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From trash to totes - Thai designer makes politics fashionable

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By Reuters
From trash to totes - Thai designer makes politics fashionable
FILE PHOTO: A tote bag made from an old election campaign poster is displayed for a photo on a street in Bangkok, Thailand April 8, 2019. Picture taken April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun   -   Copyright  SOE ZEYA TUN(Reuters)

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Jiraporn Kuhakan

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai designer Panupong Chansopa saw a business opportunity in millions of vinyl campaign posters destined to become trash after last month’s general election, and salvaged hundreds to turn them into colourful tote bags with a message.

Most of his designs feature the cropped faces of popular politicians, or eye-catching campaign slogans cut from the posters and sewn together by a seamstress.

“This is about a political awakening, not just an environmental effort,” Panupong, 28, said of the pent-up desire for political expression after five years of military rule.

“The junta took power and silenced people, but now people want to speak out and express themselves.”

It is still uncertain which party could form a government after the March 24 election, the first since a 2014 army coup. Final results may not be clear for weeks.

Panupong collected about 400 posters in Bangkok, mostly those of the youth-oriented Future Forward Party, whose leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit figures is among his most popular designs.

In a friend’s house that serves as a makeshift factory, Panupong unrolls a weather-worn poster on the floor, washes it with a sponge and soapy water and then hangs it up to dry.

The final product is a rectangular, vertical tote bag in bold colours, with handles so it can be held in the hand or slung over the shoulder. Made from vinyl, the bag is also water-resistant and durable.

The bags sell for 750 baht (18 pounds) each and are available only while stocks last, Panupong said.

He hoped that his brand “Faithai”, inspired by a Swiss brand that makes bags from used truck tarps, can spur political debate without the deep divisions of the recent past.

“In the past…politics and political parties were seen as irrelevant, if not dangerous and risky to engage with,” he said.

“But now I want politics to be something everyone can relate to. No need to run from it, no need to fear talking about it.”

(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Jiraporn Kuhakan; writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Darren Schuettler)