“Sasha Plotista – Founder of Formr”
Recycling talent and material, Formr makes quirky furniture pieces from salvaged construction site garbage while using the woodworking talent of formerly incarcerated individuals.
– Story opening from the GoodNewsNetwork.org
By Patrick Donovan – Author/Screenwriter
US Navy Disabled Veteran – 1980 – 1991
Seattle, WA (The Hollywood Times) 03/20/2021
“When I found this article on the GoodNewsNetwork.org, I was inspired to contact Sasha Plotista for an exclusive interview for The Hollywood Times. What you’ll learn about Sasha and Formr, is a story of inspiration and passion and hear and read about the path of Sasha to where he is today.”
– Patrick Donovan
About Sasha Plotista and Formr:
Formr (pronounced FORMER) has been operational now since March 11th, 2020 right at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting out with only one former ex-convict, Sasha Plotista had a dream of combining his love of industrial design and finding a way to help former ex-cons find hope through working with Formr making unique and functional furniture pieces.
On my weekly Sunday morning radio show on KSVU, 90.1 FM, Concrete, WA, Smooth Jazz Sunday Brunch (on SoundCloud and iTunes), I find great articles about humanity from the Good News Network. It’s a place where we find stories that are inspiring and separated from the MSM which can be and mostly always is, depressing. TGN is something that I’ve featured for nearly 5 years of being on the air.
When I read the story about Formr, I was truly inspired with the model that Sasha had developed; melding the recycling of a fraction of the 500 million tons of construction waste, estimated by Sasha, with more than 100 tons going unrecycled, with ex-convicts trying to regain a foothold back as working Americans.
Anyone reading this, who has been charged with a misdemeanor or worse, a felony, knows full well that trying to get a job requires you to tell the truth on a job application. Most people are afraid and will either lie and be found out or just abandon getting a job altogether.
Sasha has found a way through his business model to hopefully fix that stigma. From old wood, plasterboard, rusted pipes, shattered concrete, and giving a job to ex-cons, Sasha gives people and construction waste new life. Right now, however, Sasha only is breathing new life, or reincarnating “wood waste”, as he’s looking into ways on how to reincarnate the aforementioned construction waste above.
I was impressed by interviewing Sasha and hearing his story that I know you will too. Formr is something that he’s created which allows him to work with many correctional facilities in the Bay area and throughout California. The best part is, these ex-convicts have shop and woodworking experience and as you’ll “hear” in the interview, which, I apologize, is popping, due to the tapping of hammers and saws in the background.
The results of the reincarnation of the wood into beautiful pieces of furniture, is astounding! All the nails and screws need to be removed, and divots needs to be filled in. Then the wood is washed and given new life.
What’s difficult for Sasha is not the abundance of materials to work on, but the lack of workers to create them. You see, ex-convicts, are transient and therefore, don’t stay long in the Bay area as their homes may be in other parts of California or nearby states. Life after prison for these mostly men, is not stable and in some cases, volatile.
But Sasha, plugs ahead never giving up nor giving into the cries to hire non-convicts. Through all this, Sasha is passionate and bound and determined to stick to his model and power through. His dream is to franchise Formr throughout the country because every state, county, city, and town has men and women who have served their time and need a hand up. Formr may very well be coming to a town near your or if you’re an entrepreneur, like Sasha, you may want to visit him on his site or Facebook page and ask him about expansion and networking.
Sit back and relax and listen and/or read as Sasha Plotista tells his story because I know you’ll be filled with joy as I was when I first read about it on The Good News Network.
The Audio Interview can be heard here for our low vision patrons.
The Transcribed Interview with Sasha Plotista corrected for reading from the audio. We speak differently than we read and even though there are removal of double, triple and extraneous words, um’s, uh’s, and the like, the corrections do not detract from the message of the interview itself.
The written interview is for our hard of hearing or deaf patrons.
Patrick: Hi, thank you for joining me today. It’s a pleasure. Welcome. How are you and your family dealing with the COVID?
