The pea-soup-yellow tracksuits with grey cuffs that Vili Tonu's mother made for him as a child were one of the designer's first encounters with upcycling.

The 25-year-old has come a long way since that "fashion near-miss" and has used his skill at creating something new from something old to win a top fashion prize.

Tonu, of Auckland, designed and made a softly layered, finely pleated dress from toilet paper that beat 31 other entries from fashion diploma students from NZ Fashion Tech to win the Kleenex Cottonelle Paper Dresses Challenge.

The student's winning dress will be modelled by model Kylie Bax for a photo-shoot for NEXT magazine, hopefully capturing some international attention.

His winning creation, called Both Worlds, features a softly orbiting skirt - with 13 circling layers drawn from Tonu's memories of tapa cloth design - contrasting with a more tailored, architectural bodice.