Fashion, innovation and sustainability all together make Junk Kouture

If you haven’t seen what Junk Kouture is then you are in for a treat. It’s feel-good fashion for those with an eye for the extraordinary. Fashion made entirely from waste.

Doesn’t sound like a tech company? Well, thanks to the pandemic this creative project went digital and has set its sights on bringing creative and innovative teens together from across the globe.

Junk Kouture became a passion for founder Troy Armour when he was inspired by a dance teacher he hired before his wedding. The teacher was making clothing from waste.

The pair developed a competition to encourage school children to create clothing using only waste materials. That was 2010, and since Armour decided to make it a formal company. Junk Kouture became a staple among the creative kids in Irish secondary schools.

The concept of reusing products was something Armour has grown up with from his beginnings in Co. Donegal, Ireland. It was the done thing back in those days to reuse jams jars around the house or make things from the cardboard of cereal boxes – the inner packaging made decent tracing paper.

Makes you wonder where it all went wrong really.

For Armour this creativity was a home activity – school activities usually centred around sports, something he wasn’t very good at, by his own admission.

Creating a competition like Junk Kouture for kids just like he was, became his ‘why’.

“It’s the sport for creative kids,” he says.

During the pandemic Junk Kouture went digital. Already a company which had digital aspects – the competition finalists are decided largely on a public vote via their platform – but previous expansion plans were halted, reimagined, and digitised.

Going ‘global’ was the plan since 2018 but the pandemic escalated the plans and simplified them in a way.

“We went away and built a digital rollout plan. Because schools, and everybody, became so accepting of webinars and Zoom calls, our cost of expansion shrunk massively,” he says.

“There was no more sending 30 teams into New York, we did the whole onboarding of schools in New York from webinars – it was huge difference,” he explains.

“It actually accelerated everything, because before the plan was to do one or two countries per year.”

They were able to take on six new countries instead.

“I mean, they’re still challenges but, for example, all of a sudden, you’re able to get a meeting with the Department of Education in New York on Teams.”

“All of a sudden, you were able to accelerate those things very quickly,” says Armour. “That has helped us massively.”

Digital communication with schools and other entities significantly reduced the investment required and timescale of the rollout.

Adding more countries to the rollout in February, Junk Kouture will now have events on every continent and is currently making plans to create a ‘World Final’ type of event to bring together kids from different cultures with one mission, to innovate in sustainability.

“Our vision is to enrich and empower the lives of young people through creativity and sustainability. Young people are right in the centre so that’s the most important thing for me,” says Armour.

Throughout the whole journey for Junk Kouture, Armour has been on his own journey – one of personal development.

“I joined an organization in 2015 called Entrepreneurs Organization, which helped me a lot,” says Armour. “It’s a global organization of 14,000 entrepreneurs across the world, who meet in groups once a month.”

Through his discussions with this group Armour decided he need to improve on his leadership skills so embarked on a masters programme in entrepreneurship and leadership at MIT in Boston.

It was through this education he found why he was feeling a little stuck with his vision.

“The biggest stumbling block between me and taking it to where I wanted to go, and where it was at the time, was me,” he explains. “I had to put the investment into ‘me’.”

He found the message he wanted to convey with his company. “It was a catalyst,” he says.

“The centre of our purpose needs to be this empowerment and enrichment of young people.”

“What I would say to any entrepreneur out there is to look inward,” he says, “because the only person who can propel you forward is yourself. The more you invest in yourself, the more your vision will increase and expand, and your ability to deliver it.”

Will we all be wearing clothing made from items in our waste bin anytime soon? Orange peels are being turned into vegan leather so it’s only a matter of time before these bright young minds lead the way in truly sustainable fashion.

Fiona Alston is a freelance journalist based in Ireland covering tech, innovation, start-ups and interesting SMEs. Alston is also passionate about athletics, health and horses having competed in triathlons, equestrian events and horse racing, and her lived experience comes through when covering sports personalities or fitness features. Growing up on the family farm in Scotland, Alston graduated from the University of Sunderland with a BA (Hon.) in Broadcast Journalism, and is frequently published in The Irish Times, The Business Post, RTÉ and 4i Mag.