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This Unique Dress Made from Tech Junk Highlights Cyberbullying

Written by

Ellen Slattery

Ellen Slattery is a Transition Year student who spent three days on work experience with us at Talivest. We were amazed when Ellen showed us an incredible dress that she and her friends made out of old tech junk to highlight cyberbullying. We simply had to learn more and asked her to blog about her creation.  Take it away, Ellen!

Behind The Screens – Junk Kouture 2019

Image of Ellen Slattery and her dress – Junk Kouture 2019


‘Behind The Screens’ is the name given to the outfit that 2 of my friends and I created and shared with many people. Junk Kouture is a national fashion competition held every year which challenges secondary school students of all levels to create and campaign an entire outfit made from waste materials of any kind.

Most students take part in transition year, however it is open to all years. Now in its ninth successful year, Junk Kouture which is sponsored by Bank of Ireland, has seen over 24,000 students take part.

In my school, I had seen a lot of people do this competition before. A few years before, one of the teams was so successful that the dress got to be showcased by the model at the Irish Culture Fest in Boston in 2014. One girl in my school managed to reach the grand final in the 3Arena, 2 years in a row! During the summer, I decided to text 2 of my friends who had done art as a subject with me for the Junior Cert, asking them would they be interested in forming a team for the competition. The maximum students in a team is 3 and one of those 3 must be the model. After a lot of talking, we decided to try it. When school started back, we went to see one of the art teachers in school. She talked with us a lot about what doing the competition would be like. She told us how much of a commitment it would be and she showed us how high the standard of competition has been, we were amazed. We were ready for the challenge.

Step 1 – Getting into Brainstorming Mode

Soon, we started brainstorming ideas and watching fashion shows online to get some inspiration. We liked watching Alexander McQueen shows in particular because we liked the style and controversy surrounding some designs. We decided on certain elements of designs that we felt looked eye-catching. We felt that having a theme and message behind the outfit would be really important. I thought about things that affect our generation alot and problems that perhaps we could raise awareness for. I decided that bullying was something that we could base our design around, specifically cyber-bullying. We spoke more to our art teacher and she told us to really try and think outside of the box and look at some more interesting designs and concepts. We all agreed that we wanted to focus on how cyberbullying can make someone feel and how it can impact their mental health. We also thought that it would be a great idea to make the design from old IT equipment, from the very materials that are used for cyberbullying. We knew that working with these materials would be difficult but we were excited to try it.

At this stage, we started to draw up rough sketches of our design, I drew most of the sketches and went through many samples before I finally settled on a design, after months of research. In the final design, we really thought about using the materials that we would collect to convey our theme. We decided on a colour scheme for the design and looked into all of the details that would complete the outfit such as accessories, hair and makeup.

Step 2 – Gathering Our Materials

Next, we started gathering our materials. We made a list of things that we were looking for and asked our families and friends to collect some stuff for us if they could. One day, Aine and I went into Limerick City to gather some materials. We went to electrical, computer and phone repair shops and thankfully some of them donated a lot of materials to us. After a successful haul of materials, we started to sort through them and organize them. Most of the materials we used had to be broken up to be small enough to go onto the dress so we had to break them up with screwdrivers, drills and some bruised fingers! As on our final sketch the dress is divided into layers, with different tech items on each one. We divided them into bags and boxes to be ready for each layer.

Step 3 – Getting Started – The Top

We started with the top, which took the longest to complete. The top is based on a bodysuit. Firstly we made a thick paper- mache base layer using cardboard and newspaper. Once this dried, we painted it black at the top, fading into a dark grey. We cut the back of the top and some pieces from the bodysuit which made it difficult to get on and off. I then sewed 8 keyrings using embroidery thread and a darning needle into the back of the top. We threaded one of the black cables through these holes to create a corset back, similar to Victorian outfits  which we had looked at. Next, we took apart a set of Venetian blinds and spray-painted them white. They were a tin, malleable type of thin metal so they were easy to cut and shape. The white venetian blinds divide these top into 6 layers.

I liked my idea to put them to look almost like a rib cage, I felt that it would add into the theme, which I will explain in more detail later.

