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November 21, 2017
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Junk Kouture's Runway. Image Courtesy of Elizabeth Curran and Junk Kouture.

In a world producing waste like it is going out of fashion, the issue of recycling is gathering increasing momentum, with global concern on the rise. From chipped coke bottles to tired old newspapers, we have all been challenged by environmentalists to repurpose our rubbish. Yet for the participants of Ireland's Junk Kouture competition, this challenge proves to be a little more creative.

Runway look from Junk Kouture.
Image courtesy of Elizabeth Curran and Junk Kouture.

Born in the minds of local entrepreneurs Elizabeth Curran and Troy Armour in 2010, the Junk Kouture competition invites secondary school students from across Ireland and Northern Ireland to craft high-end couture from what - to less innovative minds - would appear to be mere rubbish.

Starting small, Elizabeth proceeded to produce a 'mini Junk Kouture' project amongst a number of secondary schools in the north west of Ireland. Amazed by the competition's positive reception, it was not long until she attracted the support of local businessman Troy Armour - then a student at her own dance academy Studio 47: "Troy loved the concept and decided to join me [to] help...bring Junk Kouture national," Curran explains." From there we grew from strength to strength [with] the Bank of Ireland and ERP (The European Recycling Platform) really [giving the competition] the platform [it] deserved."Speaking with The Genteel, creator Elizabeth Curran explains how in the short time since its inception, Junk Kouture has developed from a simple idea intended to educate students about the importance of recycling into one of the most successful fashion competitions for teenagers throughout the nation: "My local secondary school made a dress from 02 carrier bags and it was displayed at a charity ball. When I [saw] it [it was like] a light bulb went off and I thought 'wouldn't it be amazing to show 'junk' on [the] catwalk?'"

The various locations in which the Junk Kouture fashion shows have been held are illustrative of the competition's growing success: "We went from hotels to theatres in a short time and last year we sold out The Bord Gais Energy Theatre in under 24 hours," Elizabeth explains with pride. The Junk Kouture 2014 Grand Final will also take place in Dublin's The Bord Gais Theatre on the 2nd May later this year.

I am charmed by clever and well-thought out designs that give a fresh perspective on the possibility of fashion to shock, inspire and convince.

Far from the only development Junk Kouture has undergone, this year's competition - which has welcomed more than 2,000 entries - boasts prizes worth over 20,000 Euro: "[These prizes include] a weekend course at the LA Academy of Creative Arts [in Dublin], iPad minis for the students and their teacher, cash for the [winning school's] art department and [its] students and a four page spread in a magazine," Elizabeth expands.

Individual prizes are also awarded to the students responsible for the best hair and make-up on the catwalk, with the opportunity to walk the red carpet at The Royal Film Premiere in London afforded to the creators of the two most glamorous dresses and models exhibited throughout the course of the competition. 

Junk Kouture 2014 will also feature a professional panel of judges - introduced for the first time last year - in which supermodel Rosanna Davison, TV personality and stylist Darren Kennedy, recycling expert Yvonne Holmes and educator at Limerick School of Art and Design, Professor Tracy Fahey will represent the competition's arms of modelling, styling, recycling and education respectively.

Speaking with The Genteel, panel judge Tracy Fahey explains how exploring the range of outfits submitted and witnessing the high levels of creativity displayed is, without doubt, her favourite aspect of the Junk Kouture competition: "Last year there was an abundance of great designs to choose from," she explains. "My own personal favourite was a design that reached...the Grand Final, a piece called Toy Soldier...a compelling composition created using fused toy soldiers; a comment on the tragedy of child soldiers...accompanied by an eerie puppet like performance. It was an electrifying spectacle." 

Look from Junk Kouture Fashion Show.
Image courtesy of Elizabeth Curran and Junk Kouture.

Performance is central to the participants' success. Intended to create an unforgettable show, each student is expected to choreograph a 90-second runway routine to display their creation. "The atmosphere at the shows is electric," Curran tells The Genteel. "Last year, sitting at the grand final I was so...emotional to see 2,500 screaming...students in the audience, 80 Junk Kouture finalists take the house down with their performances, while the Irish TV Programme 'Nationwide' filmed the whole thing...[I felt] such a sense of achievement."

"As an educator," continues Fahey, "I am charmed by clever and well-thought out designs that give a fresh perspective on the possibility of fashion to shock, inspire and convince. [Junk Kouture] has definitely impacted on my programme design. [At LSAD] we've recently developed an MA in interdisciplinary design, which has an important focus on ideas of responsibility, sustainability and use of up-cycled and recycled materials." Having enjoyed previous designs fashioned from orange peel, copper wire, piano keys and clothes pegs - both Curran and Fahey have high hopes for this year's couture. "We expect to see...quality craftsmanship, performance and presentation [and] clever use of electrical waste and recycled material," Elizabeth explains, with Tracy equally searching for, "evidence of innovative thinking and attention to detail in terms of the overall structure and coherence of the design."

The wide potential of Junk Kouture to inspire and educate fashion's next generation looks set to continue as Curran informs The Genteel, "We hope to launch Junk Kouture in the UK in September this year, with a possible 20 shows across the country." Until then, however, it falls to the innovative young designers of Ireland's Junk Kouture 2014 to prove once again that one man's trash is another man's treasure.

Related Article: Is Trashion the Future of Fashion?

Related Article: The EcoChic Design Award 

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