Loud Plastics Creation by Maej: Saving the Earth in Style
Text and Photography by Jojie Alcantara
The best proof of creativity is when your resourcefulness turns into an uncanny ability to produce something unique and beautiful from the most unexpected of materials…trash.
Maej Villanueva resigned from a lucrative corporate job with IBM to concentrate on an unusual hobby-turned-advocacy: fashioning scraps into highly wearable accessories as livelihood for women.
This certified “craft-aholic” as she calls herself, grew up learning to crochet from her mom. She soon turned into sewing, crafting, beadworking and anything her hands can tinker with on the sewing machine.
How did it turn into an advocacy? The young Manilena who just turned thirty and migrated to Davao for sentimental reasons, replies, “My 3-year NGO/development work background gave me a great deal of perspective on how to work around a community and its benefits. I always wanted to help out in my own little way, without having to be affiliated with some big groups or organizations. I’m just an ordinary citizen, doing extraordinary things to help my community, big or small.” Hence, Loud Plastics Creation was born.
Her inspirations influenced many of her works: teacher-advocate, close friend and mentor Rebecca Gillman who introduced her to the works of Invisible Sisters, a Manila-based organization founded by Ann Wizer http://www.invisiblesisters.org/meetinvisis.php); Philippine Christian Foundation (PCF) http://pcf.ph/about_us/index.php) through Lynie Pispisano, and Trashebolsas http://www.trashebolsas.com), founded by Jan Harris.
“I had the chance to meet Ann Wizer in Manila and was able to link with other NGOs who are into community enterprises,” she said.”I thought, if Manila and other countries like UK, Canada, US are having a ‘recyclables fever’ then it’s high time that Davao and Mindanao get a share of that ‘good infection’.”
Her first taste of LGU work was training more than 40 participants in the municipality of Cagwait, Surigao del Sur, through Mayor Bonifacio Ondona. “I’ve taught the Cagwaitnons their signature piece, a non-traditional lei, which they started producing for their first client, Cagwait LGU, in the annual Kaliguan Festival last June 2010. The municipality of Cagwait was a great avenue to share my skills since they have already in place a waste segregation program called ‘Cagwait’s Best’.” Since then, she’s had a kiddie craft making session in Malagos Garden Resort; a possible project with a bakery on recycled sacks of flour turned into schoolbags, and workshops in the wings.
“Waste segregation is the key to jumpstart the recyclable accessories. If a community has already that in place, then that is the only time I train a group/community. Recycling talk is also about waste segregation. I’m not limited to recycling plastics, glossy magazines and pull tabs from tin cans. I work on any material (rubber slippers, disposable lighters, etc.) and can turn it into functional and funkier pieces.”
Her Egyptian Goddess choker, for example, consist of 4 pieces of recycled blue plastic bags (SM and sando bags), combined with cultured pearls, beads and threads, and 10 hrs of crocheting and hand-stitching. She adds, “Concept hibernation for 7 days. I usually work on a piece based on creative instinct which means, I can never mass produce. Each piece is unique on its own.”
A challenge to hurdle is influencing the mindset of her target market – young professionals, students, career-oriented women, and mothers — that wearing recyclables is a proactive way to start sending out a strong message about recycling, in its most “mainstream” form – a fashionable piece.
“Women who wear loud plastics are those loud enough to advocate recycling in its most tangible form. It becomes easier for them to talk about recycling because people can see right away how these old materials can be turned into something new again,” she explains. “Making recyclable accessories is completely doable, selling it to an available market at a competitive price is another story. Buyers need to be educated how difficult it is to make these pieces. How can we compete with China-made (underpaid and child labor) accessories? Or take for example, a hand-crocheted bag versus a machine-sewn bag. Obviously the crocheted bags are more labor intensive hence a higher rate. Buyers need to be more conscious how the products are made, and who the beneficiaries are. In UK, buyers don’t question the price they have to pay for hand-made products. They don’t haggle nor negotiate. I strive very hard to be transparent to my customers as to where their money goes.”
Most of Maej’s pieces were bought by expats, and OFWs. ”I look forward to having more Davaoenas wear it. I also bring pieces with me in my trips around Mindanao and most of the tourists I’ve met bought from me. I post photos of my creations through my Facebook account.”
“My goal for this year is to finish my 100 pieces and identify 100 “ambassadors” — women who are looked up to in their own industry to effectively start advocating about recycling. If I sell more of my pieces, I will have a budget to conduct more workshops and train more women to augment their income. A coffee table book will be an ambitious goal but should be possible through a collaboration with photographers and publishers who are willing to share their time and expertise to be part of this project.”
Maej and I hit it off right from the very start (having known we are both Mindanao travel bloggers) and vowed to collaborate in a fun shoot where I bring my model friends to wear her beautiful accessories. Aptly set in equally eclectic Ponce Suites, her “upcycled” pieces are bold statements in today’s concern for our environment, that we can still turn trash into treasures.
Find Maej on Facebook.
Email address: [email protected]
My photo gallery of her works can be found here, while I am about to post our new set of shoot soon.