published 5 Jun 2014 by Jasminka Mitkovska in Slovenia 5 minutes 31 seconds to read

From trash to riches

Turning your hobby and general knowledge into a full-time job, while supporting the local community at the same time is not something that can be seen very often in these challenging times. That is what Jurij Vahtar (29) and his two friends, Katja Keržan (26) and Aleš Zorko (24) did. Trash Design is their design studio, which operates from Maribor, and this past February they were happy to celebrate their one-year anniversary. Trash Design stands for refurbishing, recycling and designing furniture and accessories from the already used or unconventional materials.

design

“A well-thought concept is a puzzle of small pieces”, says Jurij Vahtar, an enthusiastic and energetic designer from Mengeš, a small place near Ljubljana, who calls himself  “a trashist”. Together with his two friends Katja Keržan and Aleš Zorko, both students of architecture, founded the design studio Trash Design.

“It all started by chance,” It was on a hot summer night, over drinks and conversation that he and his two friends came up with the idea to create something with materials that could be found around for free. And since all of them were either designers or architects or studying to be one, they went ahead and gave it a shot.

The trigger was a friend of theirs who rented a completely empty apartment in an 18th-century building in Maribor. As she had a small budget for that, Trash Design offered to make everything from scratch for the total of 500 euros. “Everything in that apartment is handmade by us and local carpenters, handymen, and is made of used leftover materials from their workshops. We only had to buy items for the bathroom.” For more than a month, the apartment looked like a carpenter’s workshop, but at the end they did it and they had the opening for the public. It was their first project and a test, which they successfully passed.

One of the projects he seems particularly proud of is the refurbishing of a young couple’s kitchen from scratch, which was quite challenging  as the space was very small and they had to install a functional kitchen. They used the same approach, designing every piece of furniture according to the ideas and the needs of the customer  and constructing it along with local professionals. . “We are open to every idea the customer might have. And as trashists, we are not only unconventional in the materials that we use, we are unconventional in the working times – as installing this kitchen in the middle of a Friday night,” Jurij jokes.

This group of young professionals follow the same pattern for the development of their products. They recognise the need for something and they make it. That is exactly how Trash Design’s niche product, a bag made of felt and leather, came about. The idea originated from the need to design suitable airplane carry-on for themselves. “Katja and I made the design, contacted the local shoemaker to help with materials and tools, and we created the Trash Design Bag,” says Jurij.

At the moment, this bag can be ordered in many different forms (a bag for laptop, different sizes etc.), and Trash Design have already sold more than 100 pieces. Perhaps even more importantly, though, all the materials they use are recycled, natural and the customer has the freedom to choose the shape of the bag. Depending on that, the prices range from 50 to 140 euros. An iPad cover, for example, costs 20 euros, and a laptop bag, around 35 euros.

Re-use the Trash, Design it

At the beginning, not everybody was so supportive of their projects. The carpenters and the  professionals from the design field who are not used to “thinking outside of the box” were discouraging them and even disapproving of their work, saying such things couldn’t be done – for instance, a kitchen from scratch in one month.

Yet, Trash Design seem to be becoming more and more known. Today, they have more than 100 customers, who have either bought their handmade products or hire them for refurbishing spaces.

“If you want to make something with your hands it usually takes a lot of time. You have to have the right tools and of course, lots of hours of practice,” Jurij explains. For him, it was never a problem to ask the local carpenters or handyman to show him the best way to do things. Most of the time he drives to a faraway workshop in a village just to get the right tool or just for a piece of advice. “Although it’s really exhausting sometimes, I never complain about the physical aspects of this type of work or the long hours of work, because I love what I do,” he says.

Driven by their creativity and Jurij’s passion and positive energy, Trash Design are currently working on two big projects, which will see the light of the day in the near future.

“I believe the future is bright. We are preparing an online store to sell our products abroad. We also have many friends who moved to live and work around Europe, which will help us to sell our products [in other countries]. For the time being, we sell our products in two shops in Slovenia.” Potential customer can contact them through their Facebook page and through their website.

From nothing, you can make everything

“Young people in Slovenia usually don’t want to invest in themselves, they just want a huge salary and never do anything for free. That’s why we thought it would be useful to show them something or train them or just serve as a positive example that from nothing you can do everything.”

At the moment Trash Design are refurbishing their studio that occupies a large space, owned by a man from Maribor, who amazed by what they do, gave it to them for free. Today, this is their office. “We will have a gallery space, an office space and a workshop space. On the rooftop we are going to plant a garden where we plan to grow our own vegetables,” says Jurij. He has big plans for it as he wants to have all aspects of work in one place, that is to say stop travelling from one carpenter’s workshop to the other in different part of the country.

 Trash Design also want to be supportive of the local community. So far they have already organised some workshops and trainings on developing energy savvy products, and they have noticed that people would like to learn how to work with tools, how to refurbish and recycle things.

“Our idea is to be so open to the public so that everyone can come and tell us what kind of skill they would like to learn, and we’ll provide that for him/her. From sowing to making rocket stoves.”

With this idea Trash Design are slowly but surely moving toward building a social enterprise where they would gather different professionals, craftsmen and increase people’s employability, or at least equip them with new skills because “everyone can be an artist as everyone is creative”.

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