Finalist 2021

DNJ Paper


DNJ PAPER is a collaborative research project and fashion brand that makes clothing from handmade Japanese paper.

DNJ PAPER is a collaborative research project and fashion brand that makes clothing from handmade Japanese paper (washi), made of bark from the Paper Mulberry tree (Broussonetia Papyrifera). We explore all the things that the material can offer a design at the intersections of history, aesthetics, and function.

Paper is for drawing, wrapping, crumpling, covering, tearing, soaking, throwing away. Paper is a material for clothing in longstanding cultural histories throughout Asia and the West, and a tool to think about and critique disposability and fashion in response to pressing social, aesthetic, and conceptual questions swirling around contemporary fashion practice.

Design Brief

This design brief is critical and engaging with timely and important notions of sustainability. This project considers and critiques mass-production of fashion by employing very slow and local material practices.

The surplus of garments resulting from the large scale fashion manufacturing and distribution system is affected by a common practice in garment design which enables the consumer to ignore the product lifecycle and focus attention on constantly-regenerating aesthetic expressions.

This aesthetic regeneration is a kind of game of archival cultural references in which some key elements of design (fit, materiality, colour, silhouette) take turns becoming prominent and receding. This project proposes a speculative system for garment design and use that invites consumers to participate in the regeneration of garments through repair, care, and recycling. DNJ PAPER is driven by a material — paper — and it’s histories.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

DNJ PAPER is a speculative design project that produces prototypes to explore specific aims, which can include experimental materiality or conceptual exploration.

By connecting historical data with trial and error, the designers have developed numerous prototype designs that have exceeded expectations—coats, hats, jackets, wallets, and bags, and have shown some in symposia and exhibitions internationally.

DNJ PAPER’s design process begins with fieldwork undertaken in Japan with paper- and paper clothing-makers. On behalf of the British Museum, Daphne has conducted interviews with traditional papermakers, documenting the relationships and processes involved in making the source material. All of our paper can be traced to the original source, including details as specific as the paper type, the maker’s family history, the type of water used, and the origin of the plant fibre used in each sheet.

DNJ PAPER embodies paper’s ability to be manipulated and adapt, and has applied the textile to a variety of design briefs and projects, including the Theseus Coat, for the “Future Prototyping” exhibition held in partnership with Melbourne Design Week in 2020, and Kamiko Bomber, for iD Dunedin Fashion Week, in collaboration with Otago Polytechnic.

DNJ PAPER draws on common garment archetypes, such as the Mac Coat and the Bomber Jacket, and develops zero-waste prototypes until a satisfactory design has been achieved. The paper that is used is handmade, and as a result comes in slightly differing sizes. To adapt to this, designs need to be redrawn and drafted to meet the size of the sheet in order to reduce or eliminate waste. Further designs are also developed to be able to use the waste, such as collage, applique, recycling, and gluing.

Design Excellence

Our design and research practice deals with the history and use of paper clothing in Japan — a history of usages that traverses the boundaries between durability and ephemerality and high- and low-value.

This project satisfies the fundamental criteria for good design, especially in terms of sustainability, aesthetics, and functionality. The raw material for our designs — paper— is produced by hand in Japanese studios, but our design and production is all done in-house in Melbourne. The practice centers around custom-order garments and small-run produced accessories.

Our process for developing the design through user experience testing is currently underway via a practice-based research project for an international conference. During the course of two weeks in October 2021, the designers will each wear paper clothing from their archives every day over the course of two weeks. They will photograph and document using text any changes or observations that occur during the research period. The result will be a photo series and written record of how these garments perform. We will document our experiences of use, and the material changes to the garments. The aim of this work is to discuss a major contradiction in contemporary fashion design — that it is designed to be socially ephemeral, yet made using materials and construction techniques that last much longer in the landfill and waste systems than its social lifespan.

This project invites closer attention to garments and how they change over time, as the material carries traces of wear visibly — it promotes an aesthetic of ephemerality, and rejects the contradiction of durable fashion design.

This project highlights the need for fashion and textiles designers to act in radically different ways to the norm—this imperative extends to both the material sourcing and relationships and the methods for production and end use.