Image – Top of the Dress

We measured where we wanted to stick the blinds and stuck them using hot glue, we realised that to make it more effective looking we would have to layer them up to give them a thicker look. We had to work fast doing this as the thin sharp metal blinds would get very hot with the glue fast.

The first layer of the top we started with was the top, which is composed of broken phone screens. We had to smash up the screens of some broken phones, this was a fun task for all of us. We had to cut the screens into small pieces and glue them onto the base. The next layer we did was keys from broken keyboards. We stacked the keys in a way so that they would all fit and stack over each other evenly. We painted them in a dark grey into a slightly lighter grey going downwards. The final layer of the top is made using small coloured wires that we found inside computer boxes. We stuck them on and designed them like the inside on an electrical item, under and over each other etc.

Step 4 – From Boots to Shoes

The next item we made was the shoes, which I made by myself in a few days. I got the inspiration for the shoes from a designer called Iris Van Herpen. They are my personal favourite part of the outfit and although they’re very hard to walk in, I’m really happy with how the design turned out. The shoes started from a pair of old heels. They had suede pieces and looked almost like a boot, but I cut most of this off. I left a zip piece at the back so that they would be easy to get in and out of. I started by glueing glass pieces from a chandelier that one of the electrical shops donated to us. I collected more of these type of pieces and glued them around the heel of the shoe and in that area, similar to the shoes made by Iris Van Herpen.

Once that was finished, I started to cut pieces of cable and measure them around my foot. I used a hole puncher to punch a hole in the pieces of the shoe that I left and used small cable ties to attach the wires around the shoe. This worked much better than trying to glue the pieces on, which I had tried beforehand. When I got nearer to the top of the shoe it was more difficult to use the hole puncher to make holes, so with the help of my Dad I put a steel nail over hot gas and pushed it through the sole of the shoe to make a hole for the cable ties. Each wire that  I strapped in sometimes had to be redone because it would be too tight or loose, they had to fit just right to be comfortable to walk in. Firstly I painted all the wires black, but later on decided that I liked them better in white and it fitted with the theme more. The final part of the shoe is just a long wire going up the leg which I had to clean and paint white.

The next piece we made was the arm pieces. They are made from copper wire. We had to strip the casing from wires and take out the copper wire. We bent it into shapes and fitted them all around my arms. We then spray painted them black. The original design for these arm pieces was supposed to be ripped tights that would be designed, but I think that this adaptation that we made worked out much better.

Step 5 – Circuit Boards, Earphones, Mouse Pads and Keyboards Become a Skirt 

After weeks of hard work, we finally started the skirt. We knew that this would be hard to do, but we were using almost the same techniques that we used in the top so we were able to work much faster. It took a few days to decide on a base for the skirt. We tried using a short cotton skirt and a mesh that we were we given by my dad, but after a lot of sewing this mesh into the skirt decided that it wouldn’t hold the shape we wanted. We also tried to use a very old lampshade but it was too big for my waist. Finally, we used an old school skirt. I wanted a specific shape to the     skirt ,that it would start very tight and then slightly move out to be wider. We measured the size that we wanted it to be at the end and my dad helped me to make 3 rings made of light steel to the measurements we wanted. We sewed these rings into the skirt using embroidery thread and then made the same paper-mache base as we did on the top. We then painted this from grey into light grey. Copying the same technique and style as the top, we glued on the venetian blinds in the same way and started to work on the layers.

We left the first layer of the skirt with nothing on it, so that when the top and skirt move together when walking, they don’t get stuck on anything and they can slide on top of each other if they need to. 

Image - Ellen Slattery's Junk Kouture skirt
Image – Ellen Slattery’s Junk Kouture skirt

The next layer is made from circuit boards. The circuit boards, when we first cut them out of things, were green and very hard to break up. My dad helped us to break them using a machine which sliced them into bits, we painted them the same grey as was on the layer we were putting them on. They looked quite dull so I designed them with some metallic markers.

The next layer is made out of earphones, headphones, mouse pads and pieces from the inside of a keyboard. We designed them to almost look like space, this yet again contributes to the theme.

The next layer which is the smallest one is composed of many different small random pieces that we took out of things along the way. I think that this layer brings some colour to the design, which I like.

