In 2009, Ronald Akili founded a hospitality company named Potato Head with his business partner Jason Gunawan. At first, it was a restaurant and bar in Jakarta, with a menu created by his wife Sandra—a chef that had just returned back to Indonesia from cooking in London. The company grew as a lifestyle brand, picking and choosing what the duo liked most about design, and food, but also art, music, fashion, and culture.
Since, Potato Head has expanded beyond to almost 1,000 employees and beyond the boundaries of food. Today, the brand is known for over ten nature- and design-forward culinary, retail, and hotel destinations in cities like Jakarta, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Its recent location—Potato Head Beach Club—in Seminyak, Bali was designed by the Rem Koolhaas–led firm OMA, immersed in its own creative village named Des Potato Head. With a focus on wellness, the space features curated art, inventive food and beverage, an infinity pool at the edge of a sprawling lawn, restaurants decked out in noteworthy furniture design, suites to stay in, and more.
Today, Akili is venturing into the fashion world by launching The Wasted Collective. The unisex label offers elevated, sustainable casual wear that’s rooted in a line of three primary washes and processes: Washi, EcoLife, and Recraft. For starters, the label is debuting fleece hoodies, cargo jackets, t-shirts, and pants. Joining Akili in style is Jesse Leyva—a previous design director at Nike, who now acts as The Wasted Collective’s creative director.
Whitewall spoke with Akili about leading Potato Head and The Wasted Collective to a greener world, and Leyva about what to expect from the brand and the future of fashion.
WHITEWALL: Ronald, what were you up to prior to founding Potato Head and The Wasted Collective?
RONALD AKILI: When I started, I was just doing fun things based on my passions and realizing my dreams. I would say I’m still doing that, but now with a higher purpose to combine these good times with a mission to do good for the planet, too.
One of the biggest problems we are facing as a planet is waste. I realized this about four years ago when I was surfing with my kids. We were paddling through an ocean full of plastic, and at that moment, it occurred to me that I had a responsibility as a father and as a human being to do something about it.
Hospitality is one of the most wasteful industries, so by making small but significant changes to the way we operate, we hope that we inspire other businesses in and beyond our field to do the same.
At Potato Head, I’ve shared a philosophy. The idea is a simple one—”Good Times and Do Good.” We pursue a better way of living, but also have a good time in the process. I believe it’s easier for anyone to make a better choice when we don’t have to compromise, even if that means it’s not perfect.
I’ve learned that it’s easier to make a change by first making people feel good instead of giving them a choice to go all in or nothing. For example, we would rather start making a delicious, plant-forward dish and inspire people to believe vegetables can taste that delicious. We see that it gives them the desire to have plant-based meals a few times a week, instead of insisting on veganism as the only option to do well.
I want to take that same mindset and approach outside of hospitality and outside of Bali. We see how people get inspired when they come to Bali and visit us, so we thought we could extend that same idea when they go back home—hence the idea for The Wasted Collective.
WW: Tell us a bit about Potato Head in Bali, and what guests can expect to experience there.
RA: Our mission is to invite and enable people to have an amazing time every day, and leave the world better. We do this through amazing hospitality of food, beverage and stays, as well as immersive experiences spanning music events, cultural excursions and sustainability workshops.
We focus on the fact we understand life is a balance. People today are more mindful than ever, but they also want to have fun and meet new people from around the world; we hope to be the facilitators that allow them to connect while leaving as little environmental impact on the world as possible.
Potato Head has always thought of itself as a family and we treat everyone who joins us as an extended part of it. We think the more potato heads you put together, the better! So the whole idea behind our creative village is to encourage interaction between different members of our family in hopes they will inspire each other.
WW: How does this resort exemplify your focus on being eco-friendly?
RA: We believe being sustainable doesn’t mean you need to compromise the experience for the consumer—and we believe this approach sets us apart from the crowd. Beyond aiming to deliver the best experiences, Potato Head Family is also about making positive impacts through our business. We believe hospitality can be a powerful tool to inspire.
Whether we’re talking about the environment or incorporating the community, it’s about giving back in a big way. The bigger picture outlook of our corporate direction is to build a responsible business where sustainability is key, and everything is executed with a conscious approach.
Innovation is also a big part of who we are, and one of our objectives is to show others that a company of our scale doesn’t need to sacrifice the guest experience or their own success to be sustainable. Through the process of showing others how this can be achieved, we’ve found that our sustainability initiatives actually offer a more enriched experience.
Our daily routine is bound by the philosophy I mentioned earlier—“Good Times and Do Good.” In this context, we strive to challenge ourselves. How can we be the best provider of good times and inspire ourselves and others to do it in a better way for humanity and Mother Earth?
WW: What sustainability initiatives does the location execute?
RA: Desa Potato Head is a creative village with a zero-waste philosophy. Over the past five years, we’ve built our sustainability production lab, hugely reduced our energy usage and implemented new waste management processes across the board.
Our seafood restaurant, Ijen was created with the Zero waste philosophy guideline and responsible sourcing supply chain. It’s really special. We dehydrate our fish scales to make crackers, we ask our suppliers to deliver their goods wrapped in banana leaves. The floor is made from chipped plates and broken glass from across the rest of the venue, the furniture is made from offcuts, even the candles are made from used vegetable oil from the beach club fryers. We send our waste to pig farms, and anything that pigs can’t eat, we compost ourselves.
