Junk Kouture: Climate Activism At Its Most Creative - The Gloss Magazine

Junk Kouture: Climate Activism At Its Most Creative

Holly Hughes finds out about the Junk Kouture Competition in Ireland that does incredible work to diminish the level of rubbish we put into landfill each year…

When I was getting ready for my Debs as a sixth year student, I was so appalled by the amount of money and time spent finding the perfect dress that, ever the contrarian, I decided to make my own. Not only that, I became obsessed with the idea of making it from my school uniform. The fitted skirt of my convent school was to be a kind of corset; the gnawed sleeves of my woollen jumpers were to be sewn together to form a flowing A-line skirt, reminiscent of emerald waves. Or something to that effect. One month out from the Debs and with no idea how to sew, I began ripping up jumpers and attempting to stitch them together while watching endless CSI Miami. Realising my complete lack of skill, and being overcome by the small matter of the actual Leaving Certificate, I abandoned my project. I wore my sister’s dress. The dream of a showstopping emerald green meringue – circular in design and also symbolism – was abandoned.

That was over ten years ago. The idea of creating fashion from waste materials – and doing so to make a pointed statement as my 18-year-old self was so desperate to do – has not been abandoned. On the contrary, it’s found a global stage, thanks to Junk Kouture.

Junk Kouture, the world’s largest youth competition for sustainable fashion, encourages students to turn their junk into high fashion couture with a powerful environmental message. Founded in Ireland by Donegal native Troy Armour, Junk Kouture has grown into an international movement with thousands of young designers employing creativity, ingenuity, and truly astounding engineering to create fashion designs that challenge and critique the human pollution causing the climate crisis.

The competition claims to have saved 40,000 kilos of rubbish from landfill in Ireland alone and is set on expanding this impact globally…

“Junk Kouture is a sport for creative kids,” Megan Kelly, Junk Kouture’s Director of Global Events and Production, tells me. “We want to give students a chance to be recognised for their creativity, skills and innovation. Our aim is to empower and enrich the lives of young people through sustainability.” With this aim, Junk Kouture has created a now global competition in which twelve- to 19-year-olds can design and then model an outfit made entirely from waste products. It’s an arresting blend of activism, performance, and engineering which is perhaps why, since its inception in 2010, it’s achieved so much success. “In Ireland alone, over 1,000 designs enter the competition each year,” Megan says.

Internationally, the acclaim has been impressive. “We’ve attended COP27 alongside Deloitte, our partner,” says Megan. “We’ve been commissioned to make short films for RTÉ and for the One Young World Belfast Summit.” Junk Kouture has also appeared annually at Climate Week NYC since 2021, presented at the 78th Session of the UN General Assembly, and received several awards for innovation and sustainability.

Some particular highlights for Megan, who is now in her sixth year with the organisation, came via young Irish students. “One of the standout designers for me was Nadine Maguire, unveiled as one of the faces of Climate Week NYC in 2021. She modelled her Junk Kouture design “Paper Doll” on billboards, screens and bus stops throughout New York City as part of Climate Week’s “Getting It Done” campaign”.

Then there was the thought-provoking dress highlighting coastal pollution in 2019. “I loved Bríd McSharry’s “Wave Away Waste” design. This design – which was a top and skirt made from crocheted plastic bags woven into a wave pattern – was the result of a community beach clean-up of the west coast of Ireland when the designer noticed just how much plastic was found along the rugged coast.”

This year, the waste left behind at music festivals is the subject of sartorial scrutiny by a team from the Ursuline Secondary School in Tipperary, who are taking their design, “The Eye of the Beholder” to the Junk Couture World Final later this year. “I have seen the waste that ends up in landfill as a result of these events,” says Megan Kelly. “This team gathered up tents that were left over from Electric Picnic in 2022 and made their design from them, wanting to shed light on festival waste. They wanted to encourage festival-goers to think twice about leaving behind a tent that could be reused or donated.”

Looking at the photos of Bríd’s and the Ursuline team’s designs (both of which I would happily have worn to my Debs), the juxtaposition of the beauty of the designs and the ugliness of the place the materials came from – and where they would otherwise have ended up – is breathtaking.

However, it also makes me wonder, as with all things fashion, about just how circular Junk Kouture is. After all, where do the designs go at the end of the competition cycle? Do the beautiful outfits, created out of waste, return to the rubbish bin?

“By entering Junk Kouture, design teams agree to reuse, recycle, or repurpose their design once submitted to the competition,” Megan says. Donation of outfits is encouraged – either to Junk Kouture for use at future events or to local schools or organisations for public engagement. For outfits not being reused, responsible recycling is a prerequisite commitment for all teams, though the aim, Megan says, is complete circularity. This goal is beginning to find expression in some recent designs. “For example, Clodagh Ramsey, a Future Leader and Innovation Winner for 2022, created a living dress from pampas grass. When the competition ended, her design was transformed into a planter in her school.”

It’s this kind of technical innovation that Junk Kouture – similar to the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition – is so good at encouraging and cultivating among students. The competition claims to have saved 40,000 kilos of rubbish from landfill in Ireland alone, and is set on expanding this impact globally as Junk Kouture’s reach continues to grow. “When it comes to the carbon footprint of our events, we work to minimise this as much as possible,” says Megan. “For example, our World Final is being held in Monaco and students from Italy and France will travel by train rather than plane. The Grimaldi Forum, Monaco’s convention and cultural centre where the event is being held, has obtained certification for Social and Environmental Responsibility for its event activities and meets the international standard for sustainable event management. It’s important for us to work with venues and teams who are champions of sustainability.”

Junk Kouture’s Dublin City Final will take place in May. To find out more, visit www.junkkouture.com. @holly_hughes_words


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