IDEAS: The Yellow Submarine Rainwear story

Edward Ong is on a quest to discover and create Malaysia’s best ideas. He is an award-winning Writer and Creative Director and can be found at IdeasAreBorderless.com

At the 2018 Kancil Awards, Graphic Design student Shin walked away with the Idea of the Year, and Student of the Year awards for her final project. Titled Yellow Submarine, the work comprised rainwear made out of used life jackets.

I caught up with Shin over coffee and wondered why a graphic design student is killing it in what is obviously fashion design. “Design is very wide,” said Shin.

“Design is everywhere. There is no such thing as no design. Only good design or bad design.”

Objective

The rainwear was accompanied by posters, postcards and a booklet promoting the products.

“What was the brief that led to the work?” “There wasn’t a brief to say do this or do that,” replied Shin. “It was pretty open. We had 6 months to develop the project. First 3 months for idea development, next 3 months for execution.”

“Was this your first idea?” “No, there were several ideas before this. I remember reading somewhere that all life jackets had expiry dates and wanted to see if I could make something with the product. I like the material and texture, and it sort of started from there.”

Challenge

“What was your first thought? What did you think you could make out of used life jackets?” “I think my first thought was: Rain boots! It’s not very common here, though. Then I thought, what if we did sofa covers, or a bed cover, or an umbrella maybe? I toyed around with several product design ideas.”

“When did you know you finally hit the sweet spot?” “I looked at the product. It’s a travel product- as such, the upcycled material should be something related to travel. Besides, I’ll need a lot of life jackets just to make one sofa cover.”

Truth

To bring her idea to life, Shin wrote to AirAsia. As it happens, the airline kept all their used uniforms and life jackets in a giant warehouse in Klang. They were running out of space and were looking for an idea to repurpose the items- instead of throwing them away.

Shin prepared a deck (describing her idea), found somebody who knew somebody at AirAsia Foundation, and emailed it over.

The airline responded and gave her 3 life jackets.

Around the same time, Shin had also developed a brand called Submarine, a platform that turns waste into something new and purposeful.

And since the lifejackets were yellow, she created a sub-brand for the items called, ‘Yellow Submarine’.

Asked whether she’s a fan of the Fab Four, Shin simply replied, “Erh, I like their songs lah.”

Answer

With three precious life jackets before her, and patterns downloaded from the internet, Shin went to work. “I asked everybody if they knew any good tailors. Didn’t know it was so hard to find one! In the end, I had to recruit family members to help,” said Shin.

Altogether, Shin made four products: A Bucket Hat, Shoe cover, Pouch (called Soggy-No-More) and Raincoat. She made the labels big and placed it outside, as part of the design.

The work was launched, as it were, at the Raffles College of Higher Education graduation showcase.

It was also submitted to the Kancil x sCooler student awards, where it picked up Gold (for Best Print and Poster campaign), Silver (Best Design, Product) and Merit (Best Idea for Social Good).

The work also won Idea of the Year, and Student of the Year awards. The latter award was shared with two other students.

Beyond industry recognition, the idea was also picked up by AirAsia Foundation, which has since engaged Nazanin, a social enterprise comprising Afghan refugees in Kuala Lumpur, to produce accessories made from used life jackets, and old airline uniforms.

Soggy-No-More pouches can now be purchased from AirAsia Foundation pop-up stores.

The collection currently includes a sling bag, coin purse and cutlery case. Plans are underway to sell the items onboard AirAsia aircrafts by next year.

Meanwhile, Shin is busy preparing for her Masters in Art and Design in the UK. And how does she feel about her recent awards success, and that her work is being sold by AirAsia?

“Very surprised, and grateful to AirAsia for their support. The product range is not the entirely the same as mine, but I still like it a lot.”

Those of you planning on hiring this young lass will have to wait for a couple of years.

After her studies, she plans to freelance in Europe before making her way back to the tanahair.

In case of emergency, I am led to understand that her mother is somewhat adept at design too, but that’s another story.


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