Troy Armour comes from County Donegal, in Ireland. A place National Geographic named “the coolest place in the world to visit” in 2017 and despite Star Wars scenes being filmed there, the most isolated Irish county still feels largely undiscovered. Troy went to a normal school and had a pretty classic childhood until the age of 14 when the exchange student programme with Donegal Centre, an English Language School in Madrid brought a 14 year-old Alejandra to Troy’s house, as his sister’s exchange student.
Alejandra was not in awe of Troy as much as Troy, a white Irish boy surrounded by white Irish children, was in awe of the dark Spanish Alejandra, to say the least. But this is not a story of Troy and Alejandra, even though they did reconnect 17 years later via Facebook. Now they are happily married with a daughter, named Paris, and last June they moved to Monaco for good.
This is a story of Junk Kouture, a social enterprise that modest IT guy Troy Armour created back in 2010. “It started as a fluke,”‘ he tells me over a cup of tea. “And I didn’t even realise what it meant for me – it actually took me nine years to understand it fully.”
It wasn’t even his original concept. “Making things from trash has been around for generations, but it has never been made into something bigger. The original idea, could we get kids to make something out of trash, turned into fashion from trash – fashion being the most common form of art. Everybody defines themselves by the clothes they wear every day and that’s an art form.”
“I know I am an IT guy and what do I know about starting a social enterprise… but I am an entrepreneur first which means I try things.”
Troy wrote to a thousand schools in Ireland with this idea, and 194 came back to him and said ‘we’d like to participate…’ “So Year 1, the show is very small, it was in hotel rooms where we could fit 400 people in the audience, 40 contestants on stage – the idea was to get creative people out of shadows… In Ireland at that time there was a very successful exhibition for children called The Young Scientist Exhibition so the original target, for me, was ‘could I create a similar size platform but for creative kids’.”
After the second year Junk Kouture started to organically grow and Troy needed help… “I didn’t know how to put on a bigger show. The whole thing started to really grow and we were selling out tickets every night. To get help, I guessed the email address of Moya Doherty, entrepreneur and the producer and co-founder of Riverdance. Moya was born in Donegal as well. Three days later her PA emailed back and said Moya would love to meet you.”
Moya mentored Troy for a year and helped him take Junk Kouture out of hotel rooms and into the theatres, she helped him to hire and get the right people involved around it and then from there it just steadily grew and grew and grew.
Designer and Model Maxim O’Sullivan from Ireland, one of the previous winners. This suit is knitted from old VHS cassette tape – it took one year to knit in total and is in homage to the movie industry.
In 2018 Junk Kouture was one of the biggest shows in Ireland, won the awards for the best events, but Troy never took any salary and ploughed all the money back into the enterprise.
“And people asked me ‘Troy, what is it? Why are you doing it?’ And I was like I don’t know but I love it. And it was the strangest thing you know. People knew me as an IT Guru and they would read an interview about Junk Kouture somewhere and they would tell me: ‘you know there is another guy with your name!?'”
Junk Kouture went strong in Ireland, but underneath there were a lot of problems. “It simply got too big. I didn’t know how to scale it and there was lots of tension with the team so I decided that the biggest stumbling block is me. I applied for the Masters in Leadership and Entrepreneurship at MIT and I remember I had to make a video of myself to explain why I wanted to be on this course and I couldn’t do it. I was embarrassed of myself, I never did any public speaking, I was always backstage never in the spotlight – that felt so uncomfortable. But I got in, and that first night in the packed room full of entrepreneurs I was the only one with a social enterprise.”
Social enterprise has an impact on people, impacts the planet and drives revenues to pay for itself. “The Masters opened that first day and in the evening time, the facilitator comes into the room and brings with him a box of Kleenex. He says: “we will need this tonight as everyone one of you are going to cry…”
“Here I was. In a small room with a handful of people around. I was asked why I love my Junk Kouture so much, I said because I love the energy it brings out. ‘Why do you love the energy it brings out?’ Because it is a creative process. ‘Why would you love the energy it brings out because of the creative process?’ This questioning of why continued. He was pushing and pushing, breaking down my walls. Eventually I did start to cry, and the words that came out of my mouth were not what I had expected at all – I said, through the tears ’cause everyone of those kids is me!’ This was the greatest personal realisation in my life until now.”
“Now I get letters from parents seeing their children flourish. One mother wrote to me that her daughter was self-harming and for two years no psychologist could help her out of that downward spiral. Then she heard about Junk Kouture from her teacher and got involved. For the semi-finals she did not have the courage to wear the dress herself so on the night of the show she asked her sister to wear her design. They won the semifinals and at the finals she herself gained the confidence to wear her own dress, which was a massive step forward.” Six months on the same mother tells Troy ‘I have a new kid at home, she is happy, studying for college.’ This girl has since graduated from Cambridge with a first class honours in art and she shared with Troy: ‘This would have never happened if I didn’t enter Junk Kouture.’
“I know Monaco is an inspirational place – I’ve come here on holidays for the last 20 years and it never stops to inspire me. That’s why I brought Junk Kouture here. I want to bring children from around the world here and celebrate them and have them know they got here because of their skills and their efforts. Then you send them back to their communities and they will go home with the mindset that ‘anything is possible if you try.’ They become an inspiration and carry some of the inspiration of Monaco back with them.”
Troy always wanted Junk Kouture to be in every classroom in the world. So far he has reached 35 countries and 100,000 children are involved. Following the Formula 1 concept – he is working towards 13 Junk Kouture events around the Globe happening each year, as a global tour, followed by a World Final, which he hopes will stay here in Monaco and become a beacon for Social and Environmental impact across the world.
The world finale is coming to Monaco this February, and it will be accompanied by a two day festival of Creativity and Circularity, and will include local children, too. “The “kleenex guy’ from MIT is coming over to work with the 150 World Finalists and 25 children from ISM, LEGO is part of this as well, cooperating with children through play called in a programme called LEGO Series Play – in a multicultural environment we need to find a common denominator to find solutions, LEGO has developed this interactive programme and is bringing it to Monaco, where kids solve problems in teams using lego, it means language isn’t a barrier. The Lab will be hosted in the International School of Monaco, and it is brilliant that the team there are supporting this initiative and are forward thinking in seeing the value of creativity in our kids.”
The breathtaking Junk Kouture World Final will take place at the Grimaldi Forum on February 22 at 19:00 at the Salle des Princes. This spectacular event is not to be missed and will showcase young talents from around the globe unveiling their ingenious, eco-friendly couture creations in a dazzling and high-energy show.
Over 150 participants spanning 20 nationalities from across five continents will come together on that night to honour resourceful design as the next generation of 60 finalists and forward -thinking designers ignite their creativity and innovation for a more sustainable future. And you must join this celebration!
“I want these incredible kids to come on stage. I want there to be a thousand people in the audience cheering for them for what they’ve done,” says Troy with passion. And yes, his wife Alejandra and daughter Paris are very much involved too. So are the many parents and more and more people in Monaco are joining in this incredible movement. Kate Powers Foundation is also taking part and one-third of the 25-euro tickets currently available to buy will support Monaco’s own foundation.
“Find the diamond in these young people and let it shine”, says Troy and I see he will stop at nothing to let that shine inspire all of us.
Tickets are available from the Grimaldi Forum Box Office at the following link : Junk Kouture Monaco grimaldiforum.com
The event is suitable for everyone of all ages.
You can check out some of the Junk Kouture creations and previous events at Junk Kouture | Sustainable Fashion Competition on Vimeo