KAAITA, Little Things, Positive Effects, is the phrase written on the brand’s website and it sums it up perfectly but reading founder, Alenka’s responses to our questions we do wonder whether it ought to read, Big Ideas, Positive Change.
Before we get to that, let us tell you a little about the Kaaita products and the founder, Alenka. The Hendee XL & Torbuschka’s are two of our favourite items here at Such & Such. Both are large felt storage bags, the Hendee XL is a tall upright laundry bag and the Torbuschka is a flatter wider version providing perfect storage for anything from magazines and logs to kids toys, towels, pillows or pretty much anything you can think off. These are not only incredibly useful items but they are great to look at and the felt adds a further element of interest. It is no wonder that ever since we spotted these products at 100% Design, nearly four years ago, they have and continue to be two of our top selling products. We went on to add the wonderful Kaaita Indoor Swing to our collection, the perfect antidote to a bad mood, these swings are simply designed and perfect for adding a touch of fun to any interior.
In, the time we have been stocking the Hendee XL, Torbuschkas and Indoor Swings we have built up a great relationship with the founder of Kaaita, the very talented, clever and incredibly lovely Alenka. Kaaita is based in Ljublijana in Slovenia so it was a real treat & privilege to actually meet Alenka when she visited our first ever Pop Up back in 2013. Alenka is one of those people who immediately exudes a real passion for what they are doing and she has built a brand that is about a lot more than just really great products, it is about a founder who is continually searching for innovative and new materials from which to create her designs and an ongoing dedication to producing items that are committed to sustainability and the environment we live in.
“We want to use less and create more…We eliminate unnecessary waste. We encourage moderate consumption. We avoid routine, mass production and noise.” Kaaita.
Tell us all about how you started Kaaita?
Looking back at the 12 years since I launched Kaaita, it was an inner calling that started the journey. So, it wasn’t me, it was my inner voice. I just followed. It took me some time to realise that following that voice wasn’t enough. I started incorporating it within a more and more clear business purpose. We are both satisfied now since we have developed KAAITA into a creative manufacturer, designing and producing products that are a playful invitation to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. For example, you can use our laundry bag to easily commute to the laundry, enjoy folding a piece of recycled paper in a Bigabaga paper bag without glue, or carelessly rock on the swing designed for kids aged up to 99 years.
Kaaita is passionate about products, which are mindful of the environment, both in the materials you use and the production; can you tell us more about this?
Every moment, every product is a challenge. At Kaaita we want to use less and create more. That is why we are interested in the paths less travelled. Details. New, interesting materials. Ones that might not be so popular in fashion terms but have attractive environmental and/or societal benefits. It is then a matter of appreciating the properties of materials, cooperating with craftsmen and designers, and lots of perseverance to produce something outside the box, something better. Right now, we are working on two projects, both involving paper, the first is based on paper that behaves like textile and the second uses paper made from an invasive weed. I’m totally excited about the new products we will be making out of them.
The felt you use for the Hendee XL and the Torbuschka’s is made from squeezing recycled plastic bottles, how did you discover this fabric?
It all started with the slippers. I was searching for felt but did not want the traditional options. I spent many hours visiting a felt factory in our neighbourhood, its industrial shop, bringing many chocolates with me and discussing possibilities with the staff there. Unfortunately, my search for a material with environmental benefits proved unsuccessful. But one day, a salesperson mentioned they used to produce felt for the shoe industry and this one was made out of old woollen pullovers and cotton rags but they stopped producing it because there was no longer any market for it. But they still had a good deal of it in stock! I ended up buying all of it. The material looked gorgeous, you could even see the flosses of different colours. Yet regrettably they sold the machine, leaving us to search for new options after the Copa Copa slippers made from recycled pullovers had sold out. We were fortunate because the felt company had developed new methods to produce really soft environment- and health-friendly felt made from old plastic bottles. I fell in love with it and today we are also producing the Hendee XL and Torbuscha bags out of it.
Where are you based & why?
We have developed a virtual business model, so you can find us working at many different places at the same time. Our studio is located in the centre of Ljubljana, but the workshops we are working with are found within a radius of some 30 kilometres. Combining this type of organisation structure with digital technologies allows us to operate in more sustainable and flexible way. And, above all, having a studio in the charming and vibrant centre of Ljubljana is totally fulfilling, allowing us to cooperate with inspiring people. Did you know that this year Ljubljana is Europe’s Green Capital?
What are you currently working on?
