Filipino maids in Singapore model gowns they created from rubbish | Global News

Filipino maids in Singapore model gowns they created from rubbish

/ 03:15 PM November 29, 2023

Filipino maids model works of couture art they create from household rubbish

Filipino maids lining up on a stage during a fashion show and beauty pageant they dubbed “Trashion”. ST PHOTO: RAUL DANCEL

SINGAPORE – For four hours on one of their Sundays off, about a dozen Filipino maids strutted on a stage inside the HFSE International School in Mountbatten Road wearing dazzling, colorful gowns and dresses made out of what otherwise would have been trash.

On their bodies were bottle caps, sachets, plastic wrappers, reusable shopping bags, newspapers, milk cartons and plastic spoons.


This “Trashion Show” on Nov 26 was about the environment, and how man-made pollutants like plastic are wrecking ecosystems and decimating marine wildlife.’


But it also called attention to how many maids in Singapore feel like they are still being treated today: invisible, diminished, disposable – like trash.

Ms Raquel Ello, 40, who has been working as a maid in Singapore for five years, said it took her about three months to sew the gown she wore for the show.

It was a simple one – a tapestry of plastic packaging from ice cream sandwiches, potato chips, dips and chocolates, accented with paper flower bouquets and art paper.

But she could not work on it full time as she tends to two elderly Singaporeans.

“Whenever I still had the energy for it, I’d start working (on the costume) at 8pm and try to continue till 10pm. But then, I had to stop at 10pm because both my employers are elderly, and they need to be in bed by 10pm,” she said.

Ms Ello said she understood what the organisers behind Trashion were trying to do.


“There are so many things happening in this world because of climate (change). I wanted to show that even though I have a lowly job, there’s still something I can do to help,” she added.
From discards to clothes

Ms Juliet Dailmoto, 45, enjoys designing clothing whenever she has time to spare. She works for two expatriates and has been in Singapore for 16 years.

She worked on two dresses.

One was inspired by the traditional dress for women in the Philippines known as the “baro at saya”, or blouse and skirt.

Filipino maids model works of couture art they create from household rubbish - 29nov2023 (1)

Two dresses made out of coffee sachets and newspapers designed by Filipino maid Juliet Dailmoto, 45, who dabbles in clothing design in her free time. ST PHOTO: RAUL DANCEL

Ms Dailmoto made the outfit entirely out of Nescafe 3-in-1 coffee sachets, empty as well as new, glued to cartons, newspapers and a reusable shopping bag.

She said she used about 30 bags containing dozens of discarded sachets each.

“My inspiration was the Filipino farmer, so you have this big hat that provides shade from the sun.”

The skirt is corn-shaped and layered with hundreds of sachets. She then used newspapers to give the base of the skirt a bell shape.

Her other creation was inspired by the ethnic craft of basket weaving.

Filipino maids model works of couture art they create from household rubbish - 29nov2023 (1)

For the fashion show and beauty pageant dubbed “Trashion Show”, Filipino maids wear bottle caps, sachets, plastic wrappers, eco-bags, newspapers, milk cartons and plastic spoons. ST PHOTO: RAUL DANCEL

Rolling pages from newspapers and magazines into thin strands, she wove these together in a basket pattern into a dress with a knee-length skirt. For accents and colour, she turned some of the papers into floral embellishments.

It took Ms Dailmoto just five days to produce the traditional gown. But the see-through dress took three weeks of work.

She remembered staying up till 2am, cutting, rolling, glueing and stitching.

“But I usually limited myself to staying up only till 12.30am. I also needed to get some rest because I still had to wake up at 6am,” she said.

Filipino maids model works of couture art they create from household rubbish - 29nov2023 (1)

A Filipino maid wearing a gown made out of hundreds of 3-in-1 coffee sachets. ST PHOTO: RAUL DANCEL

She said she was glad that her employers – a Briton and an Australian – supported her “hobby”.

On Trashion day, she was rewarded with a bevy of awards. The models who wore them both placed in the top 5, with the one in the modern dress ending up first runner-up. That dress itself won a special prize for its creative design.

The top prize was bagged by Ms Maricel Carullo, 42.

