different from others?
I think it is the whole story behind the brand, as well as the appearance of the cushions. No other product on the Serbian market intertwines crafts of the old times with the design trends of the new. As I mentioned before, the materials we use are both unique and eco-friendly, and the people who use them to create home décor in our workshop have never had the chance to express their creativity in an entrepreneurial endeavour such as this one. On the larger scale, when you choose a piece, you are encouraging all women involved in the process of craftsmanship not only to continue their work, but to also motivate other women to try to found a business of their own, which is a very important matter in this area. From the aesthetic side, the cushions are also unique in their size and shape. We mean it literally – no two items are completely the same! (laughs) There are smaller ones, made with nurseries in mind, because we wanted to create the hypoallergenic and safe option for baby cribs. The large chunky pieces can be an eco-friendly substitute for a lazy bag, your favourite floor cushion, or cuddly friend for lazy days when you just want to binge watch Netflix.
What kind of people appreciates the work you do and purchase your cushions?
People who want each choice they make to reflect their beliefs and aspirations; environmentally-responsible consumers who would rather make one purchase once in a while than buy a bunch of unethically-produced items regularly. Their desire to contribute to saving the planet can be seen from every aspect of their lives: the food they eat, the cosmetics they use, the clothes they wear, the way in which they travel, and the items they surround themselves with at home and in the workplace.
Some of the last cushions creations are very bright and colourful, but others are basic colours. Is there any particular design that had a greater success?
As the seasons changed, so did the shades of cushions in our shop. No matter the current colour palette, our goal is always the same: to create a minimalist detail that would pop up in every kind of interior – whether at home, office or in an eco-coffee shop. Both pastel and bright pieces stand out from the rest of the furniture, therewith proving that only one item with chunky, knitted structure can be more effective than a bunch of similar “Plain Jane” ones grouped together. It serves a purpose related to sustainability as well – makes you spend money less often! (laughs) Turquoise and bright orange cushions were the most popular ones so far. Orange is the colour of the summer season, so we believe that it will continue being the most in-demand piece in our collection until the fall season.
Are you planning to launch a new collection or variety of home decoration aside from the cushions?
Yes, our long-term plans include promoting more kinds of traditional crafts and natural materials. We haven’t mentioned it publicly anywhere yet, so count this as an exclusive piece of information (laughs): a collection of handmade traditional Serbian wooden stools with knitted padding is in the making. Of course, the wood used to make the stools will come from sustainably harvested sources, and the local artisans shaping the wood are from rural areas of Serbia. We want to show that it is possible to merge the traditional crafts with modern ways of managing a business – and decorating home.
You are based in Serbia, how does a social entrepreneurial venture look like there?
It is a rocky road full of challenges. The person who opens a social enterprise has to pay exactly the same type of taxes as some who opens a typical kind of business. That is why someone who wants to be socially responsible through their company has little to none motivation from the system to actually do so. It all depends on an individual’s good will and intentions. I believe that in order for the number of social entrepreneurs to increase, the institutions need to create a good fiscal system to encourage them.
Do you feel there’s a change happening in the country when it comes to awareness of sustainability matters?
Both yes and no. Yes, because there is a growing interest in eco-friendly options when it comes to food, fashion, and – yes – home décor. No, because the financial situation isn’t allowing the people to express that interest by actually purchasing the products they want. On the other side, the institutions aren’t making it easier. On the contrary, the sustainable options on the market are usually the most expensive ones, and there aren’t any financial stimuli for the people to buy them, let alone try to become a part of the green economy by launching an eco-business of their own.
What has been the greatest success of the brand so far?
Given that the awareness on environmental issues among the local public is still on a low level, I am genuinely happy with just the fact that we have taken off, and that we decided to do that in our native country, which is still struggling with stabilizing after the transition from a socialism to parliamentary democracy. On a more specific level, just a few days ago we concluded a collaboration with a startup from Belgrade called “Myty decoration”, which launched a VR home-design app that enables the users to see how a certain piece of furniture or home decor would look in their homes before they actually purchase it. The app is multilingual and aimed for the market of Western Europe, so we really take pride in the fact that “Pletivo by Plezir” will be included among the other handpicked luxurious interior brands.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to other small businesses trying to make a difference for good?
There are always going to be rough times on the road of entrepreneurship. That is why it’s crucial to always remember why you started the journey in the first place. If the ideals driving you are noble, think about the people whose lives you are trying to change for the better, the nature that is going to benefit from your success, and how empty your life would be if you were to give up along the way.
If you could write a message on a big wall that the entire world could read, what would it say?
“Only those things we renounce are lost.” Never give up on your dreams and never stop trying to make the world a better place for everyone.
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