Petko Tashev Of The Home of Sustainable Things:
5 Things We Must Do To Inspire The Next Generation
About Sustainability And The Environment
An Interview With Martita Mestey | August 2022 _ 11 min read
Waste is not free or readily available, not at all. That is something we learnt through experience and perhaps is
counter-intuitive for many but we learnt this the hard way.
Petko Tashev is the co-founder of The Home of Sustainable Things (HOST), a retail brand that specialises in products with zero or low carbon output. It is the first of its kind store and a design platform to curate exclusively, circular and sustainable design with a unique take on design and product development that addresses waste in the economy and demonstrates craft processes that tackle the issue.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Thinking back to my childhood, the first thing that comes to mind is freedom. I grew up with plenty of freedom and just enough responsibilities to be aware that carefree times are not all there is. We had animals and land that needed looking after so I happily contributed. I do think though that intentionally or not, my parents found the right balance. My family memories and those with friends, roaming the local river banks, fishing and swimming do seem to always bring a smile to my face.
That said, growing up in Bulgaria, my childhood was not in any way extraordinary or different. I do think however that growing up in a different socially and politically oriented system has certainly left its influence on me that to this day is translated into my perspective of the world and personal values.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
The Home of Sustainable Things (HOST) is run with the intention to repair and establish that lost at times connection between humans and nature. We focus on developing innovative, ethical design that is capable of minimising our impact on the natural environment while subconsciously remind people of the issue. With an increasing population, waste accumulation increases too so finding solutions is essential for our habitats.
Our business model also aims to amplify the importance of human relations. We run the organisation with the clear intention to treat all involved as integral parts, providing transparency, honesty, respect and support to the best of our abilities. We hope to change the perception that individuals are not in a position to have an impact of note — we all can, one way or another and by joining forces it can become a powerful movement.
Another misconception that we address is the perception of waste. By displaying its potential, we are actually saying that this is a resource and since a huge percentage of what is being wasted is perfectly good material, there is an enormous scope for improvement on all levels, involving every country’s education systems through to governmental regulations and everyone else in between.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Since the beginning we felt that HOST can become a powerful tool as a platform for change, also one that is perfectly suitable for our demographics and we had the strength to pursue it!
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
Our “Aha” moment was an ordinary evening when my partner came back from a design talk with a design studio where the subject revolved around innovative materials and she felt we could explore the idea further. After an incredibly short discussion, we both knew it was not the innovative materials we wanted to pursue but focus on the sustainable developments in materials and product design. The clarity of the idea and the strong sensation that it was the right thing to do was so intoxicating and we never looked back.
But I am pleased you asked this question as I strongly believe that we all have great ideas, generated at various stages in life and, the difference is, some will do something about it and others just do not! That really is the difference most of the time and taking it off the ground is down to massive efforts, persistence and the ability to withstand and work under pressure.
Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I do not believe in standard rules as much, outside the legal formalities. Prior to setting up HOST, we knew we did not have sufficient funds to go through intermediaries in order to secure a premise, so we walked the streets and contrary to the common belief, we managed to secure a place without paying a premium for it.
We also rang around the designers whom we worked with previously, to share our intentions and plans for HOST in search for recommendations and directions. The fact was that no one knew anything or anyone who worked the way we have set out to so that unexpected surprise, compiled with the results from our continuous research (or I should rather say the lack of it), was mind-blowing and it changed our perspective of our job as we realised there were no rules for us to follow.
I therefore believe that to begin something you should be clear and passionate about your ideas! They can evolve but having passion will provide the drive. Also, stay true to yourself and principles. I admit that isn’t easy given the sheer volume of existing opinions that can shape you but remaining centred with your beliefs gives you an identity, which most likely will be one (if not the only) unique trait of your business.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
This might sound like a cliché but the truth is that the people we meet along the way are our most cherished asset, memory or story. Considering how our different backgrounds allow us to meet and share memories with incredible individuals, some of whom are in possession of a deep knowledge of fine arts, design and science, is truly remarkable.
Another interesting fact is the belief that HOST has been installed amongst the community of designers whose ideas, although noble and visionary, have been put aside for too long, deemed as less commercially viable. It has created a real buzz and we have the motivation to continue to develop it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I am not sure my biggest mistake was funny but it was certainly naive. I felt strongly that such a positive, good-for-everyone concept will be easily understood, embraced and supported by the public, media and businesses! Not only did it not happen but in fact, we felt resistance against it so to think because something is good will be instantaneously successful was perhaps my biggest error thus far. We also realised personal and business interests are still the strongest draws as unfortunate as that might be.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
As much as I would like to point at organisational support and mentors, I can’t. It has been a very lonely journey so far but we have met some wonderful people along the way who have supported the project from the very beginning and we are very fond of them!
