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  • Writer's pictureKatherine Hasegawa

Project history - Banknotes that traveled from Venezuela and were showed off as a national dress

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

The idea of making a money dress arose from an economics essay submitted in the first term of my degree, entitled: Why are Venezuelans using banknotes for artistic purposes rather than buying necessities?, submitted in December 2018.

During the same month of December, students from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) received an invitation from the Student Union to participate in the Global Week in March 2019. To get involved in the event, any way of representing one’s country was encouraged. For instances, students could perform a cultural dance, share their national delicacy, among others. I decided to engage in the event. My way of participating would be through showing off my national dress in a fashion show, but the novelty would be that it would be made out of real Venezuelan banknotes.

The first stage, finding the raw material

Finding the raw material (the banknotes) was probably one of the most formidable challenges for making this dress. The dress was made up of around 2,500 banknotes which were collected in different ways. For instance, withdrawing a limited amount of cash allowed by bank agencies, posting on social media among friends as well as approaching several gas stations. A friend studying at the Central University of Venezuela, Jamy Ayala was the cornerstone for this procurement success.

I am aware it might be ultimately nonsense for you to hear that we approached gas stations to collect cash. But believe it or not, that was the way that provided us with must of the banknotes we hold today. Jamy was given boxes of money that the employee would have received during the day and that because of its devaluation, it would not be of any use as it is worth noting. We thanks these humble workers for their everyday efforts.

Interesting fact: In Venezuela, each gas station is served by a government employee responsible for receiving payments and directly filling petrol to customers' car tanks. A subsidized tariff rate has existed since 1996 (Amman, 2014). Therefore, petrol has remained very cheap for Venezuelans citizens since then. The subsidies on petrol stay the same, even with today's economic problems. Therefore, this cash in the gas stations is only a representative and insignificant payment, which is no longer collected by the government. We thank these humble workers for their support with this project and their daily efforts to serve the Venezuelan community despite the pauper salary they must be earning.

The second stage, getting into the UK the Venezuelan banknotes

It is not legal to send any currency by couriers, which almost stopped the project. But after a couple of phone calls, people flying out of Venezuela (escaping from the situation) brought me gladly the money in their suitcases. The money did not get directly into the UK. Instead, it was spread around Europe until someone could bring it to me to Cambridge.

The third stage, making the dress  

Since my knowledge about fashion and design is limited. I began looking for the right person that could make the garment. I received feedback from many people, including the British artist Susan Stockwell. Also, I was supported by a student from the ARU’ fashion and design faculty. Unfortunately, three days before the event, this student stopped making the dress due to concerns about the legal implications of using real paper-notes. Nevertheless, due to the catastrophic hyperinflation, the currency does not hold enough value for this to be any consequence. It is, essentially, a paper dress.

At this moment, I felt forced to make the dress by myself if I really wanted to achieve my goal. Despite all the challenging timings and issues, the dress was finally produced in collaboration with family and a very close friend Dr Michelle Fava. I sincerely thank you for your tireless support and for believing in me.

On March 19, 2019, the dress was finished in Cambridge, just hours before my first presentation at ARU Global Week.

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