Sasha: I think like a lot of people are doing just powering through it and taking it day by day. It’s tough. It’s actually, it’s kind of surreal to think about it. That it’s almost been a year now. In San Francisco, we were, I think, one of the first to close down and that, I think it was March 16th or March 17th.
So, it’s going to be a year since that. So, it’s kind of strange to think back to that time when I thought, okay, this is going to be for two or three weeks and it will be over it, then we’ll go back to our lives. And here we are. So, but we’re, we’re, we’re doing okay. Thank you for asking.
Patrick: Yeah, that’s good. My family and I are doing well too. The kids are taking and working school from home and have been, you know, it’s hard on them, but you know what they’re doing well, and they’re adapting and that’s important, but it sounds like things are going to get back to normal. Pretty soon. I actually got my first COVID vaccine on the 23rd to get my second one 20th. So, I’m excited. That’s through the veteran’s administration.
Sasha: Good for you!
Patrick: Thank you.
Sasha: My wife just got her second one yesterday, actually, so.
Patrick: Good. Really happy. So talk to me about your early beginnings, where you grow up, where did you attend school? Who was your role model and what got you started into where you are today?
Sasha: Wow, that’s a big, that’s a big question. So I don’t know how much time we have, but I’ll try to…
Patrick: 45 minutes. We’re good.
Sasha: Okay. So I’ll try to make it. I’m originally from Russia came here when I was seven years old and you know, during the cold war era and all of that age even saw a lot of cold war effects, you know, trickle down to kids.
So, their parents, parents saw economy and didn’t go at, you know, the age of seven. And so kind of one-way kind of try to adapt or kind of get away from that was to just focus on things that I, I love doing, which was art. So I would draw a lot and, you know, I, I, I had a collection of profiles that I’ve had, would draw of my family.
And apparently it was pretty good. I don’t remember, but it got lost at some point, but anyway, so I, I kind of fostered my love for art early on. And then I went to college I studied industrial design and after that I ended up… but my kind of my plan was to design the first great looking computer at that time, all computers are just these horrible gray boxes.
And I just had this vision to, you know, take him to the new way and new direction. And so I had kind of this plan to do that when I got out of college, but Apple beat me to it. They designed that first iMac, if you remember back then, and then I guess those were the nineties, that translucent look….
Patrick: Yeah. I had two of those small Macintoshes with the ten-inch screens, remember?
Sasha: Oh, yeah, that’s great. So Apple actually put industrial design in the map because that’s the way I see it. A lot of people don’t know what industrial design is and that’s kind of, to summarize as it’s designed the shape of things that are manufactured or such as computers or cars, or pretty much anything manufactured there’s typically a designer.
And so they, you know, they have been really good about focusing on design throughout their entire brand. And though I kind of went, you know, after college I went and did different things. I have my own business, a different business from design to signage. I made signs at some point Then I got a call from a friend who said we, you know, asked me if I wanted to join him and taking over permit for cannabis dispensary.
Can you hear me okay, or is the noise back there too loud?
Patrick: I can hear you just fine. It’s ok. Don’t worry about it.
Sasha: Can you hear me alright?
Patrick: Yeah, that’s good.
Sasha: Okay. So I have to join him in like in the abandoned cannabis dispensary permit. And so I kind of said, you know, I had been doing signage for a long time that I was burnt out and I thought, let’s try it. Let’s try it.
I looked into, it felt relatively safe, Brock going to go after dispensaries, and he was president at the time, and I’ve been legal in Canada medically legal since 1996. So I felt safe in going in that direction was, was into exploring new things. So, we joined together.
And we took what a typical dispenser would look like where you’d have a beat-up couch, an old back rug, and the Bob Marley poster on one wall, and a t-shirt another wall. And that’s kind of the extent of the effort that was typically made at that time. So we put my design skills to work and made something that was really different and tried to speak to the experience of going into a cannabis store.
We focused on design and the next customer experience on the quality on customer service. We became known and were voted number one in the San Francisco Bay area for Harland two or three years at that time. But eventually two years after we opened, we were shut down by the federal government.
