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Trash or fashion: Internet personality turns empty packaging into statement pieces

Vania Evan

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sat, April 3, 2021  /  08:00 am
Trash or fashion: Internet personality turns empty packaging into statement pieces

Putri Samboda transforms used bags of chips into fashion items. (JP/ Courtesy of Putri Samboda)

Imagine you stumble upon a girl wearing Chanel heels modified with budget flip-flop brand Swallow carrying a bag made out of used chip packaging. If this has ever happened to you, chances are you ran into Putri Samboda. Through her quirky sense of style, this Indonesian internet personality has sought to redefine both trash and fashion.

While the act of transforming discarded materials like unused garments into wearable fashion pieces may not be new, Putri’s use of everyday waste like instant noodle packaging and burger wrapping paper is quite novel.

Upcycled fashion, as it’s called in the fashion world, is a growing movement that’s proven to be more than a passing trend. It is partially an effort to reduce the industry’s negative impact on the planet. After all, fashion is one of the world’s most resource-intensive industries. This issue drove Putri to start reimagining waste.

"When I think about it, it's so crazy how I used to throw away clothes because they had a small stain or tiny holes. Now I think of [upcycling] as a fun challenge to give my clothes a second life," Putri said.

Putri uses instant noodle packaging to make shorts.Putri uses instant noodle packaging to make shorts. (JP/ Courtesy of Putri Samboda)

Putri began upcycling unused items into eccentric ready-to-wear pieces in the early days of the pandemic, when she was fully housebound. At first, boredom was her muse, but now Putri’s creative inclination toward unique items serves as her main inspiration.

"I am now upcycling to channel my creativity and also to minimize my fashion waste. I also love wearing one-of-a-kind fashion items, so by designing my own clothes and accessories, I can achieve that," she said.

Unique collections, unique hobbies

Putri, who lives predominantly in Washington, DC, but is currently staying at her parents’ house in Yogyakarta, travels a lot – at least before the pandemic. On her journeys, she collects snack and food packaging exclusive to the countries she visits. She then thinks about new fashion forms that each wrapper could be turned into.

Putri sees the creative process as a scavenger hunt – literally. "I start by looking for unused items around the house. Now that I am in my parents' house, it is so much easier to do that because my family has a lot of stuff that I can use," said Putri.

It takes Putri between two days and a week to turn waste into completely functional fashion items. According to the self-taught designer, the hardest piece she’s created so far is a bucket hat made out of a used paper burger bag and some instant noodle packaging. She spent weeks stitching until she was satisfied with the shape.

A bag and a card holder made from bubble wrap.A bag and a card holder made from bubble wrap. (JP/ Courtesy of Putri Samboda)

With only basic tools, Putri relies on a lot of improvisation.

Inspired by a lingering fondness for the British children’s television series Art Attack, Putri is accustomed to using discarded everyday items to create her pieces. She’s done this since her younger years. In the fourth grade, she recycled old magazines into a usable stool and made paper out of recycled newspapers. These are her earliest memories of upcycling.

The reception

People may shy away from wearing upcycled items in public because of their head-turning designs, but Putri wears her own creations when she's going out and about. "Back in 2018, I wore my Khong Guan [biscuit] tin bag almost everywhere. I knew for sure people were staring and secretly taking pics, but I didn't really care as I enjoyed wearing it."

"I don't really go out as much now because of the pandemic, but when I do, I always try to incorporate my upcycled pieces into my wardrobe. I was in Sumba a few months ago, and I specifically made some pieces to be brought with me during the trip. That's how much I enjoy wearing them."

While sarcastic and cynical remarks are expected, they still can hurt. The online messages Putri receives through her social media accounts are varied, but the negative ones stick with her the most.

Bucket hats made from used paper bags from fast-food chains.Bucket hats made from used paper bags from fast-food chains. (JP/ Courtesy of Putri Samboda)

"I can say that creativity isn't very appreciated here in Indonesia, and the term upcycling is still very fresh to some parts of society. It is often discouraging when you put so much effort into each one of your pieces but end up being called stupid."

Despite the negative comments, Putri hopes that posting her upcycled fashion online will encourage others to follow suit. "I think the reason why the industry still has a hard time considering sustainable choices is that the demand is still high, hence the supply follows. If more people chose slow fashion over fast fashion, we could slowly move the direction of the industry."

While encouraging her audience to be more mindful about their fashion decisions one chip bag at a time, Putri has been a living example of her values.

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