Junk Kouture

junk kouture

Proving one man’s junk is another man’s treasure is recycled fashion show Junk Kouture. Coming to Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall on February 5 (7pm) the event will see Scottish school kids take the runway.

Competing in small teams the high school students will present couture outfits they have made from purely recycled material. As if this wasn’t enough, the teams must also create a performance, as well as hair and makeup to showcase their designs.

Junk Kouture founder Elizabeth Curran said: “In the past we have had students make outfits from paper, cans and crisp packets, but we have also had some really unusual material such as fruit skins.

 “Last year we had a dress made from recycled balloons and it was amazing; so couture!”

While the event may sound feminine, Curran clarifies that the comp welcomes both genders and all outfit styles.

She said: “In the past we have had male models, but it tends to be that there are more boys working behind the scenes on the production.”

Tasked with judging this year’s designs are Head of Art and Design at Glasgow School of Art Jimmy Stephen-Cran, who will be examining the technical skills; previous Junk Kourture winner Michael Galbraith, who will focus on the teamwork; blogger Katie O’Brien, who will concentrate on the fashion styles; and XFactor famed Louis Walsh, who will be looking for the best performance.

Curran explained: “Each team’s model gets 90 seconds on stage and will be judged on performance, quality of design, use of recycled materials and glamour.”

While the judges deliberate over these entrants the audience will be treated to a performance from Louis Walsh’s new band Home Town.

The celebrity pull continues in Junk Kouture’s prizes; as winners of the glamour category will be receive tickets to the Royal film premier, getting to relive their glory London’s red carpet.

Other prizes include £1000 for the winning school, £500 and mini iPads for the winning team, as well as Ticketmaster vouchers for the best performance winners.

Prizes are however not the only incentive for students to enter Junk Kouture, the competition builds into school curriculums.

Curran said: “Students who enter Junk Kouture are learning about recycling, while being creative and enterprising at the same time.

 “The competition is open to 11 – 18 year olds and they can use it as part of their course work or it can contribute to after-school programmes, such as the Duke of Edinburgh.”

As well as building skills Junk Kouture spreads the message of sustainable fashion.

Curran explained: “The idea of Junk Kouture came from an Irish artist I had seen making statues from junk. At the same time I had been involved in local charity fashion shows and I thought the two concepts would go well together.”

 She added: “Sustainable fashion is so important; there are so many people being exploited in foreign garment factories and I am totally against it.”

 “People don’t have to buy cheap clothes to dress on a budget; they can upcycle old items and think outside the box.”

This sustainable message is spreading fast; as Junk Kouture grows from its humble roots.

Its founder said: “I came up with the idea of Junk Kouture six years ago, when I had a dance studio and wanted to do something else. I started the competition in Ulster Ireland and sent its programme out to the schools.

 “The first year was very simple; it ran from a hotel and had no sponsorship. Then, through dance classes, I met my business partner Troy Armour, and we worked together to take Junk Kourture multinational.

 “Along the way we met Moria Gordy – from Riverdance – and she mentored us; she was the one who convinced us to take it out of hotels an into theatres.

 “We then got different sponsors, including Bank of Ireland, and rolled the show out to Scotland.”

 She added: “Last year was the first time we ran Junk Kouture in Scotland; we kept it small and had about 25 entries, but this year we have 150 entries and have moved it to the Royal Concert Hall.

 “Eventually we hope to run shows throughout the UK.”

With annual competitions, students who wish to apply to next year’s Junk Kouture can visit the website for details.

Everyone else can sit back and enjoy the show.

Tickets are £10 and can be bought from Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall.

Curran concluded: “You have to see the show to believe it. The sight of the models outfits and accessories made from entirely from junk is outstanding.”

A Stitch Online


Designer Iona Barker is known to many as the face of Say it ain’t Sew, Scotland’s free sewing classes. Hoping to expand this network Barker has launched a website to promote the craft’s physical and mental benefits.