And, as you know cannabis, is not legal at the federal level. So, we were the city along with the state who totally supported us and we had no issues with them, but I mean, they had no issues with us and the federal government went after a lot of dispensaries and closed down a lot of legal businesses at that time.
And so I saw kind of firsthand, you could say the failed drug war on people imprisoned and with the challenges of coming back to society after being in prison and you have on the application, there’s always that box that says, if you have a record, you have to check this box.
A lot of people won’t hire those that have a history with incarceration. So, there’s a lot of obstacles when you come out of prison, you know, finding a place to live, finding a job, getting a support system in place, and staying sober in some cases. So, it’s not easy.
And the law at that time still now it occurs, you know, people still get. In prison or convicted for just not violent offenses just smoking, smoking cannabis, and having joints and California, it’s not the case as you, as you probably know, but throughout the country, there are States where it’s frowned upon and people go to prison for offenses and have to start over afterwards and so after this experience to go back to industrial design, which was my passion. I want to enter a social enterprise that basically would somehow give back. And so that that helped people, but I wasn’t sure what that would look like. I knew I wanted to do design but not sure how to make it work.
I just knew that there was something out there and so, I was still doing searches on Google for like the worst problems in the world, you know, just silly searches, trying to find some inspiration. And I couldn’t find anything. One day I was on Instagram and I remember I came across an image of a coffee table and I thought, “Hmm, maybe I can make furniture.”
But how would I make it a socially responsible? And so that’s when I thought back to my time in interior design my experience there, where I would work with my father, he was a contractor and that I would do the design and we work together. And I remember going to the job sites every, every day or so, and seeing massive piles of debris get hauled away.
And so I just had a, such a hard time accepting that I remember asking him, he said, how did. “How do you come to terms with, you know, with this?” And he said, “Well, that’s just, you know,” he had done contracts for probably 20 years and, you know, “that’s just the nature of construction. You can’t get away from that. You always have material that’s cut off and needs to be. That’s the nature of construction,” and so I that experience stuck with me.
So when I was trying to figure out this business model, I thought back to that time of construction and I thought maybe I could find relationships with people, set up excess material that they wouldn’t normally throw out, contractors that are constantly hauling, maybe I could access the material and use it to build furniture.
That’s how that came about. Then I thought about the workforce and, I was never gonna be the builder venture myself, I was the designer and I needed people to build it for me. And so, that’s when I thought about the workforce. Who can I give an opportunity to that would need support? A group, some kind of a group.
And that’s when I thought about back to my cannabis experience about people that are coming out of prison that need that opportunity. And so why not give them a shot at it? Some of them learn the skills of using a wood shop, in prison. So they come out with some experience. And so that’s when I put those two pieces together and I came up with the model for Formr.
Patrick: It’s an incredible story. And the thing that really impressed me was your motto. “We focus on two very important causes that are in dire need of support: recidivism and construction waste.” Can you talk to me why those are so important and how they work in tandem? Okay.
Sasha: Oh, good question. How do they work in tandem? Typically, they don’t work in tandem. I think it kind of made sense for me to put them together just through my life, experiences, and challenges and those causes that need support. And so it tends to work for Formr to have those two causes combined.
I think one thing that’s unique with Formr, is, it’s kind of a dual purpose, a mission. A lot of companies cause and so I think what makes, what is the dual purpose and to me makes more of an impact. I could see this business model being implemented throughout the country, actually, besides San Francisco. I don’t see why not you know, it’s the same challenges that other communities face throughout the country. So I think there’s no reason it can’t, right?
And my long-term plan is to Is to franchise the concept, have it be that in a couple of years or so. That’s kind of the business plan that is one thing that you kind of got to be able to work now in other places there’s opportunity for a similar concept.
Patrick: I think that’s a great idea because of the fact that you have this model. And there’s so many people across the country who are in the positions that your employees were in, gives them a chance and an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally. And so to me, that is amazing. You touched on that you were in the cannabis industry, shut down by the federal government 2009, but now it’s different, correct?
