The month of July stands for Plastic Free living, and we know how difficult this can be.That’s why we want to highlight the people that are doing business for good.
This week we present to you Federico Baroni, the 23-year-old mastermind behind Waltic watches, a brand that makes watches from recycled plastic bags collected from polluted rivers in Argentina. Last year he presented his project at the Dutch Design week, and after that he completed a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding recolleting more than 15.000 EUR to start producing at a large scale. We wanted to know more about his journey, and how he went from one idea to changing the industry.
Better Magazine: How did you start?
Fede: I started crafting paper wallets using craft paper, which in Argentina is the most eco-friendly paper available. It was in fact an accident, as I lost my wallet, so improvised one using paper. And then I was shocked by the capability of the product. So I started to take a closer look at paper design, and improving my own design. The outcome was very good and I ended up making an origami wallet that didn’t need to be glued, it was made just by folding and using an A4 sheet. This was my first sustainable development and we started to craft wallets for local stores and brands, sometimes as part of a green campaign and we would make customized designs for them. That changed my entire vision of design, on how to apply and use materials. I discovered that it was not necessary to make everything out of virgin plastic or traditional materials that aren’t eco-friendly, so I started to question everything. You can make something using organic materials and also recycled materials. After the wallet I started to develop a wooden watch using bamboo, because bamboo is the best type of wood to do it as it is eco-friendly. That was a very interesting project, because we had to reverse engineer watches, put them apart, start to measure everything in order to start prototyping. After 6 months we came up with a pretty nice watch. After that I started having problems with myself and that project (It was called Aliwen). I had a problem because I was not polluting, because everything was made out of organic materials, and we gave guidance to our customers on how to recycle the watch. They could pull apart the machine inside, the batteries and all of that and after that they could just throw the rest in a compostable bin. So that was good, but then I realized that I am not fixing anything, I am not contributing to pollution, but I am not fixing plastic pollution for example. So I started researching to see if it was possible to use recycled plastic in order to make a wrist watch. At that very moment I contacted my current partners in Cordoba, Argentina. They were making a Precious Plastic point, but they were making standard products at that time, like rulers, chess pieces etc. So one day I came to them and I said: ‘’hey guys, would you please help me to turn this wooden watch into a recycled plastic one?’’, and they loved the idea, so we started to work together. After 3-4 months of research, trials and testing, we figured out how to recycle plastic bags into a watch. That was quite a breakthrough, the very moment that we achieved that I was like ‘’Guys, are you aware of what we just did? We just recycled a plastic bag, not just a bottle cap, which is really easy because it is good quality plastic, but a plastic bag that was laying down in the river. We took it and we could make something with it’’, that’s pretty cool you know! So we decided to stay in this line, focus our work on recycling plastic bags, and right now this is what we do.
BM: What were the struggles, new skills you had to learn that you never thought of?
F: So actually everything was a challenge for sure (laughing), but I will say that the most difficult part was the molding process. The molds to make the actual watch were very expensive. And in the very beginning when I asked for a quotation they sent me crazy prices. I can’t translate the Argentinian money to Euro or Dollars right now, but it was a crazy amount, shocking as 10.000 EUR, for one mold. So I was like okay, I am screwed I can’t keep on working, it’s too expensive. So I started with some guys in Cordoba to develop a really cheap mold, they were really raw, not that efficient and not as high quality, but they worked, just for a prototype. I only needed a first version so I could make a prototype, and then after I could invest money for better molds. So we started to make these crazy molds, and we came up with the first raw pieces for crafting the watch. Obviously it was like crap, but good enough to show it to people to show the concept of our work, and actually thanks to that watch we got the funds to start the project.
BM: What does sustainability mean to you?
F: I think sustainability is the capability of the human kind of living, doing everything that we want, but without harming the environment. It’s like the perfect balance between living in society and preserving the environment. And sustainability applied to the industry to me means that we should be able to craft whatever we want and need, without harming the environment. I can’t even believe that we are living in a system that produces something with waste. This is a waste of money to the industry self, it is a waste of energy and it is waste for the environment. For me there is no place for that, everything has a purpose and if you have waste, that waste can almost always be used for something. So that is actually sustainability to me, the capability to produce something without waste.
BM: Why did you feel the need to create a sustainable product?
F: I will introduce a little bit of my childhood here. I was raised in a cottage, close to a city called Rosario in Argentina. I had always been surrounded by animals and my parents were wildlife rangers. So they taught me to respect nature from a young age, and that means not harming animals nor the environment, not to bother nature. So I was raised in a very ‘virgin’ environment, and then when I grew up, I started to go to highschool and I saw that life in the city is really f**ked up, nobody respects nature, there is no place for that. I thought this was really bad, so I promised myself that I would try to do something that would restore nature and would preserve it.
BM: What advice would you give to someone who is trying to create their own sustainable brand?
F: People should mean it, and not just start because having a sustainable brand is a new trend right now. You have to feel and understand your position in society, because when you have a strong purpose behind the reason you are creating a sustainable brand, you will have enough energy and motivation to handle the everyday struggles. It is not easy at all to make a sustainable brand. So you have to deeply understand your role in the entire system and know how you are affecting the ones who come after you. You are just a fragment of the entire lifespan of society, so imagine the world you want to leave with the work you are creating. If you understand that, and you align this with your personal purposes I think you are ready to do something meaningful for all of us. You have to be prepared, but well the outcome is really beautiful. For example I always receive messages like ‘’Hey I started to recycle because of you’’ ‘’I started to take care of our planet because of your work’’ ‘’I made my parents recycle’’, and that is quite beautiful, and in that way you are changing society.