She said: “Sewing can be therapeutic; one of the reasons I took it up was to forget my own worries.

“Before I started Say it Ain’t Sew I had moved up from London, after been made redundant from my dream job; so I was having a really crap time. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I wanted to do something to help myself, and others in the same situation.

“I did some research into Glasgow’s sewing movement and found that while there was a lot of ‘stitch -and -bitch’ groups there wasn’t any free classes. So I formed Say it Ain’t Sew and made admission free, so that anyone could turn up and get creative.”

Say it Ain’t Sew is a beginners’ class, where equipment and fabric is provided for students. Barker founded the class in 2010, at the Hillhead Book Club. Then after years of successful tutorials, she established a second class, in Edinburgh’s Cabaret Voltaire. Now the two run weekly (on Monday from 6.30 to 8.30pm in Edinburgh and on Tuesday from 6.30 to 8.30pm in Glasgow).

The classes’ success, Barker said, comes from student’s satisfaction in their finished projects.

She explained: “Making fun things for family and friends gives people a great sense of achievement. The distraction also helps people that suffer from mental ill health, such as anxiety.”

Another way the class helps those struggling with mental health is through philanthropy.

Barker said: “Every year Say it Ain’t Sew does an event for charity, last year it was a 22 hour stitchathon for SAMH (Scotland’s mental health charity). The stitchathon raised about a grand-and-a-half, and made two huge wall hangings.”

She continued: “This year’s stitchathon will be for Scottish Autism. We are going to create an interactive sensory floor map, with electronic components sewn in, which light up.”

This and other Say it Ain’t Sew projects will soon be documented on the movement’s website.

Barker said: “Say it Ain’t Sew is on a lot of social media channels, but they can be limited when it comes to hosting static information; for instance a lot of people ask me the same questions every day, so the website will answer frequently asked questions.”

She added: “The website will also act as a resource for those not on social media.”

It will do this via text and multimedia content, with Barker’s YouTube sewing videos taking pride of place.

She said: “The YouTube Say It Ain’t Sew tutorials are a new addition to the movement. They came as a result of a brainstorm in taxi, between myself and a film-maker called Grant Lynch.

“Grant wanted to produce edgy cooking shows; and I told him that I wanted to create something similar, but covering sewing instead of cooking.

“So we swapped details, discussed it again, and met to shoot the initial videos. Grant has since moved to Canada, but I am now working with a new filmmaker, Sean Gill, on the latest tutorials. As ever, the videos will be fun, short and sweet.”

As well as showcasing design innovations, the tutorials will answer viewer’s sewing queries.

Barker said: “We get a lot of requests from people who want to alter and repair their clothes. For instance, a lot of people manage to rip the crotch of their jeans when lunging, so I am making a tutorial to address this problem!”

Barker’s repair experience comes as part of her illustrious wardrobe career. Recently she worked as part of Glasgow SEE Hydro’s costume relief; prepping touring stars’ wardrobes before they hit the stage.

She said: “The most exciting project that I worked on at the Hydro was Beyoncé’s Mrs Cater tour.

“The show was crazy, it was so much fun, but very stressful.”

Talking of her time at the Hydro, Barker said: “I loved it, but it was very fast paced – for instance sometimes you would only have 30 seconds to repair things – after a while I was tired.”

She added: “I gave up working in Hydro wardrobe last December, after a very busy couple of months. I felt as if I had hit my peak in costume work, and I wanted focus on helping other people get to that level.”

Now Barker encourages anyone seeking sewing advice to contact her via the website.

She concluded: “I hope the website speaks to people who are stressed or anxious and looking for alternative relaxation; sewing really can meet that need.”

Merchant City Festival

Merchant City Festival

Preparations have begun for this year’s Merchant City festival and it promises to be the biggest yet. Running twice the length of previous events, the 2015 bill will span July 25 – August 2.

