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From trash to fash: students look to future with creations

OUR future is radiant. It is glowing with boundless potential. This is thanks to our next generation of leaders, thinkers and innovators -- this country's youth. Friday night saw the grand final of the ERP Junk Kouture fashion show in Dublin's Citywest Hotel, where hundreds of secondary school students showcased outfits made from recycled waste.

Everything about Junk Kouture offers hope for the future. Elizabeth O'Donnell, a dance teacher from Donegal, set it up three years ago. Hundreds of entrants later it is now a national event.

After its success last year, Junk Kouture secured sponsorship on this occasion from the not-for-profit European Recycling Platform (ERP). Yvonne Holmes, who heads up communications at ERP, is passionate about this event because she sees that "students are thinking differently about waste and recycling".

One entrant, Jose Varandas, from Holy Trinity College in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, created three designs. His "Warrior Knight", which was made from Coca-Cola cans he had recycled from his school friends, made him the Ulster winner.

Katie O'Brien, from Limerick's Colaiste Iosaef, was another regional winner. Her creation, "Symbiotic Synergy", was made at home and involved many hours of tedious work. One of the four judges, Irish designer Peter O'Brien, described Katie's piece as amazing. "It's like something from Missoni, I absolutely love it" he said. Katie said her mother, Mary Maher, a talented seamstress, "drove me on". Katie's intricate design and embellishments are made from plaited wires and recycled phone and laptop chargers.

While the designs were other-worldly in their brilliance, what was really astounding about ERP Junk Kouture was the abundance of creativity it generated among a large number of students with no training in design or textile use.

But as positive and uplifting as this event is -- it is also bitter-sweet. Where the creativity is sweet, it is a bitter thing that much of this talent will have to leave for want of financial support here in Ireland.

"The Irish Government don't value fashion as a revenue source," said Angela Scanlon, judge and stylist. She believes that designers need assistance and support from Enterprise Ireland to develop. "They aren't supported on their home turf, they leave... because they can't grow here."

Peter O'Brien, however, does not see this as such a bad thing. "I was a poor working class boy from Finglas. Everyone here thought art schools were for posh people. I went to England, got a grant, studied at Saint Martin's and this extraordinary world opened up to me."

He encourages the broadening of horizons, but agrees with Ms Scanlon that more support is needed locally. "Our education system does everything but encourage kids to be creative. You're turned into a points-winning machine."

Creativity is not just some frivolous pastime connected only to catwalks and glossy magazines. Creativity leads to explorative, innovative and solution-oriented thinking. That is why, this new generation needs to be supported, encouraged and nurtured. They can make change. They think differently. Steve Jobs, the most successful innovator of modern times, espoused this creativity and these kids have it in abundance.

This generation has come to sense. They don't want to just fumble in a greasy till. This is our living generation.

Sunday Independent