Design Innovation

Whilst not necessarily new, our practice is centred around the use of washi paper as a textile. Paper may not seem like a suitable material for making clothing, but can be strong and durable if made in a specific way.

In Japan, clothing is one of the hundreds of products which have been made out of paper over the centuries, and is called kamiko. Around 910 CE, Japanese Buddhist monks began creating garments out of their paper sutras, spawning a lasting tradition of wearing paper clothing that was later adopted by farmers and the upper classes.

Throughout its history, Japanese paper, washi (和紙), has been produced in villages and towns across the Japanese archipelago. From these places, hundreds of local varieties of washi were produced as a result of a contingent relationship between local landscapes and communities. Now, the manufacture of paper clothing is almost an extinct process. There are no longer any surviving kamiko artisans, with the making of paper clothing being limited to the Buddhist monks of Todaiji Shrine.

DNJ PAPER aims to explore and enliven the traditional craft of paper clothing, and has done extensive historical and primary research in order to undertake this mission. DNJ PAPER’s made to order project ensures that customers have a deeply personal engagement with the making process. Customers are measured and fitted specific to their bodies and personal taste, providing feedback and input regarding design and material choices. DNJ PAPER also offers a series of ready-to-wear garments and accessories for customers that wish to engage with the practice in a more immediate fashion.

Design Impact

In recent years many fast fashion brands have included product lines in their offerings that deploy new methods for production aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Other groups have also emerged alongside, pushing this shift in industry, who are backed by local governments, or run independently. They endeavor to trace or control the production of fashion in order to create the conditions for a more just system to emerge by demanding accountability from brands and providing information.

These efforts — just, needed, and noble as they are — invite questions to be asked in relation to the terms “sustainable growth” and “green growth”: How can increased consumption and production reduce the fashion industry’s impact on the climate? How can an economic system based on infinite growth lend itself to a slowing of consumption and production? What is sustained in “sustainable growth”?

DNJ PAPER seeks to answer these questions by designing clothes centred around washi paper as a textile. Washi paper is recyclable, sustainably grown, and it’s production is intrinsically linked with the preservation of an endangered cultural practice. Sustainability is not just a question of sustaining the status quo, and producing the mountains of surplus clothing we do now.

One advantage of using paper as a textile, is the ability to recycle any waste material or scraps, simply and economically. In comparison, recycling orthodox textiles like cotton or synthetics is an immensely labour and resource intensive process. In addition to this recycling process, DNJ Paper utilise waste-minimising garment cutting techniques to avoid creating waste wherever possible. We are currently developing prototypes that can be completely recyclable.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

  1. Use of recycled or repurposed materials.
    Our T-shirt designs, for example, are always produced on existing second-hand t-shirts. This is for two reasons – we couldn’t think of a good reason to produce our own when there are so many garments already on their way to landfill that can be edited. The second reason is that you inherit certain things with second-hand materials. Like the paper used as a cloth will inherit traces of wear, so does a second-hand fabric or garment. This project encourages people to consider that things change through use. We also make an effort to find deadstock or second-hand fabrics in our linings and internal structures of garments, thereby stopping them from ending up in landfill.
  2. The production of paper is a communal activity, during which all the processes and materials and traceable back to their source.
    Paper invites us to consider: How is the “local” embodied in paper clothing and textiles in the Japanese context? What can we learn from a longstanding small-scale material-making tradition and its material flows that can contribute toward a practice of sustainable resource use for fashion design?
  3. We adopt a zero-waste mentality with materials. In the event that waste is generated, paper’s unique position as an easily manipulated and recycled material ensures that no scrap goes to landfill. Scraps are either remade into cloth, or used in another design.
  4. We use biodegradable materials where possible.
  5. We work slowly and small-scale.
  6. We are able to ascertain the location of origin and maker of the paper we use.
  7. DNJ Paper offers a garment repair and renewal service for all of their made-to-order garments, working with clients to ensure their garments live long and happy lives.

Fashion Design 2021 Finalists

Tara Whalley

Tara Whalley


Claire Hausler of Merineo Pty Ltd / Knox Private Hospital staff / Mandi Buchanan - Maternity Ward Nurse Unit Manager


Oscar Keene