North Bergen students headed to Abu Dhabi for ‘junk’ fashion design competition

North Bergen students are heading overseas for the finals of an international environmentally-friendly fashion design competition.

On Tuesday, October 25, American up-and-coming eco-conscious creators and fashion designers competed at the first ever New York City final of Junk Kouture, a worldwide sustainable youth fashion competition. During the event, 30 haute-couture designs made from 100 percent recycled materials created and modeled by talented post-primary students took to the digital stage on Junk Kouture’s YouTube and TikTok channels.

Ten creations by young designers 13 to 18 years old from the city and nearby states were chosen by the Junk Kouture judges Ben Barry, Nicole McLaughlin and Emma McKee to represent the United States at the first-ever Junk Kouture World Final in the Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) on January 11, 2023.

The final 10 designs from the United States will be up against 50 other designs, 10 from each of Junk Kouture’s other finals in the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Ireland, and the UAE. At the World Final, there will be six individual City Designer Awards for each location, plus the first-ever Junk Kouture World Designer of the Year.

Other prizes up for grabs include the Glamour Award, Wearable Art Award, Innovation Award, and Performance Award. Students will model and perform in haute-couture designs made entirely from recycled materials for celebrity judges, industry experts and an audience of cheering supporters flown into Abu Dhabi from around the world.

A night of creativity, performance, talent and live music from special guests awaits students in January. The event is billed as a celebration of young people and the circular engineers of tomorrow.

One of the ten designs selected to represent New York City in the World Final includes “The Nightingale” by Christopher King, Myles Perez, Jazzlynn Vargas, and Josselyn Garcia of North Bergen High School. The students were assisted by Fashion and Interior Design Teacher Marlene Sapoff and Sculpture Teacher and Art Director Steven Defendini.

The dress itself is made from blue wrap sourced from Hackensack University Medical Center, adorned with flowers made of the same material. Blue wrap is a surgical wrap and equates to 19 percent of the medical waste and pool insulation foam.

Also going into the construction of the gown were reams of discarded pool insulation. That material was fashioned into the angelic wings.

North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco congratulated the students on making it that far in the competition at a October 26 meeting of the Board of Commissioners. Sacco said that the students were among the ten designs selected nationwide as finalists.

“I was just notified that the high school students are the finalists in the fashion contest,” Sacco said amid the meeting. “They made an outfit from medical supplies. They’re going to Abu Dhabi. They won the local, and there’s only ten in the nation finalists.”

Sacco said he has seen the dress himself, and seemed impressed. He said he is especially so, now that the students are heading to the World Final.

“I went in one day and saw the dress, and it took a lot of work,” Sacco said. “I never thought we’d be on our way to the finals of an international contest. It’s very impressive. The kids are very talented.”

According to Sacco, Junk Kouture is allowing two teachers and two students to attend. He said that they are unsure if the township will need to raise money to support them, but will see what is necessary as January approaches.

“We don’t know what else this entails,” Sacco said. “We will give more notice out.”

Designs to compete in World Final in Abu Dhabi

Some of the nine designs selected include: “Junk Punk Denim” by Emily Humphreys and Olivia Volt of Clearview Regional High School, New Jersey, made from up-cycled denim used to create the patchwork, bottle caps, cans, and recycled rope; “Sugar Pink Rockstar” by Yanin Thammarangsri, Fatima Koita, and Sonia Domlan of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School, New York, made from metallic chrome balloons, pink straws, cardboard, yarn strings, up-cycled fabric, safety pins, staples, and paper plates; and “Junk Karnival” by Sarah Arriola and Chloe Davis of McIntosh High School, Georgia, made from coca-cola cans, plastic water bottles, metal wire, newspaper, yarn, dye, glue, cardboard, tape, old t-shirts, can tabs, thread, plastic grocery, and trash bags, ribbon, old bedding fabric, old heels, and an old bodysuit.

The others selected feature: “D’Fear” by Xiwen Mark of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, New York made from plastic, paper, and up-cycled clothes; “Grandstar” by Natalia Monsale, Virginia Papasidero, and Astro Mejia of Glen Cove High School, New York, made from plastic water bottles, paper bags, paper clips, and recycled clothing; “Tree of Life” by Ísis de Farias Madeira of M600 The High School of Fashion Industries, New York, made from scraps and deadstock fabric for the base of the dress, to which the banana fibers were sewn with recycled polyester threads, and shoes thrifted and embellished with the same materials; “Mask Dress” by Naomi Carrion of Bronx International High School, New York made from masks, thread, and glue; “Record Breaker” by Lia Aldea-Lustig of Byram Hills High School, New York, made from up-cycled clothing, CDs, cassette tapes, shells and tape; and “Buttons” by Marykate Hanus and Jennifer Toler of North Kingstown High School, Rhode Island, made from buttons, fabric, glue, string, and wire.

“Get ready for the NYC designs taking to Abu Dhabi to fill you up with hope for the future of fashion and the survival of our planet. What the students created is truly exceptional — unbounded creativity, craft and consciousness will be on full display,” Junk Kouture judge and Dean of Fashion at Parsons School of Design Ben Barry said.

“I’m so excited for the world to be introduced to the finalists and their creations. Judging Junk Kouture New York has been a privilege. We’re cultivating a generation of high school fashion designers who don’t think that climate justice is an addition or afterthought to their design practice but instead it is the foundation – a creative opening for new fashion aesthetics, silhouettes, and form.”

Junk Kouture judge and fashion designer Nicole McLaughlin said: “I’ve been incredibly impressed by the calibre of design and execution of the projects I’ve seen from the designers. Junk Kouture is an important outlet for teenagers looking to explore their creativity in the sustainability world. They understand the importance of this message and look to nurture the future through imagination and empowerment via amazing opportunities. And all you want to do is continue to cheer them on. This is just the start of their journeys. I hope the designers who make it to Abu Dhabi remember to make some fantastic memories and enjoy themselves. Have fun!”

Supporting Junk Kouture as an events partner at the World Final is Miral, a creator of immersive destinations and experiences in Abu Dhabi. With the support of Miral and Etihad Airways, the official airline partner and global partner of Junk Kouture, all local and international participants and supporters travelling to the World Final of Junk Kouture will be immersed into the culture and entertainment Abu Dhabi has to offer.

Standard ticket pricing for the show starts at AED 100, with attendees provided the option to create bespoke packages to include accommodation and other unique experiences on the island and across the capital. For more information, go online to or follow social media @junkkouture.

For updates on this and other stories, check and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at [email protected].

Katheleen Knopf

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