We’re also trying to be as circular as possible across the board by encouraging our guests to make small changes for a better planet. I think our Sustainability Lab is a very important initiative at Desa Potato Head, as it shows people what is possible. We’re producing furniture, homewares and accessories from waste, so it challenges people to think differently about the products they consume. We hope we can help to open people’s eyes to the possibilities of waste and start a conversation around this by showing the process in a design-led way. We are still working on being 100 percent circular. It’s a long path, but we’re getting closer every day.
WW: Tell us a bit about founding The Wasted Collective, and how its sustainability missions are unique.
RA: The aspiration for The Wasted Collective has always been the desire to extend the same philosophy outside of the hospitality world and Bali.
We see how people get inspired when they come to Bali and visit us, so we wanted to extend that same idea to their lives back home. The same mindset of being as sustainable and responsible as possible but without compromising beauty or design or comfort. And of course without forgetting the accessibility. We don’t want to create beautiful sustainable products that are not affordable for everyone.
And specific to The Wasted Collective, we start with a simple question: Why waste it? A material, a person, a thought or a moment in time. Nothing should be wasted. Is 2020 the right time to launch a new company‑in the midst of a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and with so many social justice issues needing people’s attention? Absolutely. Because we don’t want to be just another company.
We want to inspire change because we are inspired to change. The environmental impact of traditional approaches to commerce over the last decades have led to a vicious cycle of issues that we need to halt. Doing things better does not mean you have to compromise on the quality of the experience. If we can show that good times are made better by doing good, then maybe we can get more people involved.
If a lot of people make small changes to the way they live and work then collectively we can make a big impact. That is the power of “we”; that’s why we call ourselves a collective. We see an opportunity to harness our collective experience to try and make a difference. To not waste a single minute of what we have learned. We all think we can make a more positive impact to our planet by working together.
We believe that the best way to contribute is to inspire people by providing them solutions that are beautiful and accessible. To inspire people to a different way of thinking—that sustainable can be beautiful, comfortable and accessible, and living well can be fun!
WW: Jesse, can you take us behind the scenes of The Wasted Collective and tell us a bit about its ideologies—like using washi and closed loop cotton—for making clothing?
JESSE LEYVA: Washi is our commitment to researching and using esponsible cotton, working with small mills, and obsessing the idea of craft. An artisan approach to harvesting the bark to create a unique paper cotton that uses less water and land, this Japanese traditional cotton has been used for centuries and for the first few seasons, we are looking at three weights of Washi Cotton—Winter 20 and Spring/Summer 2021 we will offer Light Weight, which is used on our t-shirts, and Layering Weight, which is used on our overshirts. For Fall/Winter 2021, we have Fleece Weight, which will give us a unique take on a classic style—the hoodie.
The best tees for me are the ones you don’t have to think about; they’re the Tee’s that just feel great, can be worn with anything, and get better wash after wash. Our Closed Loop Cotton uses 50 percent recycled cotton and 50 percent better cotton initiative cotton. This allows us to take a great classic tee and offer it in great colors and graphics in a responsible way.
“Second hand gets a second life” is how we look at Recraft. Our filter is trying to make the classics better. What I love about Recraft is that each piece has a unique “one of one” vibe. We hand select each garment that is going to be Recrafted, but each hand selection is just that—hand-selected.
Consistency doesn’t exist in Recraft. Instead, we’ve embraced the beauty of inconsistency into the following ways: One, the materials we are using are a “moment in time.” We will never be able to pick the same deadstock or throw out fabrics. Two, each garment is using fabric from a previous life, which means personality like oil stains, wear marks, or interesting belt loops give the garments character. Three, our responsible dyeing takes to fabrics in different ways. Each color will have a slight variance in color tones.
WW: Where do you feel the future of fashion is?
JL: I think designers in the fashion space are all aligned that we need to do better. Great things can happen if all creatives work on making each of their brands better. Fabrics and processes have accelerated their focus on better make, sustainable solutions, and responsible alternatives. I’m really optimistic that we are going to enter an exciting era in fashion, coming out of the pandemic, the rise of new styles into consumers rotations of apparel worn are going to emerge.
We are already seeing sweatpants being worn as not only casual wear at home, but style pieces for streetwear. Each generation will always look to fashion and the arts to express themselves, the next two to three years are going to push that expression in a pace that hasn’t been seen before, and my hopes that each designer takes a very conscious approach to each design,
WW: What’s next for The Wasted Collective?
JL: Our brand is a lifestyle brand. In 2022, we have some amazing collaborations and partnerships coming, and we also enter into the footwear and homeware space. When we first started talking about starting this brand, it wasn’t just to focus on one segment, it was to venture into all areas of our lifestyle. Sneakers have been a passion of mine since my first Jordans in third grade.
As I’ve gotten older, family and home have become a greater focus for me. This brand is an extension of our lifestyle, so the next three years are really exciting. We will continue to explore new ways to make products better, we will partner with those that share our same values, and we will continue having a great time doing it.