Nong Rak is the Thai and American owned creative studio and brand rethinking texture. From sourcing one-of-a-kind vintage pieces to now designing their own pieces, Nong Rak has demonstrated the benefits of considered curation.
The duo behind the brand, Cherry and Home, also champion sustainability in their creative endeavours, bringing conscious practices into everything from sourcing to packaging for Nong Rak. On the cusp of the brand’s seemingly inevitable rise, we caught up with them to talk all things inspiration, design process and their top 3 tips for creating a successful brand in the current climate.
Nong Rak started as a vintage boutique – can you tell us a bit about this?
Nong Rak really started as a photography project between my partner Home and I. We both wanted to create these fantasy situations and images and were getting into casting and location scouting. We only used vintage from the beginning for styling since it was all that was accessible to us, so from there it kind of naturally formed into a vintage shop as we had started to collect a lot from our past projects and needed to fund new projects by selling what we could. From the time we started selling it had always been part of the idea to eventually move into designing our own line. We tried a few times over the last few years to add in our own handmade pieces but nothing clicked as naturally and as well as knitwear did at the start of this year.
How did this transition into designing?
At a point not too long ago we were facing a reality check that despite all our hard work with imagery and brand building that our little vintage shop hadn’t ever and probably wouldn’t be able to really sustain us both and our child. When it came down to finally trying to make a big change we were envisioning doing something more hands-on and intentional to kind of complete the Nong Rak atmosphere that we had tried to build in our original work when we started.
Searching for, studying, mending and styling all this vintage really informed much of what we are doing in our own designs. Especially the vintage knitwear and one of a kind vintage pieces we focused on sourcing over the last two years, which were all observed with extra curiosity and attention. A lot of mental notes of elements of garments that passed through our shop that have a lesson or two in the design. All the work we do is self-taught, so vintage has been such an incredible teacher over these last few years, and since neither of us have the traditional backgrounds or experience needed for the fashion industry it’s really felt like this unconventional path has somehow carved out a place for us where we wouldn’t normally belong.
With vintage resale, sustainability is obviously a major concern. Is this preoccupation something you’ve carried over into your own designs, and how?
It’s been a really big part of the design of the pieces as well as our conversations when thinking about how to and if we could scale Nong Rak and what that could look like in an environmentally smart way. We really want to make things of a really special quality that last years, if not a lifetime, and would love to promote the idea of buying less in general. In the end keeping things small and in sight feels the most responsible too. Like most modern clothing, a lot of vintage is made of synthetics, even really great designer stuff, and those materials don’t age well.
For our Nong Rak pieces, we dream of them someday being a sentimental hand-me-down, so the materials are undeniably the most important aspect of the design. Right now production is very limited so we have a lot of control over the process and materials which makes it easier to limit waste too. While we still spend time sourcing vintage clothing, we now also spend much of the time sourcing vintage, dead stock and second hand natural fiber yarns as well as connecting with small US farms that offer cruelty-free small batch yarn in some of our favorite luxury fibers. These materials take a lot of time to find and most are very singular due to limited quantities, so the things we have been making can’t be mass made in any capacity.
Truthfully we’re not sustainability saints at all and still find ourselves thinking of ways to do better with our packaging, shipping, data footprint, etc. and are actively thinking of ways to carefully produce more to meet the current demand. Neither of us would feel comfortable moving forward with the vision without taking these things and more into consideration
I love your fuzzy mohair pieces in particular, and they’ve proved super popular online already! What is your creative process for producing these pieces?
We were really surprised how well received the new mohair pieces were in our last collection! They were the last pieces to be added to the lot two days before shooting and we were really excited to play with styling and photograph the intense texture. In the end they really changed everything for Nong Rak! A lot of the designs this year have been solely giving a wearable shape to texture play of some kind. A few of our favorite techniques to use in the knits are more sparse and sporadic in texture, so when we made the first mohair piece it was really fun to find a kind of uniform fluff that really lets the light play off it.
Your other designs feature deconstruction and speciality knits – what are the inspirations behind these pieces?
When we started crafting our first knits at the beginning of this year we had just visited family by the ocean and it really inspired a lot of the textures and deeper ideas for creative direction. We talked a lot about the way nature kind of grows over human’s lost and discarded if it can’t be decomposed and how our trash and leftover things can become partially organic in a twisted kind of way over time. Like a boot covered in barnacles or a rusty, broken old car with lichen seat covers and carpet.
Not to sound too cynical, but the ideas felt really close to a lot of worries in the world right now, about Mother Earth’s supposed fiery revenge and what it would all look like without us. A lot of personal existentialism and overactive imagination came into it unintentionally. But over the last six months or so the inspirations have really multiplied, into thoughts of matter and subatomic particles and their relation to fibers in a garment, ideas of micro vs. macro, etc. and with the interest in our mohair pieces we also want to work more into more purely visually aesthetic inspirations like blurriness and colour bleeding.
From that, do you have a main source of inspiration for your brand as a whole?
Nostalgic, youthful hearts! Colour and texture as therapeutic self-expression.
What would you say are the 3 most important tips for creating a brand?
First thing that comes to mind is how strange it is to think there was once a time when a person could be really great at making one kind of shoe or hat and make them really well for their whole life and just do that. Now we live in this world where everything moves so quickly and all of our attention spans are so much shorter which leads to this constant spiral of everyone wanting what’s new, and a lot of what’s new being homogenized. Because of that it seems really hard to create a successful brand that stands out today without keeping a very mailable idea of your designs, market and customer. It feels very much that anything can happen at any time, and people easily lose interest.
We started Nong Rak with next to no knowledge or resources so naturally a lot of mistakes were made along the way, but we tried to view them as lessons to learn from. So secondly – being willing to learn, change and adapt whenever the opportunity comes is really helpful. We tried to recoup what losses we could when they came up and put anything we have straight back into the brand so that we could continue to learn even when we aren’t making ends meet.
Lastly, unwavering perseverance and sacrifice is what got us from step to step and kept us going through the moments when it didn’t look like we could continue.
What’s next for Nong Rak?
Turning two into a bigger team! We’ve only ever balanced work between us, so learning to share duties and responsibilities will be the biggest change Nong Rak has ever gone through. We have desperately needed help for a while so we are very excited to start putting a team together.