A PASSION FOR TRASHION: SAVING OUR OCEANS ONE FASHION SHOW AT A TIME
As the stage lights dim, a well-dressed audience reports to their seats in a flurry of champagne-inspired chatter. Smiles and excitement flood the room as everyone patiently anticipates the curtain’s raise. The crowd mingles in waiting, and backstage staffers race from model to model, tweaking and touching-up. Feet scurry about the room and earpieces host a flowing monologue of countdowns and “hurry-up’s.” As the final moments approach, makeup artists tweak lipstick and hairdressers fog the room with last- minute hairspray. A cue to the music and a collection of electro-pop classics invade the room. The crowd silences, and the crew send out their first girl.
The girls debut individual and detailed looks, each stunning its viewers. Bright colours and themes take over the runway in a flurry of colourful creations. Though as gowns float along the main stage, puzzled looks appear. Then after looking further, the same puzzled looks turn to amazement. A standing ovation awaits the collection’s finale, for it has been revealed that the extensive array of gowns is entirely made of garbage.
Responsible for this creative feat is a Sydney-based artist and conservationist whose passion for beach conservation is so grand she has gone as far to adopt the name Marina DeBris. This year’s Australian Marine Conservation Society Event hosted her famous “Trashion Show” that has not only earned her a number of awards but the attention and praise of its viewers. A self-proclaimed ‘artivist,’ Marina has for several years now been growing her collection of beach-found items and turning them to many an art project, with her most prolific statement-piece being her collection of dresses.
Marina’s dedication to the issue developed after her first commissioned fashion piece. “An environmental place in L.A was to have someone represent them with a wearable piece for the opening of this giant mall in Santa Monica. They asked me to do it and that was the beginning of the end,” she chuckles. “I just had so much fun. It was a piece called ‘White Trash’ and someone in L.A. actually bought it and owns it, which is pretty cool. That’s what started it. I don’t think I would have ever thought of it otherwise. And now I can’t think of anything else!”
It was this first attempt at ‘Trashion’ that really opened her eyes to the issue and what part she could take in solving it. “As soon as I found out about the issue, I was like ‘how did I not know about this?’ So that’s when I started looking into it more,” she said. “After I landed my first commissioned fashion piece I fell in love with it and knew that was what I wanted to do. I then started my beach collection and practiced working with different materials.” This ‘beach collection’ she speaks of is an extensive supply of research she has acquired in the form of abandoned goods and garbage found on Sydney and Los Angeles beaches. For her convenience, this collection and workspace finds home in Coogee, NSW.
Just up the hill from Coogee Beach resides an apartment block no more recognizable than the next. Upon entering though, an already tiny Marina stands welcoming amongst floor- to-ceiling projects and ‘research,’ making her look smaller than ever. The leftmost wall of her workshop hosts dozens of bulk containers, stacked as high as the room allows. The boxes are semi-organized and fill to the brim with treasures. There are designated boxes for every item she finds including sand toys, used takeaway containers, single-use glass and plastic, accessories, and general garbage. Nothing she collects is later cleaned, making her creations truly unique, and her studio filthy. Chocolate and mud smear box sides while ants line endless shelves of slimy toys and candy wrappers.
These disgusting discoveries go toward many a project including her Mayor’s Prize winning ‘Inconvenience Store,’ an art installation that made its debut at Sculpture by the Sea 2017. This conservationist approach to the typical convenient store is a way to showcase the effects of plastic pollution in a form so familiar to its viewers that it is quite eerie. The installation resembles and works as a convenient store, fit with refrigerators filled with used single-use drink bottles, a sunglass rack draped in broken and forgotten pairs, clothing, snacks, and accessories. These items are then displayed in the typical convenient store arrangement. Many visitors at Sculpture by the Sea entered this piece unknowingly and begin browsing the shelves before realizing what their eyes behold.
After Sculpture by the Sea Marina was then approached by Taronga Zoo suggesting the installation’s relocation. Marina agreed that the zoo would be an ideal space for it. As a family-oriented environment, the zoo makes for an excellent place to educate the next generation on plastic pollution. The zoo has even made the effort of posting the latest plastic pollution and beach pollution statistics all around the zoo and marine mammal features. With the estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the oceans today, 100,000 or more marine creatures die each year of plastic entanglement. This harrowing statistic is just one of many that conservationists at Taronga Zoo share with its visitors to raise awareness.
Marina’s unpredicted success has allowed her to not only pioneer her runway show but commission dozens of pieces for environmental agencies, participate in renowned events like Vivid Sydney, all along winning numerous awards for her efforts. Looking around her studio, and although packed with ‘stuff,’ it’s hard to imagine her having enough garbage to complete the seemingly endless work she is acquiring. On this she says, “I keep hoping I’ll go down to the beaches and won’t be able to find anything. If I’ve done my job right I’ll be out of a job one day. But yet, I visit each day and come home with hundreds of pieces.” Marina’s excitement to create is conflicted with her sadness for the issue she is so passionately supporting. It seems beach goers have not yet quit their habits, but with Marina’s growing global success and dedication, I believe it is only a matter of time.