For several years, I had been searching for a paper that would behave like a textile. We tested dozens of them. We wanted it to be perfect for sewing, so it needed to have a higher strength-to-weight ratio than traditional paper, it should be strong, tear-resistant and made of environmentally responsible material. After a period of intense searching and testing, we finally found it. But then finding a way to dye it with environment- and health-friendly colours provided us with another difficult task. It is quite frightening when you consider how many materials are being coloured using toxic colours. I’m so happy to have cracked that problem and now we are sewing gorgeous, very light and minimalistic bags out of it. They will be available very soon.
Can you describe a typical working day for you?
My day starts really early in the morning, preferably when it is still dark outside. I drink an extra-large coffee in the same place on our home sofa, just letting the creative explosion happen in my head while enjoying the sunrise. What could go wrong after such a start? Since we live in the midst of nature on Ljubljana’s outskirts, I often use public transport to reach the studio in the city centre – listening to a wide range of inspiring people on podcast while on the go. In the first quiet hours in the studio, I devote myself to the work I find most important, and then the action starts, switching between communicating, brand building, working with a great team of creatives and artisans, selling, managing the production, logistics, processes… I then spend late afternoons with my two kids, Živa and Žan, and my partner Matej. Those hours are full of everything – anyone with kids will know what I mean. If we manage to spend some time outside in nature or attend some cultural event, then my day is complete. Well almost. Spending late evening time only but only with Matej is priceless.
What is the most exciting thing that has happened since you started Kaaita?
What I find truly fascinating is the influence the company and the brand can have on people, co-workers and suppliers. You simply have to decide how you want your company to contribute to a better world and to then realise it consistently day after day. We have written a few strategic pillars that we stick to unconditionally. It is quite difficult from time to time, to be honest, but it definitely pays off. Those pillars are the following: we make our products carefully, a skilled hand makes them, we produce them locally, using environmentally-friendly materials and techniques, while designing products to be timeless, beyond all seasons and fashion trends. After some time, it is becoming easier and easier because the culture you have built starts working for you. I’m so thrilled our brand and products are redefining what luxury means. Accomplishing that mission makes for an exciting journey.
Who, where and what inspires you?
It is a mixture of art, culture, design, sustainability, fun and entrepreneurship as seen in people, places, businesses, media, literature, food, products, music, and the list goes on and on… I just can’t get enough of it, they are the food for my senses: Aesop, Hiut denim, Monocle, Kinfolk, The Gentlewoman, Cereal, Seth Godin, Bassike, Swissmiss, Nils Frahm, James Blake and honestly, Such & Such Journal, your social media posts, products and especially the founders Ali and Nikki. They are making a big impact and changing the world of mass production and noise.
On the other hand, I have deep respect for the ‘ordinary’ people I meet in the countryside where I live, or at the workshops we cooperate with. Talking to a neighbour while he is pulling out grass, or with a craftsperson who has been running her workshop for 70 years, make lasting, profound impressions on me.
What do you use everyday that you wish you had designed?
There are products like the Meda chair from Vitra, a repaired industrial chair by our carpenter, glasses from Tom Ford, and a coffee cup from the local potter that I do feel a relationship with but, without a personal name or brand behind them, they would simply not be what they are. I’m honoured to have the opportunity to somehow get in touch with the makers through the products. In any case, I wouldn’t want to take on their role.
Tell us what you love to do when you are not working?
Enjoying doing sports in nature, discovering while travelling, not being a typical mum to our gorgeous kids, having a long dinner with my Matej and dear friends. And, of course, there is no life without a good book.
If you could visit anywhere in the world where would you go?
Since I have visited many distant countries, I really have a huge desire to travel around Europe, to discover urban cities. It is kind of awkward, but I haven’t been to Stockholm yet. I have to go there soon, and then revisit London and Copenhagen, Paris and Amsterdam… the list is long.
What can you not live without?
Not being able to create with a great team of people and sharing those pleasures with our community. That would kill me in three months’ time for sure.
What can we expect in the future from Kaaita?
Well, in the same way that environments are changing, a brand is also evolving. KAAITA is developing from just nice to a smart brand. Our customers are creatives and achievers at the same time, trusting us passionately to deliver on our promises. It is our duty and a complete challenge to exceed their expectations.
City or country? Both.
North or South? Middle.
Beach or Mountain? The hills.
Sweet or Savoury? Extra savoury, please.
Tea or Coffee? Coffee first.
Cat or Dog? Wild animals.
PC or Mac? Mac.
Design or Make? Design.
A huge thank you to Alenka for taking the time to answer our Q&A and for providing some of the accompanying images.