Trash to fashion

20 August 2010

Written by: Meghan Lodwick

Trash.  Garbage.  Two seemingly harmless words allowing the reader to conjure up a particular image and feeling based on their previous knowledge.  The words trash and garbage seem self-explanatory.  What else is there to say?  Society uses a product and then once they’re finished with it, they throw it into a bin.  It then gets taken to a large piece of ground – also known as the tip – where it is left there until most of it decomposes. But, if you are a designer there is more to the story. 

Sonja Cook is a Tasmanian designer who creates handbags from reused materials.  She turns our trash into pieces of art; she gives inanimate objects a new life.  “They are like living organisms if you wish,” says Cook.

Through the use of trash our clothes and accessories are imbedded with the past: “Old things have a history and a soul, they’re nice to work with.  After the era of making ‘disposables’, we are slowly coming back to using resources sensibly… I hope.”

About 80% of Cook’s materials come from tip-shops and op-shops.  She hunts for different fabrics, but most often than not she creates her bags from old pieces of clothing, men’s suits and old leather jackets.  For stiffening Cook uses second-hand lino samples and placemats.  For the decorative features she finds inspiration from picking “bits and pieces up from the ground.  It’s fun to see what one can find on a simple walk up-and-down the road”.

But how do you take these products and make a bag?

“First I think of the size and the shape of the bag I want to make.  Secondly, I roughly put together materials I think I might use. I make the shape of the bag in the background fabric and then design the bits to make it interesting. I do this very quickly and spontaneously.  Once this is ready I make the lining and put everything together.”

Seems simple.  Some might go as far to say it’s cost effective, but in-fact it’s quite the opposite.  “The whole process takes longer and the logistics of ‘how-to’ are more challenging.  This means fun in my language and makes my bags unique.”

Designers who use re-used products are passing on an important message, which hopefully will be acknowledged on a bigger scale.  Many poorer societies have already worked out the benefits of reusing and recycling; perhaps we should follow Cook and admire this instead of seeing trash as useless and disposable.

Bec Foulston is a Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. This piece was originally published on her blog Sneaky Bug.