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Eye on Nature garment proudly displayed

Em-J Abuyan

On Thursday 13 June 2024 the Beautification Trust held their annual Eye on Nature Wearable Arts competition for primary, intermediate and secondary students.

Year 12 student Em-J Abuyan participated alongside 90 other students from various schools.  This year’s theme was ‘Act Local – Growing with Te Taiao’, which focused on local conservation and restoration initiatives in our community. This led to many students using plastic and paper materials, along with seeds and flax leaves.

Em-J’s garment was made entirely out of plastic and cardboard that had been collected from a well-known department store.  Below is a little more about her inspiration behind the garment and what she made it from.

Sana All

‘Sana All’ is an expression in Tagalog – wishing the best for everyone.  As the theme this year is about the interconnection of people with nature, I made this dress as a wish or dream that everyone could experience the best out of the world we were given – from the beauty that surrounds us. But this can only be possible if we do our part in our communities to be the best kaitiaki we can and ensure we clean up our workspaces, classrooms and offices, not just our streets, green fields and oceans. There is just as much plastic indoors as there is outdoors, which is also why my garment is made using only plastic and cardboard.

Why did I make this garment? What inspired me to join the competition?

During my work experience in a local department store, behind the scenes, I noticed the excessive amount of plastic being used and simply thrown away. To the public, they advertise recyclable products, but in those same stores, they discard hundreds of plastic bags used to wrap the advertised ‘recyclable’ clothing and footwear. This could be for hygienic purposes and protection. However, this resulted in too much plastic waste. This was my inspiration behind my garment, me taking a stand on discouraging plastic use and work towards group activities that include rubbish cleanups.

Artist effort

When it came to making the garment, I gathered cardboard and plastic that was otherwise destined for landfill from the department store – reducing their waste and as well as my purchasing costs and material waste for the products required. From there, I made drafts of the corset and petticoat. Making the entire dress myself, I trialled different designs before deciding on one, based on comfort and wearability on stage.  I then transformed and repurposed what was due to be un-compostable waste into a piece of wearable art.

Before the night showcasing each student’s garments were bought to the Due Drop Event Centre for a dress rehearsal, to practice walking on stage and for the judges to look over. As I arrived with Mrs Rehu and my support person, Sofia Bryan, I was extremely nervous because I had just seen a senior carrying around a huge working clock made from cardboard and a student with big petals surrounding her neck as her entire face was painted green. Of course, this did not stop me from enjoying my time there and getting to know the other participants.

On the night of the fashion show, I waited for about 2 hours in the waiting room with the rest of the seniors in my set before walking on stage. Surprisingly the environment was friendly, and I was able to stay with two other students that had also never done this competition before. They took care of me when the trail on my dress was taking up space and I took care of them when one of their garments would not stay stuck together.

Finally, it was my turn to walk the runway. Since I have never done anything like this before, I was extremely anxious. I continued to breathe in and out deeply and held onto all my friends’ encouraging words. I stepped out and my mind went blank. As I was walking a part of my garment was flying upwards, but I did not focus on that. I continued to walk with a big smile and posed right in the middle of the stage with my trial beside me. As I walked down, I felt relieved as I knew that those two months spent on this garment were worth it.

Although I did not place in this year’s competition, I went home with a big smile on my face as I truly enjoyed this experience, which is a win in my eyes.

What did I learn from this project?

From this project, I have come to realise the unnecessary amount of plastic used in workplaces. I have also learned more ways to re-use plastic such as turning it into little flowers, string and of course, clothes. I have also learned to persevere in times of hardship, as this garment required a lot of time and patience.