Dalah’s ChuChu Design: Great Art That Is Rubbish

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Gwan Ho Tong

Never would have thought such a place existed if I did not go to ChuChu. When I first saw the building from afar, I thought it was a really interesting place. Unlike other shops that have calligraphed signboards or LED lights, ChuChu has artfully arranged used-plastic bottles to form the words “ChuChu Design” on the front. The walls are also infused with plastic and glass bottles to make up a decorative pattern that lets in natural light. The interior of the building is even more impressive. The workshop is full of handicrafts such wallets, cardholders, belts, pencil holders, bottle holders and bags- all from materials that were once trash. The people behind this social enterprises are environmental friendlies. They are cleaning up Yangon and Dalah with their techniques of transforming trash into retail handicraft.

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ChuChu Design is a 3 year pilot project put into effect by mainly Italian organizations as well as some Myanmar ones.  The Italian NGO Cesvi, the City Government of Turin, Yangon Municipality’s Pollution Control & Cleansing Department and the Italian Institute known as Ithaca all teamed up to repurpose trash. The project was financially supported by the EU and Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs but led by Cesvi. ChuChu began its operation in April 2013 in Dalah with 3 women. With the technologies and techniques provided by Cesvi, they learned to infuse plastic bags and sew them to make eco-friendly handicrafts. The organization stated that the goal of the project is to provide “environmental protection and sustainable development: building local capacities on solid waste management in Yangon, Myanmar”.

The members of ChuChu Design are mostly women – mostly people from low income family – to this day including the managing director, Wendy Neampui. There are currently 21 members, who belong to  5 families, with representatives from each family who gather every Tuesday and Thursday to discuss new designs and the quality of the products they made last week. Sometimes, they have design workshops where a professional designer will teach them the techniques to make new designs. They then pass the techniques onto the other families member and together they would start crafting items out of rubbish. ChuChu is situated in Dallah but not all the members are from Dallah. Some commute enthusiastically from as far away as Mingladon or Insein. They enjoy their time trying to transform what is useless into something usable and sustainable. One woman, Me Me Khaing,  said that when she started out at ChuChu Design, she was really bad at. But whatever she managed to make, she took pride in it. For she knew that her handicrafts help both the environment and the income of her family.

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All designs are created by ChuChu Design’s members and handmade. The price is a bit high compared to other products made out of plastics. If a normal pouch costs around 1000 kyats, pouches from ChuChu will cost around 3000 or 4000 kyats. This, however, has a reason. The price of the products by ChuChu are reasonable when you consider the processes they take to complete one just one product.

The ChuChu Methodology

The process starts with sanitization. Piles of rubbish  are generally dirty and contain harmful materials that people rightfully tend to avoid. However, all gathered rubbish by ChuChu is  cleaned and sanitized properly so that the used materials are free of any dangerous substances that could come into contact with people.

After the sanitary process, the rubbish has to be  reshaped into a reusable form. Plastic bags are cut open and put into a laminating machine to be  flattened  into one big sheet. The sheets are then cut into the shapes of  their respective products. The heat emitted  from the laminating machine melted the plastic and fusing all the pieces together. The workers are careful about color composition (since different plastic bags have different color) and the color patterns can not be changed after lamination.  After the careful composed sheet are made,  the process of knitting, sewing, folding, cutting and  glueing begins.

ChuChu sometimes uses rubber material such as tires to coat the outer layer of a plastic bottle to turn them into vases or pencil holders or belts and bags. Both the outer tires and inner tubes are utilized Belts make use of bicycle tire which already are small in width, allowing the workers to just cut the tires lengthwise. The inner tubes provide a strong and flexible material that works for pouches and bags.

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A lot of consideration and efforts are put into the process of making sustainable products. I believe the price that they demand are worthy or at least reasonable. Customers are also doing more than supporting ChuChu, they also promote environmental awareness. Moreover,  as most members are from low income family, purchasing their products in turn supports their families.

What’s ChuChu Like?

The workshop is on Khaye Road in Dalah. You can cross over to Dalah from the Pansodan Jetty then take  a motorcycle to ChuChu Design. The showroom is the good place visit and the people there are really friendly and welcoming. You may be wondering that it is not exactly a “nice” place to visit since it is mostly made of recycled materials. However, it is a really enjoyable place to visit. I have been there a few times and every time I was amazed by the impressive things they have done using recycled material. Anyone is welcome to go there and take a look. If you are going there on Tuesday and Thursday, you can meet all the members and the process of making items and even talk to them. They are a friendly bunch of people. If you cannot visit the showroom (since it is in Dallah, across the river), you can get their products at Pomelo. Pomelo is located on Thein Phyu Road; it is one of the retailer.

ChuChu is the only social enterprise that does this kind of work, as far as I know. Unfortunately, the pilot project is ending. chuchu 5However, Wendy Neampui said “We are planning to continue do this even if the pilot project ended”. The funding may have stopped but that does not mean that they can’t look for further funding. Furthermore, 10 % of the money they receive from selling items go back into the financing their operations. People can also learn to make handicrafts at ChuChu Design. The trainings and methods are not only limited to their workers. People can learn their methods for a fixed price (30000 kyats per item). The money, however, goes back into the fund for the sustainability of the social enterprise.

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