“You always see rich people dressed like shit,” says Sam, one half of the unstoppable designer duo, Donk Wear. Donk Wear is a revenge plan against years of middle-class fetishism and hatred of working-class style. In the spirit of the ethos of working-class northern rave culture, Donk Wear turns sensible shite into silly treasure. What more could they possibly give us?
Hi Donk Wear! Your collections are innovative, sustainable, and accessible for ordinary people, which is something the fashion industry needs right now. Why did you start making clothes?
Sam: That’s a hard question! Fashion was a more obvious path for Madison as she would spend summers at iconic British designer Antony Price’s home and eventually went on to begin studying at the London college of fashion. Traditionally a graphic designer, I hadn’t really thought of fashion as a career – I loved screen-printing and since leaving university a lot of my jobs centred around designing graphics for garments. When we met and had separate studios I’d print the fabrics and Madi would whip them up into something mad. Now since moving into a studio together we’re constantly sharing and developing our skills — I have recently been watching Madi learn how to sew and Madi now prints and designs on our computer. It’s inspiring working with someone who has a different skill set and it’s important to not be scared of trying new processes.
The name Donk Wear comes from the genre, Donk, which is essentially fast music popularised within northern working-class circles. What do you see as the spirit of Donk music?
Sam & Madi: Cheekiness and energy.
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Your designs are cartoon-inspired, whimsical, and vibrant. Iconic features of your designs such as smiley faces and neon colours are reminiscent of northern rave culture movements such as Acid House. Does your brand pay tribute to these northern rave culture movements?
Sam & Madi: Very much so. Growing up in Bolton and Rochdale, coming into Manchester to visit the vintage shops and Affleck’s palace, the Acid smiley face would have been burned into our subconscious. Donk isn’t just a homage to that specific genre; more the relations between being working-class and escaping the mundane reality via clubs, music, whatever. The word for us encapsulates our desired ethos of what it means to be northern, working-class, and creative.
Many of your inspirations, from Ali G to Donk, lie at the heart of popular culture. What does your collection say about the link between class and taste?
Sam & Madi: Taste is just bullshit init really. We make clothes that we don’t like and other people do. You always see rich people dressed like shit while Madi’s here in a tracksuit made out of a dead old lady’s nighty looking cool as fuck. We’re artists that honestly represent our culture and we see massive businesses fetishise it as a 'unique selling point' because they fancied dipping their perfectly pedicured toes into ‘streetwear’. Ew.
Recently, fashion signifiers that were symbols of working-class status have become fashionable after a long history of middle-class hatred. How does your brand represent the working-class communities you grew up with?
Sam: It’s pretty safe to say that Madi and I were freaks growing up, we both went through a scene kid phase. Now we understand that the garments we make aren’t exactly what you’d imagine the everyday Boltonian to wear, my sister often tells us we look like we’re in fancy dress. But, it’s more about the outlook of not giving a shit what people think. As much as Donk is a brand, it is also two artists with similar upbringings representing themselves. There is so much inspiration — particularly in northern working-class culture. The fashion industry is fascinated by it, but it’s our culture, not yours.
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You upcycle second-hand garments by customising them with spray paint. What do you think your collection says about high culture and the idea of “real art”?
Sam & Madi: We firstly used spray paint as we couldn’t afford to get fabrics printed and we are both pretty confident in our drawing skills - we use a blend of spray paint and airbrushing now. At the same time, we get that spray paint and graffiti has it’s own visual language which neatly ties into our vernacular and will always be a process we use regardless of how much money we make. I’d like to think that maybe one day people would frame or buy our garments to display as they want to keep it unworn and think of them more as pieces of art — a lot of the garments we make there’s only one of, even if we remake something it won’t be exactly identical due to the processes we use. The dream for us is to infiltrate high culture, kind of like a revenge plan for fetishising ours. I want opera versions of Blackout Crew songs played live by an orchestra whilst single mums bounce down the runway putting a middle finger up to the middle class’ collective face.
Is one man’s trash another man’s treasure for your brand?
100%. Send us your old shite. We turn old into gold.
In contrast to the majority of fashion, your garments are made to be moved in, danced in, and have fun with. How do you think this contrasts the wastefulness of fast fashion?
We offer what’s been referred to as ‘street couture’ — making orders made to measure and customised how the buyer desires through conversations on Instagram. I don’t even think I need to go into how badly produced or unethical garments from these places are. We don’t know first-hand as you wouldn’t catch us buying from them, but we’ve heard. We can’t hate a person for looking for a bargain but when it is £30 for a full tracksuit, you know that someone’s not getting paid right and the fabric's going to be whack. We can hate the companies that make these products available, especially when they have the financial ability to produce better quality garments for their customers, and provide a safe work environment and fair pay for workers in all aspects of their companies.
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Your manufacturing process is highly interactive for clients. How do you think that changes the way people see your brand?
Sam: We didn’t realise that allowing customers to choose what colour tee or what design would be a USP for us. When interacting with customers, it’s like taking to a mate. We just thought it polite to offer alternatives and it snowballed from there. Madi and I are just getting used to being called a ‘brand’ and it’s always really cool to see people coming back and buying more shit. I hope people see Donk as a mate, someone you could have a brew, or doobie, with.
Your collections are a breath of fresh air in the current fashion environment, thank you. What can we expect to see from Donk Wear next?
No, thank you! We’re just happy people want to see what we do, like we said previously Donk is a really personal project and we’re just glad people get what we’re doing and enjoy it! In terms of what to expect next you’re not gunna believe it...
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