Old airplane seat covers, cabin crew uniforms and life vests will join coffee capsules, orange peels and plastic bags now that Etihad Airways has partnered with Junk Kouture, the world’s largest sustainable fashion competition for youth.
As part of the deal, Etihad Arena will host the first-ever World Final of Junk Couture on January 11, 2023. The airline will provide flights to teams traveling from New York, London, Milan, Paris and Dublin for the event, in which 60 designs — including 10 from the UAE — will compete for the title of World Designer of the year.
Junk Kouture is a competition founded by tech entrepreneur and CEO Troy Amour that challenges young people to make striking and imaginative outfits out of 100 percent recyclable materials and items that are often seen as waste. It launched in the UAE in late 2021, recruiting local students to model imaginative outfits made from milk bottles, old nylon tights and other bits of “junk” as part of a bold campaign featuring photos taken in the desert and at Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Burj Al Arab and Emirates Palace.
“It was hugely inspiring for the students to see what incredible things our previous finalists had done with items as varied as old aprons, eFibre cables, discarded paper leaflets and optic lenses,” Amour told Livehealthy at the time. “Junk Kouture is about changing the way that youth view waste materials. We show them that almost any material can be repurposed or reimagined. We’re aiming to change the mindset of a whole generation.”
Promoting recycling and self-expression
Amour’s self-educating program encourages participants to recruit their families and local communities to help them collect resources they can creatively recycle within their show-stopping outfits.
“Our designers often reach out to local businesses, such as cafes and restaurants, to ask for things like bottles or cans, and some have even organized beach cleanups,” he said. “I’ve seen the project have a really positive impact on the habits and behaviors of whole schools and communities.”
While environmental issues are at the heart of the concept, Junk Kouture also encourages individuality.
“Junk Kouture celebrates the beauty of each individual,” said Amour. “We want to encourage every participant to be true to who they are and find a place where they belong amongst other like-minded, creative young people.
“We help them develop skills like problem-solving and teamwork, define what they want to do with their careers, become more confident and realize how they can make a difference to the planet. The winners also have opportunities to earn scholarships, bursaries, and priceless travel experiences. The benefits are really endless.”
A global movement
To date the competition has had 100,000 participants produce 15,000 designs, diverting 40,000 kilograms of waste from landfill.
“As the UAE’s national airline, we are proud to extend our own sustainability ambitions to empower our partners to contribute in their own way,” said Amina Taher, vice president brand, marketing and sponsorship at Etihad Airways. “In the past, we’ve successfully partnered with artists to recycle aircraft parts into sculptures, and we’re excited about this latest journey into the world of fashion.”
Aspen Heights British School in Abu Dhabi is just one of the schools that signed up for the upcoming competition.
“Subjects like recycling, creativity and protecting the environment all form a key part of our curriculum and the way that Junk Kouture highlights these aspects is relevant, engaging, memorable and fun,” said principal Emma Shanahan. “I’m confident that the competition will provide our students with countless amazing experiences, and an exclusive glimpse into the exciting and creative world of sustainable fashion.”
The Junk Kouture World Tour aims to reach 13 global cities by the end of 2023 and educate one billion young people across the globe by 2032. The competition is free to enter for pupils aged between 13 and 18, and it includes design master classes, educational resources and mentoring sessions.
• With files from Harriet Shephard