Our first pop-up was almost entirely bought out by two people who gave us the extra confidence to continue not merely providing the fiscal possibility but showing the understanding and deep respect of what we wanted to achieve. The conversations with fine art and history connoisseurs such as them was hugely influential to understand the long-term feasibility of the concept.
Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Yes indeed! Workshop spaces are an issue and having a base that accommodates the phenomenal talent we work with, who are also pioneers in their line of work, could have a significant impact. Imagine being able to congregate and channel that talent to a specific purpose or building environments in towns or countries!?
Also, to facilitate the needs and positive impact of circular design, an infrastructure is required. Currently there is no cohesion between councils, waste collection management and government regulations. As things stand, it is very difficult to implement recycled materials in built environments so, unless this changes, how can we be very serious about making a real difference?
The challenge is humongous and everyone has a role to play! The community, being territorial or ideological, can help us develop our educational and product output, the society can choose whether to embrace the shift towards a more sustainable living and help us take it worldwide, and politicians can facilitate and support the movement. We now have alternative, ethical solutions but it takes a collective effort to implement them and change our consumer habits so we really need everyone on board!
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
Global demand for recycled materials is growing and the estimation is that moving to a circular economy could add between £3bn and £5bn in value to the built environment sector in London alone by 2036. There are various statistics pointing to the fact that adopting circular economy principles in Europe, in mobility, built environment, and food, could offer annual benefits of EUR 1.8 trillion (USD 2.1 trillion) by 2030. All market projections, however, have one thing in common and that is a clearly shifting attitude towards circular economy.
Essentially, a circular economy calls for better use of natural resources. In tandem, businesses can increase their revenues and profitability by simply becoming more efficient. One such example is Toast, who brew their beers using surplus bread and off-cuts from sandwich making businesses to replace the barley otherwise used in brewing. It is a wonderful example of a product that uses less land, water and energy as a result of utilising a by-product.
Another example is HOST of course. Who would have imagined a few years ago that our entire operation would be built around waste. We are now in the privileged position where the more waste we upcycle the better we do!
I also think businesses can benefit more from becoming proactive in their collaborative efforts. There is great potential and the subsequent results can be mutually beneficial as you have some massive but also less flexible organisations that can benefit from working on new ideas with outsiders.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1 . I wish I knew sustainability in the design industry was a mere subject of discourse. I could have never imagined the fact there was nothing tangible to point at or any organised effort to minimise its impact on the natural habitats. But, in hindsight, our ignorance probably proved to be a good thing since we had no idea of the actual bulk of work we were to undertake!
2 . I also wish I knew that was the case across other industries as well.
A genuine example that is not in any way negative but rather used to exemplify reality is the number of tutors teaching sustainability, from various schools and universities, visiting HOST to draw inspiration, learn more about developments and source materials, to people heading departments within local councils, community groups all of whom are related to the topic as activists or policy makers.
3 . The educational effort required is another insight I wish I knew from the beginning as almost every email we have sent or customer we have spoken to consists of a lengthy explanation of the way our products are made and the possibilities and benefits of circular design. We continually provide detailed descriptions of the products and the manufacturing processes to allow that understanding and I can honestly say seeing customers’ reactions is rewarding. We do not sell Nike shoes but instead tableware made from food waste, fridge glass or construction waste so it is only natural we have much more to explain. We also hope to soon begin regular talks in schools, targeting the next generation of designers, activists and consumers. Children are wonderfully inquisitive and are great fun too!
4 . Waste is not free or readily available, not at all. That is something we learnt through experience and perhaps is counter-intuitive for many but we learnt this the hard way.
5 . The last home truth I wish I knew is that personal interests are put before the environment on every level of decision-making — personal or organisational. Unfortunate but true.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Believe in yourselves. Your actions are hugely important for shaping your own future and joining forces together creates a platform for change.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” R. Buckminster Fuller
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
The one person I would most like to have breakfast with is HRH The Prince of Wales. I cannot speak highly enough of his decades-long preservation work and his contribution to the protection of natural habitats. I have huge admiration for his deeds, even more so now having a fraction of an idea what it is like to speak up when few are listening.
I think it will be an incredibly interesting breakfast for me and one I will ensure to have plenty of liquids so less time spent on chewing. I have to say though, there are probably many others whom we would have liked to have breakfast with and some we have not met yet, but we look forward to hopefully getting on with that list!
How can our readers follow you online?
HOST has not got a huge online presence but we communicate through our website, www.thehost.store as well as social media accounts @thehost.store. We try to make our online outlets educational and share what we have learnt so far, hopefully without boring people to sleep.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
That was a great pleasure! Thanks for letting me speak to you and your readers!