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'Pupil + Paper' design competition showcases young Alaskan imagination

  • Author: Leslie Boyd
  • Updated: September 29, 2016
  • Published November 14, 2013

The reasons to love "Pupil + Paper," a design and scholarship competition, are as layered and lovely as runway-ready garments local high school students fashioned from recycled paper and put on display at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center Saturday, Nov. 9.

Pupil + Paper, hosted by kpb architects, also served as fundraiser for The Children's Lunchbox, a Bean's Café program that provides meals for local children. The event included an auction of metal miner-style lunchboxes turned into art by Alaska artists, as well as products and services donated by a host of local businesses.

But it was the paper creations that showcased the imaginations, talent and perhaps the future fashion aspirations of local high school students.

"Fashion is something that really interests me," said Chugiak High School senior Haley Shaw. "I really love it when people have their own personal style, when it reflects who you are.

"I prefer to draw people, and I like to paint," Shaw said. "So this was different."

The competition included 17 teams of high school students from around the Anchorage School District designing garments and competing for $9,000 in scholarships. The top three designs were selected by a panel of judges, with one people's choice award decided by attendee votes.

Bust lines, waistlines, skirt lengths and silhouettes were all up for interpretation and innovation, and the construction was all couture-like. The effects ranged from vintage touches to head-to-hoop skirt Victorian. Some of the students cited major fashion houses, such as Chanel and Dior, as inspiration, and most described art, literature or personal experiences as influence.

Among the accordion folds, trumpet rolls, curls, jagged edges and fringe found on the dressmaker dummies that served as each team's canvas, there were also intricate creations such as a flock of origami cranes, antlers so well-fashioned they looked deceptively real and a garden's worth of paper flowers.

"There's a lot of generic style in high school, so it was really fun to get out of that," said Sierra Armstrong, also a senior at Chugiak.

"At Bartlett, everybody wears sweats!" Stephanie Alexander, a junior at Bartlett High School, chimed in.

Shaw and Armstrong collaborated on the second-place design, "Fallen Angel Warrior," winning a $3,000 scholarship. The garment features three-dimensional geometric shapes that represent symbolic spikes. The spikes rise into an asymmetrical shoulder and also form the knee-length skirt. Fringe meant to symbolize feathers formed a floor-length train.

First place and a $4,000 scholarship were awarded to Kaitlyn Schwalber from South Anchorage High School. Her garment, "Beauty," boasted sharp, clean lines and armor-like accoutrements. Juliette Green of West High School was awarded third place and a $2,000 scholarship for her design, "Orizuru." It featured a bodice of fine paper feathers and a skirt of Japanese origami cranes.

Competition criteria

The design competition came with basic criteria: The students could only use recycled paper and materials, primarily supplied from kpb's office. They weren't allowed to alter the paper through coloring or painting, but could shape it any way they wanted, including use of water.

Over the course of two months leading up to the competition, the students were able to participate in three mentor sessions with staff from kpb. Chugiak's Armstrong said the sessions were a huge help because of the expertise and constructive criticism students received. The bonus was mixing and mingling with the other students for inspiration.

"It was cool to see others' thought processes and how they work, seeing how they shaped the paper," Armstrong said.

And how the event even came to be is also fitting.

"Several years ago we decided to forgo our big, fancy Christmas party and put the money back into the community, so we started donating to Children's Lunchbox," said Jeff Koonce, founder and principal architect at kpb. "This year, we thought, 'Well, let's ramp it up a bit.'"

"We thought it was an appropriate segue," Koonce said. "A lot of students aren't even aware that there are students in their school that are hungry."

Didn't see Pupil + Paper at the museum? The student-designed garments are on display at the Anchorage School District Education Center until Nov. 27.

Anchorage freelance writer Leslie Boyd writes a regular column on local shopping and style. Ideas, information or tips? Contact her at akshopgirl(at)

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