Have you ever thought that the water bottle you hold in your hand could one day become a part of your clothing style? One sock – one plastic bottle, says Darija, co-founder of the Ūkai brand. It is a product with an exciting creative path that will broaden your knowledge of today’s technologies and invite you to look at using plastic in a new way.
What’s behind the Ū K A I brand name? Is there a story behind it?
Yes, it is hidden ☺ In Lithuanian, Ūkai means mist, fog – a natural phenomenon that makes things look gray and toned down in color, abstract in their shape – which is what the designs of Ūkai products are.
What is essential, and what makes the Ū K A I brand alive?
The three core values of the Ū K A I brand: are recycling, innovation, and social responsibility.
Recycling – We constantly look for materials and yarns made from recycled components.
Innovation – I’m particularly interested in future fashion and textiles.
Social responsibility – we support the Plastic Bank, an organization that cleans plastic from the oceans and creates a better life for the poorest people. They collect the plastic and receive ‘plastic credits,’ which they can use to buy essential goods, send their children to school, and get medical treatment. We are licensed members of SEAQUAL INITIATIVE.
Can you briefly introduce the Ū K A I team?
Meet our team, the first one – Darija. She is Ū K A I creative soul. Responsible for sock designs, brand visual identity, communication with partners, and development of new business opportunities. And my husband Karolis – our B2B sales and business strategy man. 10+ years experience in international B2B sales. The leading person for sales teams to develop new business.
Your brand combines pastel colors, abstract art, and certain graphic elements. What artists, periods in history, or genres of art do you find inspiring?
I can’t be specific because I’m inspired by many things: smells, sounds, books, travels, a detail I’ve seen, people, etc.
But if we talk about my favorite artists, Tscabalala, Miglė Kosinskaitė, and Marina Abramović.
The product you are designing is really innovative. Can you tell us the most difficult or perhaps the funniest stories that you had to experience and pass through while creating the Ūkai brand?
Obviously, the hardest and, at the same time, the funniest story is that some people say, ”it’s the same as wearing a plastic bag on your feet; it’s not safe to wear it”. And we are discouraged because our yarn has the highest quality certifications that guarantee safe and comfortable wear. This is the same as recycled polyester, used in sports and active leisure products. And a great example is the Adidas company, which produces sneakers from 100% recycled plastic bottles and sells millions of them.
Even so, people are getting used to the fact that we are not only wearing recycled plastic but also recycled mushrooms, corn, soya, cactus, grapes, tires, wood, etc. Without a doubt, recycling is present and future.
Perhaps you might explain more about the production technology and the process you use to develop your brand’s products. How is the plastic bottle yarn born?
First, the plastic is collected from the ocean and sorted. Then, the plastic is dried, crushed into small pieces, and placed in a machine that produces plastic pellets. These are then extruded into strands of plastic called threads, which then become part of the socks. So there is one bottle of plastic per sock.
Sustainability is an integral part of your identity. How do you with your team understand the idea of sustainability?
Sustainability, in my opinion, is not just about making your product sustainable but about thinking and trying to be more sustainable at every step. How and where is your product made? Under what conditions were the raw materials grown? What do you package your product in? How do you ship it? How long will people carry and use your work? And what will you propose to do with it when it is out of date?
How do you think consumer attitudes regarding fashion are changing? Which aspects of a design product do they prioritize?
I am encouraged that consumers are increasingly interested in how the product they buy is actually made. Second-hand sales and the upcycling movement (where an item is given a new lease of life) are increasing.
Whereas, it’s a pity that there is also an increase in ‘greenwashing,’ which people often fall for.
What are your personal daily sustainable choices, habits, or rituals?
First of all, I usually shop in second-hand shops and platforms. We try to eat as little meat as possible, more seasonal, local vegetables and berries, and if we buy eggs, we try to buy them from our grandmothers, who raise their chickens with love. Also, we use as little plastic as possible: reusable bags, cups, and drinks. Even our dog’s waste is collected in degradable bags. Secondly, we try to celebrate with the least amount of ‘fanfare’ and meaningless paraphernalia. Lastly, we teach the children to save electricity, walk, cycle or scooter. We don’t stay in ‘all-inclusive’ hotels, where food is wasted in unspeakable amounts.
What is an example of sustainability for you? Why? What did you learn from it?
I think the best example is our grandmothers, who know how to reuse everything, fix things, and mend broken things. Also, my husband Karolis, who rarely needs anything new☺.
Without a doubt, another fantastic example is Amelija, who talks on Instagram about her sustainable life, how she cooks, plans her meals, chooses new things or reuses old ones, and farms.
Can you describe the space where Ū K A I is being created?
It’s a vibrant, cozy, slightly bohemian, and creative new space.
If we could dream out loud what a design community based on circular sustainability would look like, what would it be?
Scientists create sustainable, eco-friendly fabrics and yarns -> designers adapt them to create functional, long-lasting items and products -> craftspeople fix broken, torn things or give them a new lease of life -> organizations reuse unwanted items in their production (such as the idea of reusing unwanted socks for air filters).
And what is your relationship with music? Do you like to listen to it while you are working and creating? If so, what kind of music could we hear in the Ū K A I creative space?
Yes, and I’m especially in love with music. I enjoy a wide variety of music, ranging from classical music like M. K. Čiurlionis, J.S. Bach, lyrical Rhye, Foya to electronic music like Gus Gus, Simas Slabačiauskas, or rock.