Earth Day Fashion Show Throws Spotlight on Endangered Species

A Cambodian fashion collective raised awareness about endangered species through a collection of clothes made from recycled goods at an event to mark international Earth Day.
A model dressed in recycled materials marking Earth Day. Picture: Meas Molika
A model dressed in recycled materials marking Earth Day. Picture: Meas Molika

Innovative designs made from recycled materials and inspired by the Tonle Sap’s threatened species hit the catwalk as part of a fashion show to mark Earth Day.

To celebrate Earth Day on April 22, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), as a lead of the “Our Tonle Sap” project team, hosted a Recycled Fashion Show inspired by critically-endangered species around the Tonle Sap.

The event, which was held under the theme ‘Invest in Our Planet, Invest in Our Tonle Sap’ at Friends Future Factory, also showcased local products from communities living around the Tonle Sap.

The main attraction was the recycled fashion show by La Chhouk, who designed eight outfits made from recycled materials such as plastics, cement sacks, and cardboards. Kanhchna Chet, a prominent singer and song-writer, also took to the stage for a show-stopping performance.

Seng Sopheak, co-founder of La Chhouk Recycled & Creative Fashion, told Kiripost on Friday also that his team had been invited to join in the Earth’s Day 2022 celebration event “Celebrating Earth Day with Recycled Fashion Show and Displays of Local Products”.

A model dressed in recycled materials marking Earth Day. Picture: Meas Molika
A model dressed in recycled materials marking Earth Day. Picture: Meas Molika

The Tonle Sap is a key wetland. The Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve sustains more than 1.5 million people. It also supports at least 50 globally-threatened species, including the critically-endangered Bengal florican and Southeast Asia’s largest water bird colony in the flooded forest at Prek Toal.

“For today, we have eight fashion outfits. There are four outfits about bird species and another four outfits consisting of three fish species and one turtle species. The dresses that we showed are all made from dry waste,” said Sopheak.

While there are many endangered species around the Tonle Sap, WCS selected only selected eight bird and fish species to raise awareness to the public on international Earth Day.

About 10 kilograms of dry rubbish, such as plastic bags, left over from drink packaging, cement sacks, and straws were collected around Phnom Penh markets by La Chhouk team members.

This was then used to craft outfits inspired by these endangered animals. It took between one and two weeks to create the pieces, from designing through to the finalized recycled dresses.

From plastic and dry waste, unusable and worthless trash has been transformed into stunning lavish dresses in the form of animal shapes. Each caught the audience’s attention as the models made their way down the catwalk.

A model dressed in recycled materials marking Earth Day. Picture: Meas Molika
A model dressed in recycled materials marking Earth Day. Picture: Meas Molika

Among the eight rare species that featured in the designs were endangered birds in the form of Sarus crane, Bengal florican, spot-billed pelican and greater adjutant.

The Sarus crane is a large and tall bird that likes to live in floodplains, rice fields, and grasslands in mixed forests. It is mainly found in the northern region of the Tonle Sap Lake, especially Preah Vihear, Banteay Meanchey, Kampot and Takeo provinces. The fashion that represents the crane is made of steel, wire, plastic, plastic, plastic bottles, and cement bags.

The Bengal florican is the world's most endangered species and is protected by forest and area laws. It is present in the natural grasslands of the floodplains around the Tonle Sap Lake. The suit represents Bengal floricans made of cardboard, cement bags, ropes, and plastic bags.

The spot-billed pelican is another endangered species that likes to live in lakes, salt marshes, seaside rivers, swamps, lowlands, and the largest spawning ground in the Prek Toal core area of ​​the Tonle Sap Lake Biosphere Reserve. Cardboard, cement bags, straws, and plastic bags are processed into clothing representing this species.

The greater adjutant can be found in Prey Nam, a wetland and mixed forest area. It has a large spawning ground in the Prek Toal area of ​​the Tonle Sap Lake, the second largest spawning ground in the world for this species of bird. The clothes representing this bird are made of cardboard, cement bags, strings, and plastic bags.

The three threatened species of fish represented were the Isok Barb, Mekong Giant Catfish and Giant Barb. The Isok Barb likes to eat snails and crabs as food. It predominantly lives in the Mekong River from the border of Laos to the Tonle Sap Lake. Cardboard, cement bags, strings, coffee bags, and plastic bags were used to represent this fish outfit.

The Mekong Giant Catfish is also classified as an endangered species. It is the largest freshwater fish, up to 300 cm long, and migrates into the Tonle Sap Lake between May and July. It returns to the Mekong River between October and November. Steel wire, plastic bags, plastic bottles, and newsprint were processed into this kind of fish fashion.

Giant Barb is also considered a symbol of Cambodia. It reaches up to 200cm in size and inhabits major rivers and the lower reaches of the Mekong. This species eats slime, water plants, and submerged plants. Cardboard, cement bags, strings, and plastic bags were processed to represent this fish outfit.

The yellow-headed temple turtle inhabits lowlands, especially the Tonle Sap Lake, Mekong River, and Srepok River. It eats floating plants. Garbage bags, wire rods, cement bags, and plastic bags were recycled into this turtle costume.

The 28-year-old co-founder expressed his satisfaction and pride to be part of this recycling fashion showcase inspired by endangered species.

“In fact, it [recycling fashion] is part of social activity because whenever we work for fashion shows, it means we contribute to society by spreading the word to more people and the medias. Therefore, our works [fashion design shows] are able to attract more citizens to look at which species face scarcity nowadays.”

The Celebrating Earth Day with Recycled Fashion Show and Displays of Local Products organized by WCS to promote the awareness of vulnerable animals is the second time creative group of RUFA students, La Chhouk, has been involved in work relating to animal protection.

“The outfits were made from recycled materials and inspired by endangered birds and species. It was a creative way to help people learn more about these animals,” said Hou Hemmunind, event organizer and communication officer.

Hemmunind believes La Chhouk is fitted perfectly with the theme of Earth Day as their creative work relates to recycled materials.

She said, “La Chhouk was chosen because of their specialty in designing creative fashion using recycled materials. They are very skilled at what they do and all the outfits they have designed have all been fantastic. From their portfolio, we were sure that they would be able to deliver our vision. It is also a chance for us to uplift young creative Cambodians.”

“Our Tonle Sap” is a four-year project funded by the European Union and implemented by WCS and seven partners. With an EU grant of $5.4 million, the project will help empower communities to protect and conserve natural habitats, restore ecosystems and create resilience around the Tonle Sap Lake against rapid environmental changes.

“The purpose of this event is to invoke a sense of urgency among young people regarding the imminent threats the Tonle Sap is facing and what can be done to save it. To “invest in our planet” means starting where you are, and starting with what you can do – invest in our Tonle Sap,” said Ken Sereyrotha, Country Director of WCS Cambodia.

Founded in 2014, La Chhouk design and produce dresses out of recycled materials as well as support the LGBT community and preserve the art to be alive including recently involving in social activity movement by attempting to raise public awareness about wildlife loss.