Known for his unique brand collaborations, artist & designer Dr Noki’s (NHSt) House of Sustainability Textiles, takes mass-produced, discarded garments and transforms them into individual pieces with meaning. This time, Dr Noki collaborated with veteran shoemaker Andy Murphy, who isn’t new to the idea of custom-builds himself - the Essex-based designer, created 20 pairs of slippers in the ‘80s for Wham's famous China tour, each pair with a hand-embroidered skull and crossbones.
Emily Bowles at the interview with Dr. Noki
Sublime: Since your last interview with Sublime Magazine, what has changed for Dr Noki?
Dr Noki: Firstly, and most importantly, the lifestyle of sustainable thinking - it has become more galvanised as a conscious process. I started my art practice as textile collage art inspired by the Dada movement in 1996. Sustainability was a healthy word; now it's an essential healthy lifestyle movement, and Sublime were very generous in giving me my second magazine cover, the first being with Q in 2000.
Since 1996, I have gone on to collaborate on collages with brands like Adidas, Colette Paris, KTZ Paris, Reebok, Barbour, Levi’s, BPunk, Princess Julia, and now Andy Murphy. For an artist inspired by the Kalle Lasn #CultureJamming movement, a front cover is a gold position to harvest positive change - after my feature on Sublime’s cover, there has been a series of large profile projects, including a Kickers boot called the Sustainable Upper KickStand, Chloè Paris customisation of catwalk bags and apparel, two seasons of the Innovators platform on matchesfashion.com and Up-Fusion, a project with the queen of ethical sustainability herself, Katherine Hamnett.
A book by photographer Axel Holdt called NOKI was also published, being a 15-year documentation of my Noki Sob Masks, and I collaborated with Vienna Art Week on an installation. During lockdown, I also launched nokishop.com to platform my work and create a more tight-knit relationship between the studio and shop.
S: Your style is gothic surrealist and ecliptic. How would you define your end product style?
DN: The act of the custom-build can spark all sorts of style silhouettes, because you are fusing the designed garment with another. Cutting into the nostalgia of that garment, for me, breaks the unhelpful, melancholic fashion energy and opens the mind to a fresh approach to sustainable style.
It also puts the power back into the street by the local custom-builder. I believe custom-builds are deeply rooted in sportswear of the hip hop and rave cultures, and I’m obsessed with the idea of an ‘unofficial’ landfill collaboration of the biggest sports brands, combining them all to create something impossible to find in any high-end boutique or sportswear shop.
Dr. Noki, Andy Murphy & Sublime Director Damian Santamaria
S: Tell us about your latest collaboration, the Noki NX4S?
DN: This collaboration with Andy Murphy has been in the air for over five years. First, I created my sustainable upper canvases from deconstructed sportswear for his team, and they custom-built them into the famous slippers. They’re all complete one-offs, to the point where each slipper is slightly different to its sibling - I want to push the idea of the sustainable foot as a unique, modernist journey.
S: Do you continue to use the rag pile to create your masterpieces?
DN: Yes, the rag pile will always be the DNA (Direct Noki Action) approach to my art and fashion custom-builds. For the uninitiated, ‘rag’ is the industrial name for discarded clothing, the ‘rag pile’ being the landfill evolution that builds up as a result of that rejection.
This is my pleasure zone to go to for the ultimate inspiration. You get anything and everything in the rag pile! I truly think it opens up my mind to think beyond normal constraints.
S: How do you keep your DNA fluid throughout different collaborations, especially with the change of style for your latest collection with Andy Murphy?
DN: As long as I’m creating from landfill, I am creating a landfill drop and not a landfill increase. And by utilising deadstock - not creating new commodities - my art can continue to flow while maintaining my brand values.
I see my collaborations as platforms for freedom, places where I can work with other talents and introduce sustainable canvases into the mix. We create art apparel full of possibilities and aim to inspire creative minds to build their own variations.
The NX4S with Andy Murphy shoes are bringing that sustainable inspiration to Saville Row, the original fashion industry. When it comes to traditional suiting, wool is a very sustainable textile, so I’m proud to highlight that Saville Row originality in this collaboration.
S: How do you consider the consumers’ needs from a garment during the design process?
DN: My only concern is that they will be engaged in the sustainable agenda in its purest form, and custom-building guarantees that.
Though I’m only really attracted to the avant garde side of life, I truly think the custom-build is a democratic youth movement that can spark a ‘bedroom atelier’ movement worldwide. Wardrobes are bursting with second-life textiles ready to be cut up and custom-built with infinite, edgy ideas.
S: As someone who pays close attention to the fashion industry, would you say that it is in a better condition now compared to when you first began?
DN: Not at all! Never in my wildest dreams did I think the fashion industry would be weighed down by fast fashion clothing, nor that it would become the second or third highest pollutant on the planet. That I find really scary. But as an artist, I must say, I do find it very inspiring to create from.
S: It is no secret that you are inspired by the rave scene. How will you tie in these luxury slippers with your classic rave-inspired designs?
DN: This is easy. Andy told me the history of his slippers - they go back to the 17th or 18th century. They were first invented for royalty to relax in after sports, embroidered with the type of the sport they had just done. This made me think that they were probably the first branded shoes, and definitely the first visual branding on the foot, not unlike the modern-day trainer.
These historical connections encourage me to push my ideas further, especially the concept of sustainability as a luxury and modernist movement for the youth to be inspired by. The NX4S is a fusion of sustainable sportswear textiles with Andy’s classic slippers.
Dr. Noki, Andy Murphy & Sublime Magazine Director Damian Santamaria
S: It seems that, as a textile artist, you’re already living in the future. What is next for Dr Noki?
DN: My art grows with every custom-build. I am proud to say that I’ve reduced tonnes of landfill and put many hours into higher education through projects like Fashion Monster.
My big dream is to further develop my own private school, the Noki Education of Sustainable Textiles & Technology, or Noki-NESTT.
The idea is to educate students on the creativity of The Sustainable Custom Build, on developing ideas to empower themselves with the fashion rules I broke over the years. In the meantime, my Instagram serves as a visual output for sustainable inspiration, as does my website, and I’ve recently ventured onto TikTok.
Read more about Dr Noki in Sublime Magazine