Festival Executive Producer, Lorenzo Mele, said: “The 2014 Festival was exceptional because it supported the Commonwealth Games, acting as the cultural centre for the programme. Last year’s festival brought the city alive with outdoor content and that will continue this year.”

The outdoor content is expected to include acting, circus performances, and of course music.

Mele said: “The festival will include lots of different art forms, but its central element will be music. We have two outdoor stages every year and this year they will host a variety of artists, playing everything from rock, to RnB, and dance music.”

The Brunswick Street Stage will have a marquee with large screen and bar area; while the Emerging Talent Stage will showcase new bands.

Indoors, the Blackfriars Stage will once again feature music acts, but this year it will also become a comedy hub.

Headline comedy and music events will be cost ticketed, however Mele explained the majority of festival events will be free.

Bargain-seekers can enjoy a variety of performances and workshops throughout the day.

Mele said: “We want the festival’s daytime schedule to appeal to as much as the night; so we are hosting a weekday family zone, in Merchant City Square, from 27 –31 July.

“The festival will have interactive workshops for toddlers and parents; music for adults; and this year – for the first time – a programme for those 55 and older.”

Mele welcomed guests from all ages and walks of life.

He said: “The Merchant City Festival is good at bringing the focus on art, but also at attracting members of the public who wouldn’t usually go to gigs.”

He described plans to attract shoppers with interactive fashion and beauty events.

Mele said: “The team are examining ways to make the fashion element of the festival interactive, with things like upcycling and accessorising workshops.”

He added: “We have a Barcelonan act coming to the festival, called Osadia. This group create fantasy makeovers, taking people from the audience and transforming their look with hair and make- up sculpture.

“Osadia performed at the festival last year and they were hugely popular, so we look forward to having them back.”

Another international act Mele anticipates being a hit, is Dutch musician-come- chef: The Screaming, Cooking Prince; whose act does what it says on the tin.

As well as international acts, the festival will showcase home-grown talent.

Mele explained: “One of the highlights will be a UK dance performance called Fragile; a world Premier show from the Motionhouse dance company. It will involve around 25 performers dancing in, on and around JCB diggers. It should be quite spectacular.”

He concluded: “The Merchant City Festival really does have something for everyone. As well as great acts there will be stalls selling food from around the world.”

The festival’s themes include: Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink, and Glasgow’s Year of Green; these themes provide inspiration for organisations hoping to participate.

Organisations hoping to participate in Merchant City Festival can apply for grants of up to £500, through the Get Involved Fund.

Proposals should include specially planned activities that incorporate city space.

Fashion Revolution

fashion rev rady

Flash mobs, a fashion tardis and upcycling workshops celebrated Glasgow’s Fashion Revolution Day.

Campaigners met at the Glasgow Lighthouse (on April 24) to promote sustainable fashion and commemorate the Rana Plaza disaster. The 2013 disaster saw Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza factory collapse, killing over 1100 and injuring thousands.

This is one of many incidents that continue to haunt fashion supply chains.

In 2013, International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated accidents and diseases at work caused two million fatalities every year. ILO also forecast around 40% of the world’s workers earn under £1.30 a day, and over 50% lacked secure employment.

Oxfam’s website explained: “Workers producing for companies like Nike, Adidas, and Puma often endure low wages and long hours, in dangerous and hostile conditions.

“The sad fact is many workers in the garment industry are living in poverty, even though they have paid jobs.”

In 2009, the Ethical Trading Initiative reported that 48% of its corporate members’ weren’t paying workers in full. That year the Fair Labor Association showed 58% of its audited suppliers were underpaying wages.

Fashion Revolution campaigner, Niki Taylor explained underpaid labour is often used to make cheap garments.

She added: “We hope people will start to ask why their garments are so cheap and think more about what they are buying.

“We wanted to encourage people to ask ‘who made my clothes?’”