With the fact that now it’s all legal. But can you tell me, just touch on a little bit pressures that you went through with that in is it something you’re now looking back to getting in? Are you just purely focusing on the Formr?
Sasha: I am a hundred percent behind Formr. It took a couple of years, right? I left the cannabis world operationally. It took a couple of years of planning Formr and putting designs together, a prototype, finding relationships with contractors and finding the workspace.
So that itself was a big challenge in San Francisco that can be used. And so there’s a long story behind that, but basically, I was starting from scratch from the workforce part of the mission because I had no relationships with re-entry organizations.
And so my wife connected me to her friend and then she connected me to somebody else. And before he knew he knew it, I had about 60 different organizations that, at some capacity, working with reentry organizations that I work with to help find candidates for me. People, individuals, and organizations in the Bay area that focus on reentry and there’s support for that now.
So the workforce itself has been the biggest challenge for me to some extent, because my first employee left after two weeks and COVID has not helped the matter. I furloughed one employee who never came back. And so I’ve had some challenges with a workforce and by the way, it’s going to be one year anniversary next week of Formr, March 11th. I launched it the week before shelter in place hit in San Francisco. So timing was really horrible. But so it’s been a very tumultuous year. I’m happy to have made it. I thought about closing down almost immediately after shelter in place hit, but I had so much invested into the business and financially and energetically and then many other ways.
Luckily, I have great support system and my family has been a hundred percent behind me and that really helped out. And so I’ve been lucky in that way. And back to address your question on, on the workforce. I’ve had, I think five or six employees, kind of rotate through just over this one-year period.
I think the nature one of the issues with the challenges of a permanent workforce is that when people are released from prison, they are on parole typically. And so somebody might be released from San Quentin and might stay at a house or some kind of a shelter for six months or a year.
And they have to stay there. And then after that term is over, they can move to wherever they came from. And they might be from Southern California where their family and friends are, and they will typically go back to where they’re from.
In my experience thus far has been people end up leaving pretty quickly. That’s been one that have been struggling with is kind of a longer-term workforce. But that’s the nature of people. Some have said, “Why do you need to work with the formerly incarcerated folks? Why don’t you just hire a regular woodworker? I’ve thought about that, but it’s part of the mission. I can’t really abandon that part of it. We’re just gonna power through and hopefully be able to sustain that and those challenges.
Patrick: I think it’s a fantastic idea that you, you hired these original six ex-convicts to design ten clever pieces of old furniture. I looked at your site and they’re gorgeous. The coat rack, laptop desk tables with tech features. The one for the nightstand is unbelievable. And they range from $89 to over $500.
It’s just an incredible thing. And you build them from all the millions or 500 million tons of waste that you talked about. They’d be estimated with a hundred tons that goes unrecycled. So you’re really helping the environment simultaneously by giving also these ex-convicts the ability to start a new life.
Can you talk to me about how hard is the procedure for getting, not only the people that work for you, but the waste that you have to collect? That sounds like a really a hard thing in and of itself. We’ve got about 17 minutes, so we’ve got plenty of time.
Sasha: Okay, great. Yeah. So. Currently we’re, we’re focused on, on wood only. So a lot of demolition that occurred in San Francisco’s buildings or houses are mostly built that of wood, not brick or masonry, like in other parts of the country. So there’s a lot of there’s a lot of material that is brought down.
And so we have access to that material. We’ll go to the job site and sift through. And unfortunately, we can’t take everything. We can’t take tile or concrete or things like that. But wood is a large percentage of the waste is wood. And we pick out the material and bring it back to the shop and we clean it.
That’s a long process and it’s a reasonably significant part of the fabrication processes is cleaning. It’s unfortunate that it takes so much work, but it that’s just the nature of it. We have to pull out all the screws and the other things that are in the wood and have to kind of fill in the divots and the whole surface then clean it and plane it.
And so there’s people that have, and on the website, you can see these some know what the woods might look like before we start working on it, and people that have seen that before and after are just blown away because it just looks so different, especially because we paint it. Not every product is painted, but most of them are. We do offer some clear natural wood as well, but because the wood has gone through so much and It’s taken a lot of work to resurrect it or the way we, we term it as reincarnated, it’s pretty beat up. So that’s why we decided to paint it.
