Used detergent labels and toothpaste tubes from Indonesia are going from landfills to fashion frills on bags and wallets sold in Singapore, Australia and the United States.
The fad known as "trashion" has gained mainstream acceptance with chic, urban designers worldwide now posting big profits by using leftover, discarded and found materials to create jewelry, clothing and housewares.
But in Indonesia, where half the population of 235 million live on less than $2 a day, homemakers, disabled workers and local entrepreneurs are the ones embracing the eco-friendly fashion. The goal, they say, is to reduce pollution while providing jobs to the poorest of the poor.
Aswin Aditya, founder of the Jakarta-based company Plastic Works, buys plastic packaging from trash scavengers for $0.30 a pound ($0.66 a kilogram). His nine employees cut, sew and craft it into wallets, umbrellas and shower curtains that sell for between $25 and $85.
One of the destinations is Monsoon Vermont, an Internet-based eco-shop in the United States that receives around 1,000 products a month, he said.
Recycling facilities are virtually nonexistent across most of Indonesia, where landfills are spilling over and where uncollected rubbish is often burned or ends up clogging streets and waterways. For some, the trashion industry is seen as a tiny but viable solution to unmanaged, growing consumer waste.
"What we do is small, but every little bit helps," said Aditya, who trains homemakers to produce goods suitable for export.
Indonesian designers, meanwhile, are showing their support for eco-fashion on the catwalk.
Computer-chip dresses and frocks made from plastic wrap wowed audiences in March, when models strutted their stuff during Eco Chic, an Asia-wide fashion show launched in Jakarta to help transform trash into haute couture.
Ann Wizer, director of the Jakarta-based nonprofit design venture XS Project, says her goal is to raise awareness about waste production and environmental degradation. But as the potential for profits increase, prominent designers and corporations also are adopting earth-friendly measures.
She urged consumers to be aware of businesses that appear green but are actually business ventures.
"This isn't about making money, it's about positive change," the former designer said.
That means providing jobs to a country suffering from widespread unemployment. Regardless of the model, the money from the sale of trashion products goes back to the communities that craft them. Both Plastic Works and XS also support local projects in health and sanitation.
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