This question was carried on placards and pins that campaigners distributed on Buchanan Street (Glasgow). The ‘flash mob’ asked shoppers about their buying habits and invited them to the Lighthouse workshop.

Taylor said: “Fashion Revolution was at the Lighthouse to commemorate the Rana Plaza disaster and promote ethical fashion.

“We had a ‘fashion tardis’ changing room, where people could turn their clothes inside out, then get their photo taken, showing their labels and asking social media #whomademyclothes?”

The campaign encouraged fashion brands to share their factories’ locations and photos. It was supported by events held across 71 countries.

Joining the Glasgow campaign was fashion designer Iona Barker.

She said: “I ran the upcycling workshop as part of Fashion Revolution Day. The workshop was quite busy and there were a lot of tourist stopping by, wanting to know what it was all about.

“Some of the tourists hadn’t heard of the Rana Plaza disaster, so it was good way to raise awareness.”

The workshop also promoted sustainable fashion by encouraging people to create new clothes from old. Practicing this ethos was participant Novada Hale.

She said: “I came along to fashion Revolution Day to help my friend Jen campaign, but I ended up taking part in the upcycling workshop. I worked with Iona to transform an old t-shirt into a dress.”

Barker added: “I would encourage people to think twice before they throw things out. A piece of worn clothing can be changed into something cool and new.

“If people want to upcycle clothes, but aren’t very good with a sewing machine, they can always use fabric glue and paint!

“Upcycling newbies can also get help in haberdashery shops. Glasgow has a lot of great material shops and the staff are all very friendly.”

Barker explained that clothes can be recycled via charity shops or ‘swap parties’ (where guests exchange unwanted garments). She encouraged shoppers to look for ‘swapping’ events in their area.

Concluding, Taylor added that Future Fashion Revolution Events, such as documentary screenings, will be advertised on the group’s website.

Say It Aint Sew


As clothes became cheaper the art of sewing waned, but the craft fought back and was reborn as recreation.

Programmes like The Sewing Bee capitalised on this trend, reflecting the latest wave of interest.

Costume designer, Iona Barker said: “The image of sewing has shifted over the years from something girly to something androgynous and cool. This shift has been aided by programmes like The Sewing Bee, which has had more and more male contestants.

“So now I think guys are keen to get into sewing and don’t worry about being mocked by their pals.”

Barker speaks from experience, as she runs the Say It Aint Sew class in  Edinburgh’s Cabaret Voltaire (Monday 6.30 to 8.30pm) and Glasgow’s Hillhead Bookclub (Tuesday 6.30 to 8.30pm).

Barker said: “I started running the Glasgow class in May 2010, when I was working in a local bar. The Hillhead Bookclub was just about to open and its’ soon –to-be manager was a friend of a friend, looking to incorporate activities.”

“I was terrified at the concept of running a class; I had never done anything like it, but as the years passed it went from strength to strength; now I just love it.”

The love of sewing had filled Barker from a young age.

She said: “When I was a kid I was very creative; I enjoyed making things and watching old films where the actresses wore big dresses. So I started cutting up my mum’s clothes and turning them into costumes.

“Later I went on to Glasgow Caledonian University and studied Fashion Business.”

As a fashion student Barker sought craft tutorials in Glasgow; but the classes she found were institutional and costly. This inspired her to start a group that was free and accessible to the public.

Barker explained: “Say It Aint Sew is a total beginners group. Attendees don’t have to bring anything. All the equipment and fabric is there waiting for them.”

“I work as a costume designer, so over the years I have collected masses of material, and the classes are a great way to use my horde.”

Barker’s range of materials influence the items made in class. However, inspiration also comes from participant’s requests and the seasons; for example the class made chicks at Easter.

The tutor said: “We have made a real mix of things from headbands to Super Mario figurines.”

This variety of projects has led to a diverse group.

Barker explained: “We usually have a mix [of over 18s] from students, to professionals and elderly people.

