The Fascinating Journey of Junk Kouture: 'It’s the world cup for creatives, and it all started in Buncrana'
From carbon neutral trainers to organic, vegan handbags and business models including recycling, resale and repair now being sold as environmental positives, few industries tout their sustainability credentials more forcefully than the fashion industry.
Despite this, the global fast fashion market size is expected to grow from $91.23 billion in 2021 to $99.23 billion in 2022 and is forecasted to grow even more to $133.43 billion by 2026 (www.thebusinessresearchcompany.com).
‘Fast fashion’ refers to inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends while ‘sustainable fashion’ is a movement and process of fostering change to fashion products and the fashion system towards greater ecological integrity and social justice.
Troy Armour was ahead of the curve with sustainability when he founded Junk Kouture in 2010, a post-primary school competition where students design and create an item of haute couture from only recycled materials.
Speaking to Portobello Institute as the competition goes global into new schools from New York to Abu Dhabi, the Donegal native explains how this passion project was born in the most natural way.
“People say to me ‘how did you see this 10 or 11 years ago?’ that it is going to be so big, and I suppose I didn’t know it was going to be so big. But what I did know was that it was a reflection of me as a kid.
“When I was a kid there wasn’t much money around, so you had to use what was around the house if you wanted to be creative and it was the stuff that came in the door became the stuff that you either made Halloween masks out of or put your pencils in.
“It was just that what happened then was I went to South America around 15 years ago and the homes that I was in there were doing the same things and it just brought it back to me, how did we stop doing that in Ireland?
“I realised it was because as incomes go up, it’s just easier to buy a pink plastic thing to put your pens in and it’s got Disney princesses on it rather than get a jam jar and wash it out.
“I remember in South America, in this one house I was in, I remarked at their table mats and the granny said she made them by collecting the corks from wine bottles. She had put about 40 corks in a big circular pattern, she glued them and put elastic bands around them and when they set then she just sliced them with a knife very thinly, so they became round table mats.
“Everything was reused because money wasn’t the same as what we had in Ireland, and I was at home thinking ‘if we could just change peoples’ mindsets back’.
“With the way we are now we go black bin, green bin, brown bin if we could just say oh we don’t need the bin could we just reuse then we are not passing the problem on to somebody else because that’s all we’re doing when we are putting it in the bin we are passing our waste on to somebody else to do something with if we could do it ourselves and use it ourselves well then that would solve two problems in one: It’s not junk going back out of our house and it’s not us buying something new out of plastic to throw out again.
“That was the thing at the start of Junk Kouture, bringing that mindset back.
“I didn’t realise 10 years on that that would become the single biggest driver of business in the world. At the start, it was one man’s mission to slowly change minds back to the way we did it as young people in the 70s and 80s in Ireland where everything in your home is a resource. It wasn’t seen as waste it was seen as a resource,” he explained.
Troy explains how Junk Kouture took off and became ‘the sport for creatives’ allowing those who don’t take part in sport to follow their passion in a competitive, fun and meaningful way.
“It organically grew. It’s really for kids that don’t have that outlet. It became a sport for creatives.
“Young people get to compete using their skills. You realise that all those kids that aren’t into sports and you are trying to get them into a sport because of the value suddenly now don’t have to get into athletics because there is a sport for them. Those kids start to excel then and be celebrated for being creative and using their imaginations.
“We have 13 markets targeted, we’re in five of them at the minute, there are roughly a billion people under the age of 30 in those markets and I want to try and influence those into this mindset of can we reuse all the things that have come into our homes instead of having to put them in the bin and then I create a world final.
“It’s going to be a tour that starts in January every year and going around these 13 cities and comes back with this world final then and that would be like a Eurovision.
“If you take the 13 countries and have five kids from each who will go to the world finals, that’s 65 kids from the six continents of the world, African, Asian, Middle East, North America, South America, Europe, Australasians all showcasing the culture, colour and creativity of the world.
“It’s the world cup for creatives, it all started in Buncrana,” he said.
Troy’s vision from his childhood in 70’s Ireland and a grandmother in South America founded the idea that is educating the next generation on waste management while providing a creative outlet for talented young people to follow their passion.
This passion for creativity, fashion and sustainability is also embedded in those who work at Junk Kouture, including Portobello Institute graduate Caoimhe Kenny.
“I did particularly develop a passion for sustainable fashion last year [while studying the business of fashion at Portobello] because we focused on that and to be able to translate the knowledge that I have and learned and be able to put that into Junk Kouture where they have such a good understanding of sustainable fashion is amazing, and I am really looking forward to seeing where it goes and how big it gets,” she said.