Q&A with Plasticity
Last week, I spoke to the talented Tessa, founder of @plasticity__ , about turning discarded plastic into art, the beauty of simplicity, and her experience of living through multiple droughts.
Hi Tessa! How are you?
Let’s start with how you started plasticity?
“Hi! I’m feeling pretty happy today because it’s raining – we’ve been having a very serious drought in the Eastern Cape, so any rain is a welcome relief!
I started plasticity in 2017. I always loved being creative and was very aware of environmental issues. I grew up in Botswana, where we experienced a serious drought, and are now reliving that here in Graaff Reinet. A few years ago, I started experimenting with plastic and using pieces I found in the environment, hand sewing them together etc. My first creation was a tiny spekboom plant bag. With the help of my mom, we then co-created a pencil case and that’s how we started focusing on little bags and clutches. It is important to me that what we make is useful.
In our initial pieces, the branding of whatever plastic we used was very obvious, but now we’ve gone more abstract by experimenting with colours and textures. Our own branding is quite minimalist though – I wanted it to be simple and elegant”
And what were you doing before?
“I’m only 22, so haven’t had a long career yet! But I lived in Cape Town for a year, working as an au-pair and later in an art gallery. I’m now back in the Eastern Cape, focusing fully on plasticity (together with my mom).”
Can you tell us how the bags are made?
“It’s a simple process – we collect old plastic bags that we find and cut off the handle and bottom. We cut the rest into rectangle sheets and use a heat process to fuse layers together. As a result, every single bag looks different, and we play around with different colours.”
And how did the business evolve?
“We started selling to people in the community, then got a few orders and appeared in newspaper articles. After that we kept getting more requests. We received a large wholesale order from a boutique lodge and were stocked in a zero waste store. We also recently had a large corporate order for a cycling event they were sponsoring.”
What have been the highs and challenges?
“Highs were receiving the 2 big wholesale orders I mentioned. Plasticity was also at the future of fashion symposium at Victoria Yards in Johannesburg, which was an incredible event.
Challenges? I don’t want to moan about South Africa but it can be quite tough to set up a small business here – it takes a long time to set up a bank account or a courier account. And I live quite remotely which makes it even harder! So the admin side can be tricky”
Tell us a bit about how sustainability matters in your life?
“I mentioned the drought at the beginning – seeing that happen around you really brings home how delicate our environment can be, and how dependent we are on it. We haven’t had running water for a week now, which can feel a bit scary. But we’re hoping the situation will improve soon.
Regarding my own lifestyle, for now I have stopped buying new clothes. When I lived in Cape Town, it was quite easy to just shop at places like H&M regularly without thinking about it, but I’m really trying to reduce how much I consume now, and realizing that everything I choose to buy has both social and environmental consequences. Which is easier to do out here in the Karoo anyway, as there aren’t so many shops!”
I also pretty much stopped buying new clothes about a year ago… I soon realised I have more than enough…!
Finally, what are your plans for the year ahead?
“I want to stay settled in the Eastern Cape and keep growing plasticity. We recently started making wallets and I want to see if we can make versions that are more intricate, with little pockets. The wallets are probably my favourite – I was gifted a beautiful 'rare earth' wallet from Poetry/ Old Khaki when I was younger, and always dreamt of making something similar myself!
I’d also love to start making more upcycled artwork… The journey so far has been really rewarding and I’m excited to see what this year brings. We are also working on a line of sling bags and handbags... so, watch this space 😊”