Johanna Törnqvist, Precious Trash


Limited resources and basic necessity saw Zulu bowl and basket weavers turn to papier mâché, magazines, tins, aluminium cans and telephone wire to make their wares, creating a look as synonymous with South Africa as its Shweshwe cotton prints. Now, Swedish artist Johanna Törnqvist is eschewing traditional textiles for household refuse to create fully recycled garments.
Picture the orange plastic netting your onions come in as inspiration for the fall; the plastic weave pinstripe, Prince of Wales check and Burberry-style tartans of the humble Chinese laundry bag. Rudimentary materials like these, long considered disposable are now being repurposed and refashioned as forward thinking crafters like Törnqvist reassess their value.
Earlier in her practice, Törnqvist collected odds and ends, fabric off-cuts, buttons, lace and ribbon to create her intricate and flamboyant chokers, anklets and wrist adornments. But her most recent piece, a full length, multi-tiered dress in the Spanish flamenco style was made from less usual items – coffee and pasta packaging.
Collecting the refuse of two months’ consumption, Törnqvist set about making a statement piece that made both a comment on sustainability and a strong visual impact. As a result, the piece renders the base materials almost unrecognizable. Cut and fixed into box pleats, the mass of ‘fabric’ is dazzling. Look closely among the layers, however, and you find a few clues: a fair-trade symbol, icons representing coffee making methods and that strange collection of consonants: “Tillagningstid 8 mins.”
The pasta may very well be boiled in eight minutes, but for Törnqvist, completing the piece “Precious Trash” took over three months. The effort and precision involved elevates the piece to the realm of haute couture, making it impressive, but obviously inaccessible to most. It doesn’t provide the alternative to the mass-produced products in which the general populace dress. It does, however, draw attention to an issue in an industry where more could easily be done.

Setting trends is a fundamental pillar of fashion, and the industry is certainly not without its trailblazers. Questions are being asked at each stage of a garment’s life cycle on how to better address sustainability. People are looking to organic fibers, fairer manufacturing methods and vintage finds to do what they can.
We’ve had the term ‘eco-warrior’ for some time now, but Törnqvist thinks it’s time for the ‘organic divas’ to start doing their bit. It’s well known that Ali Hewson of Edun and Vivienne Westwood are proponents of the sustainability message, with Westwood breaking the first commercial tenet with her statement: “buy less, choose well and do it yourself.” We can all learn from this as it helps to realise eco-fashion need not be a novelty, nor just for the artistically talented. It only takes a little awareness and creativity to, at the very least, swap, cinch and mend before you spend.
Törnqvist continues to work on her recycled garments and accessories, developing her “Precious Trash” collection and working in collaboration with various Nordic design museums on process and technique, knowledge which will aid the next gen. There’s no doubt the more adventurous will find inspiration in the sustainability challenge, with designers repurposing recycled material in increasingly functional and fashionable ways.