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I helped Converse open its first virtual store floating on an island of trash

PHOTOGRAPHY BY @cremedelazem

WORDS BY MAGGIE ZHOU

And we need your help to shut it down ASAP.

It’s not every day that Converse slides into your DMs to ask you to be involved in a top-secret project, a project literally about trash. Needless to say, I was intrigued.

Converse, in its typically bold and imaginative fashion, enabled its community of young creatives, the Converse All Stars, to build a virtual store on a Garbage Patch in the Pacific.

To the uneducated ear (mine), I thought it was maybe a sad limited-edition Cabbage Patch Kid. But to the environmentally-minded around us, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest expanse of rubbish in the ocean.

Spanning waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan, this amass of trash sits on no man’s land and has been neglected by governments globally. Converse has stepped in to try and tackle this colossal problem. With a surface area of approximately 1.6 million square kilometres, we’re talking about something that’s the size of Queensland, double the size of Texas and triple the size of France.

So, what’s a Converse store got to do with it? Converse knew that this garbage patch was in dire need of more attention and decided to open up a virtual store called the Renew Labs store right in the middle of the ocean. It doesn’t really make sense, hey? Exactly. A Converse store in the Pacific Ocean shouldn’t exist because this island of trash shouldn’t exist.

As a member of the Converse All Stars community (a global, grassroots network of young creatives, previously known as Converse X), I was picked alongside environmentalist Varsha Yajman to help launch this store. We’ve watched it grow from a farfetched idea into one that’s been magically brought to fruition.

Launching on Earth Day, the Renew Labs store can be accessed through Converse’s website, where you’re virtually transported into a street view mode of the garbage patch. Here you’ll find a 360 degree build-out, where you can browse and shop Converse’s recycled collection, five All Stars’ innovative designs and collaborations with local, sustainable brands.

For this Renew Labs store, five All Stars from Mexico, Belize, Indonesia, South Africa and Australia have experimented with sustainable techniques to create limited-edition prototype sneakers. Innovative dyes like colour-changing berries, paint made from glow-in-the-dark microbes and ink made from air pollution will all be on show.

These unique prototypes will be given away freely to people who donate to the charity  Take 3 through the virtual store. The proceeds from these kicks will be donated completely to this non-profit striving to make the ocean a plastic-free place. We have the bold goal of removing one million pieces of trash. We call it the ‘Grand Closing’ – we want to completely demolish the structure and foundation of the virtual store.

Converse also wanted to spotlight Aussie businesses doing their bit in the sustainability space. Every week, a new brand will be championed, such as Juno Araya, a label dedicated to turtlenecks made from deadstock fabrics and original artworks. RMIT Fashion Honours graduate Bianca Boyd will also be in the mix, throwing her hand-painted wide-brimmed hats made from locally-sourced natural fibres and local deadstock fabrics into the ring. And Cush Coma will be displaying its unique cushions stuffed with 100 per cent recycled PET water bottle filling.

Of course, Converse will be showing off its Crater sneaker, a sneaker made from 35 per cent recycled materials by weight. Its Converse’s most sustainably innovative invention of yet – its upper is made from a material called Morphlon, a 50 per cent recycled polyester and 50 per cent recycled post-industrial waste scraps mix.

While the reality is that the garbage patches in our oceans are mainly made of microplastics that might not be visible to the human eye, the harmful consequences of such an accumulation of rubbish remain just as dangerous.

All collected plastic will be recycled, and Converse is exploring the potential to include the material in a future collection of sneakers.

This digital initiative brings the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from across the oceans and onto our screens. Whether you shop around for new kicks, share Converse’s short film, use its gifs or Instagram story AR filters and stickers, you’ll play your part in removing unwanted trash out of our oceans.

We have eight weeks to try and shut this store down. When enough plastic has been removed from the ocean and the foundation of the store collapses, we’ll have met our target.

Trash doesn’t belong here, and we can do something about it.

Take a look around the Renew Labs store here.

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