upcycle penguin tote bag students

Education for Sustainability students at Grey High School chose fast fashion as their issue to research and address. They addressed it in a very creative way, upcycling old material destined for landfill to make new tote bags. They also wanted to raise money for a good cause and they chose the West Coast Penguin Trust.

Haamiahly Priestly-Hall and Fearne Richards developed the project supported by Caitlin Shields, who brought the idea of protecting penguins to the project.  Together they cut up fabric, learned how to use sewing machines, dyed some of the fabric, made bags, used fabric paints to hand paint permanent penguin designs and then sold them at the first youth spring market in Greymouth.

They were the only students selling for the benefit of a charity with 100% of the income destined for the penguin trust – and they were the first stall to sell out!

upcycle penguin tote bag students
Fearne and Haamiahly show off their hand made, hand-painted, upcycled blue penguin tote bags

They didn’t stop there though, making many more bags and selling them at school, raising a final magnificent amount of $432, from bags priced at $5 and $10 and some generous donations thrown in too.

The West Coast Penguin Trust is acutely aware of the problems caused by our throwaway society, including the increasing risk of fatal plastic ingestion or tangling by seabirds and marine mammals.  

Manager, Inger Perkins, said “Not only is the donation a superb effort and a wonderful contribution to the work of the trust, but the efforts by these students to do something about waste, focussing on fabric and fast fashion, and raising awareness of penguins at our coast at the same time, is outstanding.”

With the support of Education for Sustainability teacher Lara Thompson, as well as drama teacher Susanne Smith and others in the GHS team along the way, Haamiahly, Fearne and Caitlin have researched the issue, considered and rated possible courses of action, chosen and implemented the tote bag option, chosen a very worthy cause and used the project to raise awareness about the smallest penguins that live along our coastline, diverted waste from landfill AND delivered a fabulous donation to the West Coast Penguin Trust.

tote bag fundraiser group
Caitlin Shields, Inger Perkins, Fearne Richards and Haamiahly Priestly-Hall with bags and cash donation.

As Caitlin brought the passion for penguins to the group, having become aware of them and their plight as a young girl, Miss Thompson asked her to have a think about the best way to spend the donation.  It was agreed that the donation could go towards extending the penguin protection fence north of Punakaiki.  Ms Perkins explained: “There are a few gaps in the fence that need to be filled before the 2023 season, so this donation will go to keeping penguins safely off the Coast Road.”

“These students can be very proud of the work they have done – from start to finish it has been an excellent collaborative project based on valuable principles.  A huge thank you from the Trust to the team from Grey High School and Papa Taiao Earthcare”.

The Trust wishes Haamiahly and Fearne well in their future endeavours, having just left school, and wishes Caitlin another excellent year in her final year at school, including more Education for Sustainability at Greymouth High School and training from Papa Taiao Earthcare, led by Miss Thompson.  Caitlin will be increasing her skills in growing native plants, starting from seed collection, as well as learning bee-keeping through a Papa Taiao Conservation and Earthcare course at the West Coast Trades Academy.


donation receipt
Confirmation, a wonderful $432 raised by the students, which will support the extension of the penguin protection fence