The Story of Huia and Our Feather Earrings
In 1901, a huia feather was presented to the Duke of York, heir to the British throne, during his visit to Aotearoa New Zealand and in 2020 I gifted a pair of huia feather earrings made from recycled plastic to Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand.
I chose huia feathers for the earrings to tell the story of the unintended consequences that can arise when sustainable practices aren’t integrated into our desire for new things.
The huia was the most sacred bird to Maori and feathers were given as a token of friendship and respect. In pre-European times only high ranking chiefs and their whanau (family) wore the tail feathers in their hair. By 1900 huia numbers were decreasing mainly due to habitat loss, but the international fashion craze sparked by the Duke of York was the final blow for the huia and it went extinct in 1907.
Over 100 years later and nothing’s changed. Our love for fashion still impacts the environment far from where we live - think of Indonesian orangutans dying so palm oil can be put in our cosmetics or the fashion industry producing 10% of global carbon emissions in factories far from our closets.
And while our earrings are made from recycled plastic it may come as a surprise that we don't believe recycling is the solution to the plastic pollution problem. Our aim is to use recycling as a mechanism to encourage behaviour change - to encourage people to become more aware of their personal plastic consumption.
For more on this topic, listen to Remix Plastic’s So Circular radio show episode on Ethical and Sustainable Fashion
WHAT ARE THEY MADE FROM?
PLA (Polylactic Acid) is a common 3D printer filament material. This is technically commercially compostable but it isn’t accepted by any facilities in New Zealand. Because PLA is made from plants, its production has a lower carbon footprint than traditional petroleum-based plastics, however there are no regulations around PLA production in New Zealand. For more information on this complicated subject, see our resource at One Planet.
HOW WE MAKE THEM?
We take black 3D printer waste and chip it up. We then sort through the chips to pick out any rogue colours before laying the plastic out on a reusable silicone sheet. A sheet press is used to melt the plastic** into a sheet and let it cool. We then laser cut these sheets with our own machine in our home based workshop.
Once the sheets are cut, we chuck the scraps back into the pile to be chipped and melted again. We then glaze the feathers and attach earring hooks.
For display, the earrings are put onto a 100% recycled card with our details and. When we send them out, we wrap them in salvaged paper/tissue paper, package in recycled cardboard boxes and post them to their new homes.
WHY DO WE MAKE THEM?
Our recycled plastic products are a vehicle to empower people to make sustainable changes, whether big or small. With local waste we create products that have a sustainable story - this not only diverts waste from landfill but also provides a way to engage people in a conversation around reducing single use plastic.
Remix Plastic has chosen the tragedy of the extinction of the Huia to tell of the unintended consequences that can arise when sustainable practices aren’t integrated into our desire for new things.
* Before producing the Huia Feather Earrings, we sought advice from a cultural advisor
** Please note that melting plastic can release hazardous fumes and should not be carried out at home without adequate Health and Safety equipment. See our blog on this topic for more information.
Painting by J. G. Keulemans from W.L Buller’s A History of the Birds of New Zealand (1888)