From trash to class: art student Sarah Arriola creates fashion out of recycled materials

Arriola returned from the world finals in the international Junk Kouture Fashion Competition


As they wait for the news about awards the New York semi-finalists hold hands in support preparing themselves for results. Image submitted by Sarah Arriola

McIntosh junior Sarah Arriola left for world finals in the international Junk Kouture competition with her culturally inspired dress on Jan. 6 this year. The finals were held in Abu Dhabi on Jan. 11. Arriola returned to the states the following day landing in New York City and was accompanied to finals by her mother and junior Chloe Davis, who helped her with creative decisions. Arriola’s dress was made from recycled materials such as aluminum cans and her inspiration was representing her Latin American roots and her home in Georgia.

“The trip was amazing, I got a lot of experiences that’ll help me grow and I made so many amazing connections and friendships. Junk Kouture is an amazing organization,” Arriola said. “The flight was pretty long but it was comfortable and I got some sleep in.”

Arriola was able to join in and experience the culture and traditions while in Abu Dhabi learning about how other people live outside of the United States.

“I got to learn a lot about Abu Dhabi and experiencing its culture firsthand was really cool,” Arriola said.

Many of the other designs included creative ideas like Arriolas’ intricate fashionable concept.

“There were so many designs and a big handful of them really shocked me, some of my fellow New York finalists had some amazing designs using so many different types of materials like banana fibers, buttons, denim, duct tape or surgical equipment,” Arriola said. “There were some designs from other parts of the world that had some amazing ideas. One was made using electrical wire in blue and yellow and their message was focused on the war in Ukraine. Another design spoke about feminism and had a fun and colorful design, they won the best performance award. Another team used chicken wire to make a skeleton on their back, their design was featured in Teen Vogue. There were many more but those really caught my eye.”

Around the time of her trip, on Arriola’s Junk Kouture-specific Instagram, she posted getting off the plane in Abu Dhabi. She did not post the packaging process but she did post that she had many posters on the suitcase with her dress.

“I did put labels on the luggage that had my design, just in case they lost it or anything, and also so maybe the workers would treat it with more care but I did prep with bubble wrap and cardboard to keep it safe. I just wanted to make sure the design was safe because it was what I was competing with,” Arriola said.

Arriola was able to have a few days with the Junk Kouture experience while also enjoying a nice trip away from America.

“I got an opportunity to see what the fashion world was like behind the scenes, from the preparation to stepping onto the stage, as well as connecting with other people who shared the passion that got me there. Also, we got to interact with the [Junk Kouture] team a lot and got an amazing speech from the CEO. I am so grateful to them because I really can’t put into words how great of an experience this was, there’s nothing like it,” Arriola said.

While going through the competition there were a few little details that went unplaned during the time leading up to finals night.

“My design has a carnival feather back piece that has a support system to keep it in place while I wear it, but on tech/rehearsal day (the day before finals), it started to come apart. All I could do was use some of my extra epoxy and stack a bunch of chairs on it and let it dry overnight. I was pretty sure it’d be fine, but you never know, so going in to check on it the next day was a little nerve-wracking, but my method worked and the wings were ready to go for finals,” Arriola said. “Another setback was just making sure all the hair and makeup were good to go and as close to perfect as we could get it, but again it all worked out and I performed and had a great time.”

To combat some things that went unplanned before the competition there were other things that went super well while Arriola was in Abu Dhabi.

“I think everything went pretty smoothly. I was able to talk to a lot of people and connect with them, and as for my performance, there weren’t any hiccups during the finals. Anything I was hoping to do, I got to do, so it was an overall great experience.” Arriola said.

The judging process involved parts on both the rehearsal day before the competition and on the actual finals day.

“We had four total judges and during our rehearsal day, the judges went around asking questions to each of the contestants. Some of the questions I was asked were, what materials I used, the inspiration or backstory of the dress, how did I achieve the smooth look with the soda cans, and how did the message of sustainability shine through,” Arriola said. “Then, on actual finals day, they saw how the design was while I performed.”

Arriola left with a deep understanding of the competition specifically noting what she had gained from it. She explained the different parts of the competition that makes Junk Kouture unique.

“I think there is a message our community should really grab from this, if myself and designers aged from 13-18 from all different parts of the world can be brought together because they put in the effort to try something unique and different by creating something sustainable, it really shows how all of us should start living our lives. Living a little more sustainably can start off smaller by reusable containers, getting a recycling bin at home and much more,” Arriola said. “Putting in the effort is really important, I think this trip has opened my eyes to that message a lot more, especially seeing what my companions were able to accomplish with the trash they turned into treasure.”

Arriola did not place in the contest, however, she does plan on competing in the 2023 competition this year.

“If I make it as far as I did with my old design, I’ll be aiming to bring a win home with me,” Arriola said. ”Soon I’ll reveal my new process on my design accounts across social media. We’ll see where it takes me this year.”