Stuck indoors because of COVID-19 restrictions, the past year saw people taking up new, often random, hobbies. There are the sourdough bakers, sudden fitness enthusiasts, and TikTok dancers. Then there’s Putri Samboda, whose pandemic project has her turning Indomie wrappers into style statements.
Samboda is an Indonesian fashion influencer living between Yogyakarta and Washington, D.C. She started posting her upcycled looks in June 2020 and quickly went viral. It all started when she was bored in her apartment and decided to make use of trash she meant to throw away.
“It was more like a healthy way to destress and kill time. I started by making my own mask from my old clothes since, at the time, there were no masks available," Samboda told VICE.
As an Indonesian who longs for the taste of home while living in the United States, she, of course, had empty packets of Indomie instant noodles. Lots and lots of them. She had so much that she managed to turn them into a bucket hat, jacket, and other clothes and accessories.
Her first Indomie creation was a pair of shorts she made to match her customized license plate.
But the most popular piece to date is a bag that looks like the Jacquemus Le Chiquito, which now has over 5,000 likes on Instagram.
Samboda said she never thought the pieces would get so much attention.
“When I first started, I noticed the ones who reached out to me were mostly not Indonesians, even though the products I used were practically Indonesians’ inside jokes,” she said. “I thought my approach to art and upcycling wasn't going to ‘fit in’ here.”
Before the pandemic, she had about 5,000 followers on Instagram, but now, she has over 14,000.
Her project has even caught the attention of a director at the company that makes Indomie. Samboda said her works are inspired by travel, museums, and fashion houses — particularly Moschino’s Fall 2014 collection.
“So the idea wasn't uncommon. I just added my style to it,” she said, adding that they’re not just meant to be admired.
“I also love multi-functionality and I want them to be wearable, so they're not just some plastic that I stick [all together] and call them ‘art,’ but they also serve a purpose,” Samboda said. Aside from Indomie packets, she has also upcycled McDonald’s paper bags and a biscuit tin.
For now, all these pieces are just for her personal collection.
“I have so many people asking me to start selling my pieces but I'm really just upcycling to channel my creativity. So we'll see about that,” she said.
Upcycling is not a new trend but it’s also not very common in Indonesia, one of the largest plastic-polluting countries in the world. Samboda is hopeful that sustainable fashion will catch on.
“There has been a growing interest towards sustainable living and we are becoming more conscious of our consumption and waste. In terms of affordability, there's a number of good reasons why they cost more to produce than fast fashion products, but there are also many different ways to participate in the sustainable fashion movement if you don't want to spend a lot,” she said.
Aside from upcycling, she also suggests shopping at thrift stores and donating clothes to reduce garment waste.
“You don't have to be the perfect environmentalist to make changes,” she said. “Even the smallest thing counts.”