“There is a mix in gender too; a lot of the girls bring their boyfriends to the class and the guys tend to find it is better than what they had expected.”

The class starts by grabbing a drink and name sticker at the bar. Then once seated, the sewing and socialising begins.

Barker said: “Everything is explained from the start, from the amount of thread needed, to the technique of a basic stitch.

“Beginners can be a bit apprehensive, but after an hour they get totally into it. Everybody leaves with the finished piece and a sense of accomplishment.”

She concluded: “The class is a great way to discover a new skills and people. Everyone gets the chance to chat and I have seen lasting friendships formed.”

For more information visit the Say It Aint Sew Facebook page.

Charity shopping

charity shop

My love of charity shops started as a child, when my twin and I would follow our gran through hordes of toys and books. The years passed, as did my gran, but the love remained. As my twin moved away first to Aberdeen, then to London she found comfort in their thrift shops; different yet constant.

Now, whenever I visit her, our home town or a new one I search these havens. I marvel at the vintage clothes, home- made items, retro books and board games.

Over the years my twin and I have found bargains to fill home and heart. Here are some of the best:

  • An entire J&G Meakin retro coffee set (around £20 from various Scottish charity shops; pictured above)
  • A Readers Digest paperback guide to crafts (50p from Duke Street PDSA)
  • Cross stitched framed landscapes (averaging at £2 per item in various Aberdeen charity shops)
  • A Warehouse work dress and jacket suit (£10 from Aberdeen’s British Heart Foundation)
  • A Reiss blue cocktail dress (£20 from Queen Street’s Cancer Research shop)
  • A Hobbs black batwing jumper (£2.75 from Duke Street Prince and Princes of Wales Charity Shop)
  • The Game of Life board game (£2 from Cumbernauld’s Salvation Army)

With these bargains I have picked up charity shop etiquette. For instance:

  • Bring cash: although most shops have card machines, some only deal in cash.
  • Never ask for discount: unlike ‘vintage’ or ‘second hand shops’ charity shops are non-profit, meaning after bills their proceeds go to the third sector.
  • Be nice to the staff: most of the staff are volunteers, so they are unpaid for their time.
  • Clean items before use: volunteers do their best to prep items, but if you are buying clothes or furnishings a wash will make them feel your own.
  • Give something back: shops need donations to keep thrifting alive.

If you are not convinced it’s worth the effort then consider this: charity shops raise more than £290m every year; they encourage recycling, keep high streets alive and offer work experience as a step into employment.

Duke Street Shelter shop volunteer, Kareen Robertson, said: “We have a lot of young people both working here and shopping here.

Shoppers are moving away from the idea that charity shops are just for old people; now they are becoming more fashionable.”

Epitomising this trend, Shelter (Duke Street) opened its doors in 2013 with an interior of chrome, glass, white paint, mirrored walls and two fitting rooms.

Ms Robertson said: “This shop fairly new, but it is considered one of the best on the street. Customers say that it doesn’t even feel like a charity shop (although all the proceeds do go to Shelter).”

She added: “Shops like this are a great place to source vintage clothes and unusual pieces. Sometimes you can find things here that you can’t find anywhere else.”

Echoing this sentiment is Duke Street Prince and Princes of Wales Charity Shop volunteer, Pat Hendry.

She said: “It doesn’t matter what people bring in, someone will buy it. We had a horses’ saddle donated the other day and we managed to find it a new home.”

 “We have people coming in looking for eclectic things; a while ago we had a lady  – who does acting – looking at the pound rail and she bought a fancy top with orange, greens and blues; it was horrible but it suited the play she was doing.”

Ms Hendry noted that her most popular items were designer clothes, but that vinyl records were also becoming popular again.

She concluded: “The prices in here are very low, so people are happy to get a bargain. But people are also more socially –minded and want to help out charities.”

To find a charity shop near you visit Charity Retail’s shop locator.