Formr is all about second chances — literally. The furniture and home decor company’s mission is to give a second chance to both formerly incarcerated people and construction waste. The result is a dynamic and purpose-driven e-commerce business that offers bespoke pieces for the home.
The name Formr represents the form involved in the design process but also symbolizes the former life of incarcerated workers and construction materials. To understand the importance of these components, you must hear the story of how it came about.
The company formally launched in March of 2020 in San Francisco, California, about a week before lockdowns began. With uncertainty in the air, owner Sasha Plotitsa considered closing the doors. But upon reflecting on the journey that got him there, he decided he invested too much to let it go.
It began when he came to this country from Russia at the young age of seven years old, already passionate about art and unknowingly directed toward a career in design. Two years later the family moved to San Francisco where Sasha’s father worked as a contractor.
Sasha’s journey found him studying industrial design at San Jose State University and moving into a series of related, and seemingly unrelated, jobs. He was the entire art department for a night vision company. Then opportunity put him into a real estate partnership with his father where he was able to put his interior design skills to work. The duo bought and updated properties for resale, with his father managing the construction process and Sasha contributing the interior design.
Visiting the job sites during construction, Sasha was appalled by the amount of construction waste, even on small projects. While they couldn’t eliminate hauling debris to the dump, Sasha began focusing on green design through healthy and environmentally-friendly materials. The movement was well received in the progressive city of San Francisco, well before green construction really took hold in the area.
Highs and lows
In 2009, Sasha took advantage of another unexpected opportunity when he partnered in a cannabis shop. The business had been abandoned, and the space needed a facelift. Sasha got to work updating the rasta look to a clean, modern, welcoming space that earned a number-one ranking in the city. Unfortunately, the contradiction between state and federal laws resulted in the federal government shutting down the dispensary two years later. During this time, many people were imprisoned for their involvement in the marijuana business.
Sasha says, “I witnessed the failed drug war firsthand. I saw people’s legal businesses taken away and many people throughout the country imprisoned for harmless drug-related nonviolent offenses, especially disproportionately impacting people of color.”
Although the business reopened after a few years, Sasha was ready for a change and knew he wanted to combine his passion for design with his deep-rooted need to serve others and cater to a meaningful impact. The idea of furniture-making caught his interest, and he put the design wheels to work. But it wasn’t enough. He wanted to do more than simply make a product, he wanted to make a difference, socially and environmentally. So after some deep soul searching, his lifelong experiences began to coagulate into Formr.
The challenges continued, as they do in business. It proved more difficult than he thought to find and hire ex-cons with woodworking experience. However, he’s since built dozens of relationships in the community in order to connect with the right candidates so he can offer them a job with purpose and an opportunity to get reestablished in society.
Sasha thought back to the construction waste experience. He knew that would be the source for product materials. The design challenge then became how to make finished projects when limited by the size and shape of building cut-offs. It’s a challenge he readily accepted. Now, he takes a starring role in product design. Finished products like shelves, tables, plant stands, workstations and functional, multi-purpose pieces for tiny homes are all converted into beautiful decor made from scraps. Products are offered in a variety of color options, finishes and textures.
It’s no easy process. Relationships with site contractors allow access to debris piles. Formr workers then sort through wood and metal looking for pieces to repurpose. Back at the shop, nails and other hardware are removed and materials are cleaned up for use. At the end of the process, items are packed in eco-friendly packaging. Each delivery includes a sample of the wood or other material at the beginning of the process so the customer can see the progression from where it started to what it became. In an effort to give back to the environment, Formr plants one tree for each purchase made.
At present, Formr products are available via mail order only. It has plans for retail spaces in the future. For the time being, it provides a 30-day money-back guarantee since customers don’t have the opportunity to see the products in person in advance of purchase.
Images via Formr