Representing the creative future

Clara Chu is tackling waste production with smart designs

Excess household objects get a second life in the form of fashion accessories

Admittedly so much of the stuff that’s made and sold just ends up cluttering some corner of our pad, a disgrace which, in the end, is dealt with by discarding what seemingly wasn’t needed in the first place. To the charity shop it goes or, if one happens to personally know Clara Chu, then to her it goes. With things that may appear disposable to others, Chu is creating accessories so that these unused and unwanted objects get the attention they deserve.

In part, that DIY prowess was instilled by her dad who is that handy he once turned cardboard boxes into a Christmas tree. “I couldn’t fathom how anyone would think this was normal… it was just such a random and funny thing to do,” Chu says. She credits him but also her native Hong Kong where knick-knack shops are plentiful, as the inspiration behind her work.

Chu has always had a thing for all the pleasant-to-look-at objects that make up daily life and, even if she didn’t know it when she first started studying Womenswear at London College of Fashion, it became obvious to her that these would be the central focus of her work. Rather than drawing influence from favourite designers like most of her classmates did, Chu explored staples of contemporary design such as the S-shaped, brightly coloured Panton Chair from the 1960s. This brought her to realise that she would take a slightly different path than what she initially planned. “Whilst doing a design assignment I would actually put more thought into the things that would surround an outfit; the accessories,” she points out.

“Whilst doing a design assignment I would actually put more thought into the things that would surround an outfit; the accessories.” – Clara Chu

Acknowledging this perhaps brought about the tipping point in Chu’s fixation with the common yet visually appealing things that surround us. She’d go on to enroll in an MA in Fashion Accessories at the Royal College of Art and do a thesis fully dedicated to Tupperware containers. There, at RCA, she spent countless hours in the workshop, doing 3D scans with the haptic arm of these familiar containers that make up most scholars and workers’ lunch boxes. “At first I thought I’d distort Tupperware into something more sciency, but after much experimentation, I worked with them as they were,” she says. “They are already iconic in their own way, and I thought it would be more spontaneous and fun to make designs that nod to the everyday objects that one accumulates instead.”

Since that realisation there’s been no turning back for Chu, as she’s been stacking boxes of colourful plastic kitchenware in her studio; found items coming from Hong Kong, the UK, the streets, car boot sales, etc. “When I go through all the things I’ve sourced, I go about sorting them by colours,” she explains.

Clara Chu's process

“Masks are one-offs and easily discardable, so to make something else out of them was relevant to what I’m trying to share. I want others to see things differently,.” – Clara Chu

This comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever peeked at her body of work — each and every accessory looks like it just stepped out of a Pantone colour chart. One bag she made during her time at RCA comes in shades of apple green and lemon yellow and has got a central locking system that in reality is a reusable water bottle cap. Other pieces come in blue PVC, in blood orange, in white toothpaste, and all are tagged with the pleasant sign-offs “Chew by Chu” and “hand cooked in London”. Ice cube trays, yoga mats, kitchen sponges, rubber shower mats, and coffee cup sleeves are some examples of the household materials that have been given a second life in the form of bags. Inevitably during lockdown, face masks also got the same treatment.“Masks are one-offs and easily discardable, so to make something else out of them was relevant to what I’m trying to share. I want others to see things differently,” she says.

Even though she’s kept her creative drive going, Chu, like most recent graduates, had her fair share of challenges this year. For one thing, she was forced to stop her traineeship at Sophia Webster halfway through. For another, she no longer had access to the second-hand shops, such as the South London’s Work and Play Scrapstore, she usually relied upon for her materials.

But, also, recognition from the industry has come in many forms: she was bestowed with the International Talent Support’s Responsible Accessories Award as well as a cash prize and a tutorship by Fashion Revolution, and she has been offered an artist residency and a studio sitting at London-based charity HQI.

Moving forward, Chu hopes to work in collaboration with homeware chains and help them reuse the inventory they didn’t get to sell for whatever reason, such as overproduction or defects or discolouration over time etc. That sure makes sense: as she’s proven, she knows what to do with stuff that collects dust. And all in all, it would be a clever solution to tackle waste production head-on.  “If I do it, it would have to be simpler, universal versions so that the production operates a lot quicker and efficiently,” she says. That’d be the basics by Chu, so to speak.

Clara Chu's process