But so in the future, I’d like to have equipment that will break down other materials, such as tile or concrete and kind of grind it down and be able to use it in molds so you create some kind of a concrete mold. That’s kind of down the line. But you know, we’re making a very small dent. I mean construction waste and that’s it accounts for about 40% construction.
It’s a big thing to tackle. But so we’re doing a small dent, so to speak, hopefully I know that there are other companies that are doing similar things yet, as the word spreads and there are more people, we would like to tackle that.
Patrick: You know really impressed with what you’ve done, and it is just an amazing testimony to what is driving and how you impress me by saying, how your friends were saying, just hire somebody else; another woodworker, but that will take me away from my ambition, from my core belief and value.
And that to me is important. I remember when, on my radio show, Smooth Jazz Sunday Brunch on KSVU here, a local nonprofit, I read your story off of Good News Network, and this is what prompted me to get ahold of you. And it just stood out among all the great news on their website. And I read from that every week.
And the reason why is it’s not regular media. It’s about humanity. It’s about what other people are doing in the world today for other people. And it’s amazing. And you’re there, man. You’re right there. So I want to turn the mic over to you for the remaining time. And talk about anything you want for a readers to read, cause I’m going to transcribe this and the listeners who may be blind or low vision so they can hear your story. And anything you want to talk about, that would be a positive motivation for the rest of the world to hear.
Sasha: Well, thank you for those words, really. It just means a lot to hear those kind of, that kind of support. And I I’ve, I think that that’s part of one thing that keeps me going is just hearing those positive words. I’ve heard a lot and people have written about Formr and I’ve gotten a lot of support on social media, and just people reaching out and saying, Hey, I love what you do.
And it’s important. And it keeps me going just really keeps me going, because like I said, for many reasons, COVID being one of them, but I think there’s, you know, one kind of interesting thing that COVID brought. Some, positive activity you can say to Formr. One of our products you mentioned earlier is the laptop table and that design came to before COVID hit, but that has been by far the number one object out of all of this and that, you know? People are working at home and people are looking for different ways to work. And it’s just a nice object that, you know, as you can use it as a table, you can use it as a laptop, table. I finally brought the prototype home for the first time and played with it with my family, but we’re just so blown away by it.
I mean, it’s kind of simple concept, but you know, I don’t know about you, but I work in the home a lot on the couch and on the laptop and so this kind of a way to elevate a laptop just feels so much better to have a little table for that. That’s been very popular during COVID that I am hopeful that things, as time passes, things will change, and we’ll get through COVID and we’ll power through. This business will grow and give more people opportunities for employment. We’ll be able to divert more material from landfills and maybe, hopefully others will be inspired to do similar, similar things. It’s a daunting, daunting concept. But I think if we take bite sizes out of it, it’ll make a dent.
So I’m optimistic to that end and I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about Formr and one thing that you want to come across over this last year I need to look at purchasing objects and I don’t to get on the soapbox about this, but I think there’s an opportunity there. A lot of companies that are doing things that are important, we support them. So I think when, when you buy, when somebody buys a Formr object, they buy everything that comes with that object.
I think they feel proud about making that purchase and somebody will come over to your house and you say, “Oh, that’s cool!” and you’ll have a story to share that makes you feel good about making that purchase and supporting to important causes. So I think the more companies that are out there focused on, on that the better, and I think the more we support those types of companies the better as well.
Patrick: Well, this has been great. I love the conversation. I love talking to you and I enjoy tremendously. The things you’re doing. And so I really want to wish you the very best in everything that you’re doing and that the Formr will grow. And you could franchise this because it’s such a great opportunity for all these people across the entire country.
And I think you’ve got a great model. So I appreciate you. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day. And let’s talk again. You will. Me afterwards. Okay.
Sasha: Thank you
Patrick: Take care and all the best and continue to be safe, sir.
Patrick: Take care. Bye-bye.
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