“I create out of recyclable materials. I think it’s such a waste if we just throw them away when we can make something else out of them: a dress, a basket,” said Ms Dailmoto.

She added that she is aware of how much damage plastic pollution is having on waterways and on marine life.

“Plastic clogs our drains. By recycling, I can help the community, I can help the world, in my own little way.”

A call to be seen

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There is another theme behind the Trashion Show, one that regards trash more as a metaphor than a material thing.

“Migrant domestic workers remain vulnerable. We are looked down upon as trash. Through Trashion, we want to show that this ‘trash’ is also skilful. We want to uplift our human dignity,” said Ms Jo Ann Dumlao, a coordinator for the group Kaugnay – a Filipino word that roughly translates to “kin”.

Kaugnay is under the auspices of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), a local non-governmental organisation that advocates for migrant workers’ rights.

Maltreatment and abuse continue to shadow maids in Singapore, said Ms Dumlao.

There were about 268,500 migrant domestic workers in Singapore as at December 2022. About a third of them were Filipinos.

Sometimes, she said, it is low-intensity verbal abuse, as when an employer shouts at a maid and tells her: “I don’t care if you jump off a window!”

At other times, it is being handed just the head of a fish or leftovers for food after everyone else on the table has had their fill.

But largely, it is the overall helplessness a maid feels because she has fewer rights than most other migrant workers in Singapore.

“An employer can buy a ticket, take us to the airport and send us home any time,” she said.

Dr Stephanie Chok, executive director of Home, said the problems she has been seeing with domestic workers who run away from their employers are still the same as before.

Home runs a shelter for maids who run away from abusive situations.

“Verbal abuse, overworked, salary issues, illegal deployment, surveillance, not being able to use their phones – these are problems that we still see. There is still a long way to go in terms of improving the rights of domestic workers,” she said.

She said in 2022, Home hosted about 500 runaways at its shelter.

Luck strikes for Joy

Filipino maids model works of couture art they create from household rubbish - 29nov2023 (1)

Ms Joy Cardoza, 41, with her nine-year-old ward, Olivia. ST PHOTO: RAUL DANCEL

Ms Joy Cardoza, 41, counts herself as very lucky because she landed with a couple who treat her very well.

She has been with them for nine years.

Ms Cardoza said that during the Covid-19 pandemic, when schools in the Philippines were shut and classes moved online, her employers provided the laptops and mobile phones her children – all boys – needed.

They gave her a loan so she could open a bakery and buy a van, which her husband is now renting out.

They also let her children stay with her in their flat when they come for holidays.

“They treat my family as their own. They tell me that they do good in order to receive goodness from other people,” said Ms Cardoza.

They also let their daughters, nine-year-old Olivia and four-year-old Sophia, who have been looked after by Ms Cardoza since they were born, be part of Trashion.

Ms Cardoza put together a flower-shaped dress made out of cartons of Olivia’s favourite milk brand, Farmhouse, and an accompanying butterfly costume for Sophia.

“Joy wanted to do something,” said Mr David James, 51, Ms Cardoza’s employer, who is from Britain.

“She wanted to focus on recycling, and the girls wanted to get involved. There’s always been talk of recycling in school, and this is a good example to show how it’s translated into reality,” he added.

“Joy has really been a part of the family.”

A sense of empowerment

Ms Cardoza acknowledged that many maids like her have not been as fortunate.

“But I always tell them to be thankful because they at least still have jobs here. I tell them to do their jobs well, so that the people they’re working for will be happy,” she said.

She added that most employers in Singapore do appreciate it when their helpers do their jobs well.

“It’s automatic because people do return a good deed with a good deed, unless they are really very bad.”

Ms Cardoza said depression usually sets in and becomes a problem not because of the work or the employers, but because of the sense of isolation in being away from one’s family.

“We can do the work here, no matter how difficult it may be. But once you feel the detachment from your family, that is the worst feeling any OFW (overseas Filipino worker) can feel,” she said.

“You feel like you have no one else but yourself.”

Dr Chok, of Home, said events like Trashion are meant to help ease that sense of being alone.

“I think on Sundays, when they have their events together, they get a sense of community, a sense of empowerment.”

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TAGS: fashion, ofws, Singapore

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