DONK is the Bolton-based label disrupting the market with their bold, sustainable garments. Their colour palettes are vibrant, designs lively and inherently nostalgic. It’s clear that translating perceptible energy is an important concern for the brand, which appears in it’s garments with playful logos and bright colours.
Originally starting by updating second hand garments with the signature DONK spray paint treatment, the duo behind the brand (Sam & Madi) left their job due to an awful boss and have since gone on to release a series of pieces designed in-house, with their creative process learnt along the way.
With the design influence ranging from the brand’s namesake, Donk music and club culture, to northernness at large and even certain types of fungi on foraging walks, we couldn’t wait to sit down with the DONK co-founders to find out more about them and the brand.
Hey Sam and Madi! From a quick stalk of your Instagram, you’ve been on the scene since 2019. Have you always been designing, and how did you get started?
Coming from different artistic backgrounds – Madi being fashion and myself (Sam) graphic design – we both often made work that carried similar themes of club culture and a deep love of the places we grew up in the north of the U.K.
When we started designing together we’d already been in a relationship for a few weeks — it felt as though it was a natural and organic thing to do together, sharing skills and creating garments. About a year after starting our DONK project whilst we were still working in retail and hospitality, we were hired full time to provide our customising skills to a UK based vintage retailer, focusing on up-cycling techniques for their damaged stock. This was the first real creative job we had and we learned a lot whilst here but we came to realise our boss was a prick and we’d be better off focusing on our own brand and building something ourselves. As the lockdown ended we told him where to go and took the leap to take DONK to the next level and haven’t looked back since. And we encourage others to do the same!
Vibrancy is at the heart of your designing – how important is the first impression for you?
Even though we’re a fairly new and small brand I’d like to think we already have a strong visual identity. Like Donk the music genre, we want our garments to have an in-your-face initial impression and be instantly recognisable as us – we think this is essential for communicating our brand ethos to our customers. Not only do we want to be known for eye-catching designs but also creating garments that last and providing services that prolong the life of your DONK wear/damaged items.
With your name (which we’ll get into later), we’re really interested to understand the context behind your designs. From that, where do you get your inspiration?
People are the main inspiration behind Donk. With our studio being based in a Manchester nightclub (s/o 2 hidden crew) we’re never short for inspiration. We don’t party as much as we used to but we understand the importance of these spaces and often our designs find a home in a club setting. Still living in my hometown of Bolton, we’re not far from the countryside and spend a lot of time walking – we’re both proper into finding different types of mushrooms and fungi. We’re both really fascinated by nature, even more so over lockdown, and you can definitely see this in our more recent works.
That’s super wide ranging! On to the namesake, can you talk us through the relationship between Donk music and DONK?
We grew up listening to Donk and Bassline on parks, at the back of buses and at house parties as most kids from our area and surrounding working-class areas like Liverpool and Sheffield did – we weren’t old enough to see these tunes played in clubs so we had to make do. Our upbringing is another key inspiration to our art – growing up we both felt embarrassed in different ways about our backgrounds for when we really shouldn’t have been as it’s what makes us who we are. Now we’ve grown unapologetically northern.
DONK isn’t just about making boingy crop tops for clubbers to dance in – we’re two artists exploring what it is to be northern, working-class people and the ways in which us and others chose to escape our realties via art, fashion, clubs and music together.
We chose the brand name DONK as we think it perfectly encapsulates the cheeky playful energy of northern culture rather than focusing on the gritty and grim.
Does that form the beginning stages of your creative process, then? Can you run us through it?
We’re so bad – most of the time we don’t even do a drawing before making a garment. As we only have 1 year of actual fashion education between us we’re very much making it up as we go along – but it seems to be working! YouTube tutorials are our best mate.
It’s usually in the car on the way home where we come up with our ideas. Just speaking to each other gets all kinds of ideas flowing. Having another person that is on the same wavelength is an important part of how we make work – even though we design and make the garments individually they always channel a similar style that suits DONK.
View this post on Instagram
We love your bags in particular – do you have a favourite design to make and wear, and why?
SAM: I like making the NRG stuff – this is a technique I’m really proud of. As I’ve only been sewing for a short time I’m really happy with how well finished it looks compared to when I started sewing. As a designer I’m looking more into subtlety and changing silhouettes using interesting seams and textures. And the black tracksuit looks fuckin’ sick.
MADI: Even though the mycelium items are a nightmare to sew and stuff I loved how they’ve turned out – they actually look like wearable mushrooms!
They’re not like anything I think you can buy yet and when wearing them people are always interested in how it’s made. I enjoy making wearable art and garments that get people talking.
Your designs have already been sported by some big names in fashion including Mowalola- talk us through this project!
It sounds a lot more exciting than it is! We were contacted by a London based stylist Lee Trigg. Lee had a shoot coming up for Bricks magazine featuring Mowa and some of her friends and thought our garments would be perfect for it. When we saw the images from the shoot we were actually taken back by how much talent was included designers like Ed Curtis and photographed by Aiden Zamiri – we were so fuckin’ buzzin’ to be included!
Your brand is preoccupied with slow fashion – is sustainability a major concern in your design and production process?
Our roots are in up-cycling vintage and damaged clothes, processes we will use forever. Enough already exists on this earth without making brand new fabrics. We’ve always had to make use of what we have around us and find that sometimes these constraints lead to more creative outcomes.
I don’t think a brand would be able to be successful in today’s society without being eco-conscious – but we’re seeing more and more brands use this as a USP. Other than sustainability we want to address other negative aspects of the fashion industry like the over saturation of working-class people being used to sell clothes but a lack of representation in the actual industry.
Shit pay or none at all is something else we feel strongly about – as young designers we’re well aware of the weight of our ideas and feel as though the fashion industry can be an exploitative one for emerging creatives, and this needs to change.
We have to ask, with such a strong visual aesthetic already, do you have a dream collaboration (either person or brand)?
I know designing a trainer with Nike is a pretty shit answer but we’ve thought about it and that’s what we’d love to do. We’re very much Nike trainers only people so we’d both be buzzing with that!
Other than that we’d really love to work with Ed Curtis, Benny Andallo, Paolina Russo and Dom Sebastian – their work is just mint. The list goes on and there are so many amazing new designers emerging particularly in the UK.
Would love to see the outcome of those hypothetical collabs! Lastly, what’s next for DONK?
2022 is going to be a big year for us – we have some of the most exciting and absolutely fucking insane projects and collaborations being released this coming year that were not allowed to speak about so we’ll leave it there 😉