The next layer is made from belts that we found inside of computer boxes. We cut them into strips and weaved them together using a weaving technique. During making this layer we ran out of the belts to weave so we had to try and fill it up with as many of the small pieces as we could.

The final layer on the skirt is made up of ‘comments’ that we made out of milk cartons.We painted them white and designed them with words that cyberbullies would use to bully someone at our age. I think that this layer is the most important in the dress as from a glance, it really helps to engage you in our theme. We wired in between these comments with LED battery string lights from christmas ornaments that were no longer in use.

Image - the skirt base shows words that are used in cyberbullying
Image – the skirt base show comments that are used in cyberbullying

The skirt was finished very fast as we were under time pressure at this stage.

The final piece of the outfit which we made was the headpiece. We made it using an old lampshade, venetian blinds, wire and the casing from cables. We started by sewing the blinds into the lampshade and spray painting everything black. We then punched holes in the blinds and threaded a bendable wire through them, connecting it like a cage.

We did this  a few times until we were happy and then we stripped some wires and wrapped the black casing around the wire, we were going to tape it and build it up but this way proved more effective and used some more of our materials.

The hair and makeup was important to us also. We wanted it to tie in with our theme while also not be too striking. We chose a soft ponytail with a fishtail braid and curled also as it was very pretty and didn’t get masked into the headpiece. I am really interested in makeup, so I was excited to come up with a look for the theme. I decided to do soft eyes with black tears, to tie in with our theme. I chose a dark lipstick and also glued some small electrical wires to the top of my forehead.

Preparing for the Junk Kouture Contest
Preparing for the Junk Kouture Contest

The Theme and How it is Seen in the Outfit

For me, the outfit starts from the feet up. Through our colour scheme and materials we show the theme. The bottom shows how cyber bullying can start as light, ‘just a few comments but nothing too dark’. The next layer on the skirt shows how someone being cyberbullied can put up almost a sort of wall and block other people out. The next couple of layers show how someone can feel confused, almost like they’re in space or something. The circuit board layer can be interpreted as a feeling of being lost, as can the wire layer on the top. The keyboard layer on the top can show how someone being bullied could put up a strong front but may be feeling the opposite, the broken screens represent how being cyberbullied can make you feel broken and shattered emotionally. The headpiece shows how cyber- bullying, how it could’ve started as something light can eventually lead to you feeling caged into yourself, with no escape and left alone with just dark thoughts in your head. Finally, the venetian blinds, their colour and the way that they’re positioned like a rib cage gives me the idea that someone being cyberbullied could be overall feeling empty, like they’re left with nothing.

The Campaign

Our entry had to be submitted online. We took some photos of the dress on in a local hotel. We had to write some brief paragraphs about the materials we used, our design and theme etc. and we had to choose a 60 second audio piece which would be used during the performance on the stage if we made it through to the regional finals. The regional finals were held in University Concert Hall, Limerick and designs from all over Munster competed for spaces in the Grand Final in the 3Arena in May.

On the 7th of February we found out that unfortunately we didn’t make it to the regional finals. I was sad that after all the work we put in we couldn’t see it on the catwalk but alas we had one last chance. From the 11th to the 15th of February there was a Lifeline Vote, which gave the people who didn’t get through a chance to get through by public voting.

We wanted to try to get through by this but we had to be the most voted design in Munster, which would be really hard! We set up social media profiles for the dress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to help to campaign for votes. We posted some pictures , made some posters and started texting everyone we knew to get voting for the week! In the end we got 2.58K votes! (This included Super Friday votes- people did things such as following Junk Kouture on social media to get extra votes, which they used on the Friday) We didn’t make it to the regional finals, but we were 3rd in the Southern Region at the end of the Lifeline Vote and the most voted design in Limerick! We were sad that we couldn’t make it through but really overwhelmed at all the support that we received!

What I learned from doing Junk Kouture

  • Teamwork skills
  • Communication skills
  • Design skills
  • Time management skills
  • IT skills
  • Advertising skills
  • Self-confidence
  • Planning skills
  • Networking skills
  • Multi-tasking
  • Organisation skills
  • Detail is everything!

Well done Ellen – We loved having you onboard at Talivest and wish you all the best with your future fashion creations!

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