UNSW COFA FLASHBACK- Nick Walker featured in SMH article “Second life for street banners” (2008)

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Design students have been transforming Sydney’s old promotional banners into an array of bright ideas, writes Samantha Day.

One minute they’re fluttering in a Sydney breeze, touting the latest city festival; the next they’ve become a dress, a doll or even a picnic rug.

Design students have put their heads together to come up with ways to reuse Sydney’s old street banners. The City of Sydney had asked the students, from the University of NSW’s College of Fine Arts, to help recycle the banners into marketable products as part of its Live Green celebrations (a sustainability festival held in the city recently).

Across Sydney 1600 banner poles display a variety of flags for the city’s events throughout the year, from Chinese New Year to Sustainable Sydney 2030 to Live Green 2007.

Fifty banners were given to the class of third-year textile students to allow them to brainstorm ideas. Although the council had already begun work on transforming the banners into bags, the budding designers were encouraged to work on a unique concept that could be marketed to a broad audience.

The Australian fashion designer Akira Isogawa judged the prototypes, focusing on practicality, originality and style. Then the festival-goers voted for their favourite.

The people’s choice was a picnic-style rug that folds up into a backpack and can also be made into a children’s toy. One of its designers, Sarah Long, said she and her three colleagues “wanted to create something that was practical and tied in well with the City of Sydney. We made a product that could be used at events and festivals that the council sets up.” They were shocked but delighted at winning the crowd favourite gong. “We’re stoked, we were so happy with the final product,” Long said.

The concept chosen by Isogawa in the category of best sustainable design was a collection of soft toys inspired by endangered species. Lina Chen, Suely Lu, Didi Qian and Annie So created the toys, named Softies, to highlight the consequences of environmental change. “We wanted to target children with these soft toys to show them at a young age what changes in the environment mean for animals,” said So.

The toys, made solely with the City of Sydney banners, have handstitched jokes or facts about endangered animals on them. “We thought it was a fun way to capture a child’s attention and teach them about wider environmental problems,” said Lu.

Other students transformed the banners into wearable clothes, items to assist people living on the streets, sleeping bags which became emergency day-packs and a shelter installation to provide protection from weather.

Sustainable and pre-used resources are not new to the design students. From the beginning of their coursework they have been encouraged to work only with second- or even third-hand materials. The head of the design school, Liz Williamson, hopes to continue these projects with the City of Sydney. “We would love to work with them again, it’s a fantastic opportunity for the students, not only for their careers … but to open their eyes to the possibilities of sustainable and reused materials,” she said.

The council is evaluating the students’ prototypes to choose which one will go into production. According to its acting chief executive, Garry Harding, “the work of these young CoFa designers shows that there are many great ways we can reuse our materials”.

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