2019 edition of the annual #TrashionShow see colour, creativity and a burst of environmental awareness
By Garth Johnstone
Having attended last year’s Trashion Show in Howick, I had an idea of what to expect… lots of little people and their minders, a strong environmental message, loads of energy and a powerful burst of colour and creativity.
And this year’s edition, #TrashionShow2019, didn’t disappoint. For anyone who is considering attending next year, but is feeling a little unsure – think no further, just go for it. It is arguably the most uplifting and inspiring event on the Midlands calendar.
The scenario in a nutshell: Hundreds of kids from KZN, some from schools as far off as KZN south coast and Bergville, put together items made almost entirely of plastic. Then they show them off during their turn in the show, which is held at the Agricultural Hall.
The winners in numerous categories, such as most creative; best design; construction; most colourful; best hat etc, win prizes. They are also divided into junior boys, junior girls, senior boys, senior girls, wires cars and a few others sections.
So there’s an incentive for fun and an environment for camaraderie, participation, learning and that moment in the spotlight. Parents, teachers and NGOs also play a big part in assisting the kids, creating awareness, promoting the event and the logistics of getting the children to Howick for the big day.
The environmental message is the basis of the whole event… Water Explorer is there, advocating for better treatment of our water resources; Dargle Conservancy initiated the event and is still the premiere sponsor; #PlasticFreeJuly was prominent; Wessa, and DUCT (Duzi Umngeni Conservation Trust) are there… reuse, recycle, take care of our precious water and do away with plastics are reinforced over and again to impressionable young minds.
For me, the absolute highlight of the day is not about the fashion and the winning and losing, it’s about seeing the absolute joy, when a kid’s eyes light up at being acknowledged, of being able to express themselves in a forum where their efforts are valued and given (noisy) appreciation. It’s goosebumps all round.
Something that struck me on Saturday was that, like there are different qualities of trashion entries, there are different types of kids. Some are confident, raring to go, comfortable in their skins, others are timid, fretful and nervous. But they all march down the runway in the hall and do their thing, and those attending are full of appreciation. Conquering your fears can be a powerful life lesson.
Nikki Brighton, the chief organiser, who together with friends, colleagues and NGOs has made this a notable annual event, gave us some insight into how the Trashion Show was initiated and how it has grown over the years.
Nikki was the chair of Dargle Conservancy, which supported environmental education in local schools, when fellow committee member Gugu Zuma, who ran an eco-club in Nxamalala village,- showed some children in her community how to make wallets out of discarded Tetra Pak containers.
Seeing their enthusiasm, Gugu thought, why not make more things and have a Trashion Show? “I mentioned this to my friend Nikki and together we made it happen. The first show in Dargle in 2015 was not that well supported, but after that everyone wanted to be part of it!”
So it was always a Dargle Conservancy event and the conservancy remains the major sponsor, but more organisations have come on board to help it grow. Apart from being chief organiser and co-ordinator, Nikki is a formidable publicist for the event.
A decision was made to move the show to Howick in 2017 because the town was a more central venue for schools across the Midlands (and now KZN) to get to.
Nikki noted that a friend, Antonia Mkhabela, who is the vice-principal of Shea O’Connor Combined School in Nottingham Road, was an enthusiastic participant from the start. “She packed her car with five kids for the first one and from then on has brought taxis full of excited trashionistas.” Nikki said Antonia’s support was vital in ensuring the event didn’t lose momentum and fade.
Antonia commented: “What I like most about the Trashion Show is that it empowers learners to take informed decisions and responsible actions for environmental challenges. It educates the child about the environmental issues that are relevant and are major concerns. What I have also realised through participating in the show is that, it supports the development of the key sustainability competencies such as strategic and anticipatory that empower children to reflect on their own impact on the environment.
“The show provides children with knowledge, skills, awareness as well as creative thinking. They also develop ownership and pride of their finished products (outfits). It provides an opportunity for the birds of the same feathers (trashionistas) to fly together (share their creativity skills and knowledge) in a fun and exciting way.
Positive impact now
“Each one of us needs to make a positive impact NOW to someone else’s life, either living now or not yet born! Each one of us needs to leave positive footprints… Something positive that people will remember about us.”
Rather than fade away, the show has grown organically each year. E’Yako Green has sponsored prizes and contributed to costs since year two, Mpophomeni Conservation Group and the Midlands Meander Education Project have made contributions to costs for the past couple of years. “In 2018, the Water Explorer programme in SA, headed by my friend Bridget Ringdahl, became a major partner,” said Nikki.
Bridget had connections to eco-conscious schools across the province and encouraged them to attend. DUCT involves its EnviroChamps, GroenSebenza interns and Yes4Youth participants, to help with various tasks – “all good skills sharing and learning while having a heap of fun”.
About 14 schools which take part in the Water Explorer programme participated in the show this year.
“I guess what stood out for me (this year) is the incredible creativity and how it really helps us to view what is traditionally seen as waste, as something that could and should be worn/used again,” said Bridget. “If I was in matric, or was a socialite or something – there were at least eight dresses on show that I would have been really happy to wear!”
Nikki says “friends” is a word she uses a great deal when describing how the Trashion Show comes together each year, but says “that is actually how it is”. It just wouldn’t be possible without help of lots of friends and those committed organisations that get stuck in.
“My friends assist by making costumes, transporting kids, making sandwiches, helping with setting up, registration, judging etc. Everyone volunteers. That’s the Midlands Magic. I love our creative community – how we inspire one another, how conscious we are about our impacts on the Earth, how we want to participate, make connections, change things for the better.”
Just like me, Nikki finds herself astonished by the creativity of the pupils and the detail in many of the items assembled.
“I particularly like the fact that learners who do not have spare money to spend on materials to explore their design skills or creativity are able to express themselves with found/foraged materials,” said Nikki. “There are no limits – the rich kids use more yoghurt tubs, the farm kids make the most of horse-feed bags and the township kids collect chip packets and sweet wrappers for their costumes. Making their outfits actually fits well into many areas of the curriculum, too – social issues, environmental awareness, technology, completing a task. I have always admired the skill it takes to make a wire car, so am pleased we can offer a platform to showcase those talents.”
United in the cause
Bridget commented, “What is also significant is the excitement that oozes from the event and that schools are prepared to come from more than 100km away, like Shonkweni Primary in Pennington and others from near Bulwer, Creighton and the Berg. I think there is something really uniting about an event like this, amid all the depressing environmental degradation that is happening around us, this is one moment/event where we can just have fun and enjoy ourselves but also feel united in the cause, even if only symbolic.”
This year, the Midlands Community College brought something different to the show. Their ECD students created fantasy costumes for the dress-up corner of pre-primary classrooms, using waste materials.
And the oh-so-important environmental message that underpins the show?
“So while we are not going to save the planet with trashion shows, highlighting the fact that ocean pollution starts in the gutter outside your home and that fast fashion is a major driver of social injustice and climate catastrophe is important,” says Nikki. “It takes 10 500 litres of water to make one pair of jeans and a new T-shirt creates 6kg of CO2. Lots of people have no clue about this. We have to get rid of single-use plastic and make some big lifestyle changes, but we might as well have fun while spreading the message. Oh, and I do love dressing up!”