For India in election mode, this Thai designer sets an example

Fashion designer Panupong Chansopa displays tote bags made from old election campaign posters in his home in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: Reuters

As a model worthy of emulation in India in the event of general elections spanning from April to May this year, the endeavour of a Thai designer can open up business prospects for many here and provide some relief to the environment.

Thai designer Panupong Chansopa saw a business opportunity in millions of vinyl campaign posters destined to become trash after last month's general election in Thailand, and salvaged hundreds to turn them into colorful 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.

Panupong Chansopa
Fashion designer Panupong Chansopa poses for a photo with his tote bags made from old election campaign posters near his home in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: Reuters

"The junta took power and silenced people, but now people want to speak out and express themselves," he said.

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 colors, 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 ($23.60) 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."

While crores of rupees is spent on promotional materials by various parties across India for making hoardings, banners, posters, placards and so on, they end up as heaps of trash along the length and breadth of the nation compounding to tons of garbage after elections.

Though there has been a respite for vinyl flex boards following court order banning such advertisement materials in states like Kerala, banners and posters made of cloths in large quantities can render an opportunity in India similar to that of Panupong's venture.

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