Reinventing the rejected. We caught up with the radical queer misfit on their recent trip to Carlisle.

Hi Noki! Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m from Aberdeen, Scotland, moving at 11 to a small village called Ellon, due to bulling I nick named it H-ELLOn Earth. I literally used art to get out of the town and received very rare offer to attend Edinburgh College of Art, qualifying with a low 2/2! I moved to Brighton, visited New York in 1994 then moved to London in 1995 to my beloved warehouse at 71 Leonard Street for £25 a week!

My first job was at the Blue Note Club in Hoxton Square. I was the first weekend manager of the infamous Bricklayers Arms. I worked as a stylist for a magazine called Blah Blah Blah that catapulted me to a decent paid job at MTV.

During these rave up years I started my own branded rave t-shirts, cutting up my shirts to rearrange the brand identity to make more conscious less corporate connections in my life. This lead onto a 20+ year career in sustainability and second life textiles .

How did you find growing up as a queer kid in Scotland?

Everything was fine as I had a great brother who knew and supported me being queer. I grew up in his punk clubs in Aberdeen from the age of 13 which were safe queer spaces.

When I was 14/15 however I was publicly outed at school. At the time there was a lot of propaganda about HIV and homosexuality, this had a huge impact on me as it gave the entire country permission to vilify and bully gay people.

Can you explain what you do to a reader who hasn’t engaged with your work before?

I’m an artist specialising in what I see as modern DADA collage & assemblages that follow a modernist ‘Culture Jam’ style idealism (Read Kalle Lasn for more on this!). The Fashion side evolved in 2008 when my friend Lulu Kennedy from Fashion East asked me to present a fashion show. I embraced the clothing as wearable art and created ‘DrNoki’s NHSt, Noki House of Sustainable Textiles’. To cross pollinate and present my custom build assemblages as a modernist freedom uniform.

What are your core values and what is it that sets you apart from the fashion industry as a whole?

It would be the pursuit of art and the creation of art as a singular thought process, the idea of investigating new textile possibilities, bringing my darker subliminal side out and creating love out of the rejection of those textiles. It allows me to understand life more and not be so scared about living.

Being branded as a queer kid so early on has obviously had its consequences, as it makes you very hyper aware which can be very draining as it can cause an over sensitive thought process .

How much does queerness feed into your creative output?

I’d say very much so.
One thing about a queer society is the hilarious way we use self deprecation and reflecting humour back at suppressors. Noki is very much the subversion of a rave brand – like Adidas – Aids, Stussy- Sissy, Reebok -QueerOk, Puma – Pimp, North Face – Noki Ace, McDonalds -Mac Aids, Patagonia- FagONIA, etc. My dyslexia had a big hand in this also as reading words was very difficult, teachers in the 80s said I was just stupid and in my teen’s I was put in remedial classes. It was the times.

I also think the bullying effected me emotionally, I’ve learned to get over myself a lot more and reading is far more enjoyable now. We can repair if you want to.

You’ve been a politically / socially engaged textile artist for a long time, what are the most profound changes you’ve witnessed over that time?

Unfortunately seeing the green washing of sustainable ideas and circular e-commerce. Theres a lot of washed out t-shirts with holes, broken & deconstructed brand idents designed into them – to look distressed as a style aesthetic. This is prolific now and can only be achieved by toxic chemical intervention which infests water systems.

Can you explain the importance of masks to Noki the brand and to you as a person?

This has been a very difficult Noki evolution at times. Masks make people very uncomfortable. I’ve always found them soothing when in front of a camera.

Easy for me but not for the industry as they expect their editorial to be sexy and more human. Mine is very much augmented like a dark superhero, so editors of publications have at times embargoed my portrait from articles .
BUT, they are my art, I’ve always maintained the Noki mask meant the reader really didn’t know whether I was black, white, rich or poor, I’m trying to draw the attention into the equality arena. Look at my work NOT me.

There’s an anarchistic spirit to what you do, where do you think that stems from and how does it impact your work?

I think it came from being singled out as the queer kid in the village. It made me stand up for myself not shy away, I had to learn to embrace my ‘super hero queer’ and stand my ground. I see it now as a queer resistance to the oppression I was experiencing.

You’ve dressed some pretty amazing people, do you have any favourite public figures that you have collaborated with?

Holly Jonson from Franki goes to Hollywood 80’s Fame .They were a very important and empowering Queer band. He wore my ‘aids in the rave‘ campaign t- shirt on stage at the Brighton Dome. Conscious awareness is everything so I’m very proud.

My other big one was building a piece for Show Studio for Naomi Cambell and while she was wearing it Val Garland from the Glow series entertained her while I went crazy customising it with my scissors! This was a seminal career moment for me – I’d become a professional artist with my wearable art being custom built live. One mistake on Noami and my career would have been OVER!

Can you tell us a little about Noki NESTT ?

The Noki NESTT (Noki Education of Sustainable Textiles & Technology) is a way of creating a safe zone for students to be educated in how to custom build my famous silhouettes so they can become the fashion custom builders of the future. Not until you empower a young mind to feel liberated, to cut into an established designed garment, will they feel the liberation of change and embrace sustainability as a gold standard.

Its a creative legacy project my, a conscious design responsibility.

The students will learn just like a hairdresser, how to be confident with there scissors and cut into vintage garments and embrace the beauty of re customising them back together in combinations. It’s all about wrapping around a student to feel they’re not detached from sustainability but actually evolving it with integrity, with academic experience, helping build the NESTT brand value.

How was it coming to Carlisle with Kim Howells to work with queer youth here?

Kim Howells the Noki NESTT stylist and myself had the best time with you all, thank you all that attended especially the lovelly couple an Holem Head House who hosted us!

It was a Noki -NESTT satellite dream come true . To meet and greet young minds, it reminded me if my own upbringing and my own struggle to find a safe space to feel queer and creative.

The workshops were so important as some of the custom builds from the sessions we embraced into our London Fashion Week show. A student from Penrith customised a red ‘Reebok’ t-shirt into ‘I’ll Bee OK’ This was a break through moment for Kim & myself to witness!

Any advice for the next generation of queer artists?

Never shy away from asking the question ‘Why’. ‘Why cant I do it’s? because I’d like to show you ‘why’ I CAN do that. Don’t let personal complacency in and always research your ‘why’, work hard on your ideas around ‘why’ they will work!

If you could have three words on a placard what would they be?

Rejection Breeds Reinvention

One word to mediate on?


Interview By Stevie

All Clothes by Noki