Belfast Telegraph

Teenager swaps farm for catwalk with eco-friendly fashion designs

Sustainability is the buzz word in the fashion world, with fast fashion and its damage to the environment under the spotlight.

(Junk Kouture/PA)
(Junk Kouture/PA)

By Aine McMahon, PA

A teenager from Northern Ireland is taking sustainable fashion to the next level with designs she creates from things most people would class as rubbish.

Rachel Irwin, 17, from Co Armagh, divides her time between working on her family farm and attending a fashion design course at the Met College in Belfast.

The talented teen, from near the border village of Tynan, won one of five top prizes in the Junk Kouture competition in 2018, as well as a trip to France, and has a career in fashion design in her sights.

The competition encourages young designers in secondary school education to create fashion designs and wearable art from rubbish or junk.

Rachel is now set to model four of her pieces at a Gothica Glam fashion show in the Guildhall in Londonderry on Wednesday as part of the city’s famed programme of Halloween festivities.

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Rachel Irwin working on the family farm in Co Armagh (Irwin family/PA)

The teenager says the pain of losing her brother John suddenly two years ago has inspired her fashion designs and her quirky aesthetic.

“My brother just collapsed in school one day; I had just passed him in the corridor on the way to class when it happened – it was a huge shock,” she said

In one of her award-winning designs, she used an an old mat from her brother’s trampoline, Christmas wreaths and flowers from his grave, and turkey feathers she gathered up on the farm.

“All of my designs have some kind of farm theme but John gave me plenty of inspiration too,” she said.

“One of the first dresses I ever designed was called the Wind Beneath My Wings and it has turkey feathers sewed into it. Whenever I come across a wee feather on the farm, it reminds me of John.

“Another dress I created took up loads of bits of what other people would probably turn their nose up at or throw out. I used old fertiliser bags for a piece called Farmyard Fashion.

“One dress I made is particularly meaningful to me because I made it from trampoline mat material because John used to love going on it and some Christmas wreaths left over from his grave.”

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Rachel models one of her designs (Junk Kouture/PA)

Rachel says for her, art and creativity are her therapy.

“I can just lose hours making and designing stuff so it definitely helps take my mind off things and lets me express myself,” she said.

Rachel’s mum Diane says while some of the materials she brings into the house are unusual, she loves to see how she ends up incorporating them into her designs.

“Well I’m out a fortune on disinfectant,” she said.

“I never know what she will bring in from the farm but it always amazes me how she can be so creative and comes up with such inventive uses for things.

“She has started bringing in the fluffy part of cows’ tails and so I don’t enjoy washing the dung off them and cleaning them but I love seeing how her designs turn out.

“She has always been so creative and there is all the talk about sustainable fashion and reusing and recycling now but she has always been doing it.”

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Rachel divides her time between farm work and fashion design (Irwin family/PA)

Rachel says she looks forward to swapping wearing wellies on the farm to strutting down the catwalk in Derry on Wednesday.

“People like Greta Thunberg are making people way more conscious of the environment and how many clothes they buy so it’s good to think I’m playing my own role in that and show what you can make from bits and bobs people usually throw away,” she said.

The Samhain Sessions Gothica Glam & The Wilting Bouquet event starts at 7.30pm in the Guildhall. For more information visit www.derryhalloween.com.

PA

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