Willie Garcia: Turning Discarded Materials into Eco-Friendly Furniture

Interior designer Willie Garcia mixes her love for design and the environment. By Sunshine Selga Funa

For Willie Garcia, designing is about taking on the responsibility of promoting sustainable design

In a cut-throat industry like interior design, talent is not enough to get you ahead of your game; you also have to have grit and an endless well of creativity and originality. Interior designer Willie Garcia is talented and dedicated to her career, but apart from coming up with original ideas for her clients, she’s incredibly passionate about the environment. For Garcia, designing is not just about creating beautiful spaces; it’s also about taking on the responsibility to promote sustainable design that goes beyond perfectly rendered floor plans and interior sketches.

Backyard beginnings

It all began with discarded tetra packs and plastic waste materials. In 2009, Garcia, who resides on a farm in Laguna, sought the help of underprivileged women in her neighborhood to help her turn these discarded items into useful objects like bags and fashion accessories. They would get together at a modest shack behind Garcia’s house, creating one-of-a-kind pieces made of materials that had been on their way to the garbage bin (or worse, to clog drains).

As these women worked with their hands, they were also able to earn a living that would provide food for their tables. JunkNot Eco Creatives was then born. At that time, Garcia and her weavers produced only a handful of furniture items and home accessories like placemats and napkin holders.

JunkNot’s booth at Manila FAME back in 2016

Six years after, in 2015, JunkNot expanded into home furnishings. “That’s how we grew. We succeeded more in home furnishing since then. Because I am an interior designer, I was able to focus on my passion for arts and for the love of the environment by doing home furnishings [and creating] awareness on plastic waste,” Garcia narrates.

She adds that with this shift in business model, she was able to employ more women. Aside from the weavers in Laguna, JunkNot now also employs women from Taal, Batangas. “We started with four women…but now they’re growing to sixty plus,” the designer proudly shares. Garcia taught these women how to make ropes out of plastic wastes. They, in turn, became champions of green living in their own households.

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Designing an advocacy

Promoting such an advocacy can be as simple as rescuing an old chair about to be discarded and refurbishing it into an accent piece. In one of her residential projects, Garcia used old newsprints as finishing for kitchen cabinet doors. These she coated in water-based polyurethane, which does not release harmful fumes. The breakfast nook and pantry doors are also made of recycled materials.

Kitchen cabinet doors finished in recycled newsprints

In another project, Garcia created a coastal-inspired, 22-square-meter abode that boasts eco-friendly details. There are bespoke bedframes and drawers are made out of reclaimed wood, while the dining nook features droplights made of recycled bottles and driftwood. Peppering this breezy home are seating pieces made of wood and plastic waste materials.

Garcia’s favorite project to date is her brother’s restaurant in Davao, Balik Bukid Farm and Kitchen. “It’s where I first experimented with the use of plastic waste [to make] a chair,” recalls Garcia. “At the same time, this restaurant created awareness on how we can help preserve our environment. Every piece of the design in the restaurant has a story to tell,” she adds.

Balik Bukid Farm and Kitchen in Davao

But what prompted Garcia to integrate such an advocacy in her projects? She explains, “We depend so much on the environment, but give back very badly. I just thought that instead of extracting too much from our natural resources, why not use the materials that are readily available, materials that [pose a] big problem to our environment—plastic waste? And because I live on a farm, I saw the bad effects of industrialization in my town.”

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Spreading awareness

In an effort to further encourage everyone to care more for Mother Nature, Garcia tirelessly joins local and international trade fairs. She also gives talks and workshops to students, entrepreneurs, international design professionals, local government units (LGU), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Recounting her participation at Manila FAME last 2016, Garcia says, “I always get a kiss and a hug from strangers for the great advocacy of JunkNot, especially when they hear of the story behind each chair.” She further relates, “Our furniture pieces are more appreciated because of the story behind them. [People realize] how much plastic waste they generate every single day, so through this, I get to educate more people on how to reduce, reuse, and recycle.” Also through this social enterprise, Garcia hopes to tackle more commercial projects that will become “a venue that will create awareness in protecting the environment.”

Various seating pieces made of upcycled plastic waste materials

While Garcia’s JunkNot has been instrumental in inspiring the public to be more eco-friendly, it has also made an impact on Garcia as a designer. “JunkNot molds me to be a better eco-conscious interior designer. Sustainability starts at home, so as an interior designer, I want to innovate more eco-friendly materials for interiors.”

Check out JunkNot Eco Creatives on Facebook or follow them on Instagram @junknot.ph for inquiries and updates.

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