There’s a sweet irony to be found in presenting traditional hand craft and vintage clothing in a semi-artificial digital space. For creative duo, Nong Rak, this anachronism bridges the uncharted space between the past and future. Although they’ve swapped busy trade markets for a sleek refined interface, their creative endeavors radiate a rich and heartfelt nostalgia. We talk to the duo about identity, conscious consumerism and their new website and collection launch.
Home and Cherry, welcome to METAL! Can you introduce yourselves and, of course, Nong Rak to our readers?
Hey Metal and friends! Home and I are people who together and separately always really grappled with expressing ourselves and thoughts and feelings so Nong Rak has been this conglomerated visual attempt at something like that. Fashion often seems to have this face of being really shallow or emotionally detached but I think we've all seen that it doesn't have to be like that, it can be really deep and meaningful for self expression and actualisation. We wanted to bring that idea into our photo work, which has mostly been people-centric, so style and clothing became this unintentional center point for Nong Rak as it started. Up to the end of 2020, Nong Rak continued as the same photo project as well as a vintage shop until the beginning of this year when we decided to introduce our own namesake line of handmade knitwear and fiber works. This sort of ever-morphing shapeless idea that has been Nong Rak feels like it's finally taking some form.Things evolved in so many different ways since we started the project and we just tried to stay open and willing to see what it could become.
For me, Nong Rak embodies authenticity; it's as if each piece radiates a tangible folklore. What would you say is the core essence behind the brand?
We are really nostalgic. For our own pasts, for the pasts of others that we've read about or imagined and even pasts that don't exist but are somewhere in the distant future. All of that really fuels the imagination and story of Nong Rak, and a need to create something that feels safely suspended in time like nostalgia but also welcomes a wild, unseen future and the people that exist there.
In its infancy, Nong Rak was at first an outlet for vintage clothing. How has this changed today?
Vintage has been like cement in the foundation to build from. It's taught us so much about people and clothing and history and about the power of observation. Reimagining and modernising the discarded and forgotten is a big part of the life we've tried to give our vintage selection, and even now with our own designs in the studio it's most comfortable to keep some specially chosen vintage nearby to play off each other - like something old that looks kind of new and something new that looks kind of old. Old things hold a lot of special information in them and I think that's something that will always attract us and hopefully the curiosity these things spark will always remain in our work.
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With differing cultural heritages Nong Rak charters this amalgamation of Thai and American identity. How is this cultural symbiosis presented within your work?
Having these vastly different perspectives while still relating to each other on a heart to heart level has been one of the most important factors in learning and growing together and as a team and learning how to make a brand. Ultimately having some polar viewpoints helps us keep revisiting how Nong Rak is evolving, what path to take and if what we're working on really fits what we are trying to create together.
Coupled with a website launch, the new collection for Nong Rak has just landed - congratulations! What can you tell us about these new projects?
Thank you! Wish it could have been a bigger collection, but the next in a few weeks it will be. It's still just the two of us who work in the studio right now so production is slow. We've hit a place where our knit line, although it's still a baby for us, is already splitting off into different directions. We are still forming the essence of the line with new ideas and techniques, but also trying to deliver for the high demand for our technicolored mohair pieces - which we will be making a mainstay of the brand. They are made from deadstock vintage mohair yarns and some specially sourced small batch cruelty-free mohair yarns. A sad thing about the online world is that you can't touch! We would love for people to be able to experience the texture when they see our images and pieces.
From an outsider perspective it’s easy to overlook the tenacity behind a brand. How has entrepreneurship served you so far? And, are any possible hardships a small wager for complete creative autonomy?
It has and does serve us with a lot of trouble, many times not knowing if it was worth it but then each time remembering the undeniable freedom of the heart which is a huge aspect of how we were able to go in this direction. There have been a lot of unhealthy, dark times behind the scenes, many might agree on how hard it is to draw real boundaries with the things you're emotionally invested in especially when your livelihood also depends on it. But I don't think that means we'd ever exchange the lessons learned for a simpler path. This disorderly, diehard attempt at entrepreneurship gave us both some little bits of self belief where we previously had none and now sometimes finding us dreaming out loud casually saying things like 'oh maybe one day we can have a themed hotel that offers artist residence and also make the suite our apartment' that and anything else doesn't seem all that impossible anymore.
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With a brand so heavily integrated with familial values, do you ever find it hard to discern work from leisure? Or, rather, is this disconnect not a necessity?
We've not been able to find the proper lines to draw, and since we've always run Nong Rak by ourselves and couldn't afford child care we really just end up being together as a family all day, everyday and those interactions and relationships have become a big element of our operations. I think that's also a part of why it's been hard to imagine hiring new team members and growing the brand. But with our son going to kindergarten soon we're looking forward to starting to work with a small team and seeing how that contributes to and ultimately betters future work and projects.
There lies a powerful capacity within fashion to communicate socio-political statements. Your collection Polluted Landscapes epitomises this. What was the message you endeavored to communicate with this collection?
That series is really influenced by vintage novelty sweaters that have come through our shop. They always have these brightly colored utopian scenes set in the knit, like a cute barn and garden on a farm or men leisurely fishing on a lake, but actually tend to give off an almost dishonest, dated, nuclear household kind of energy when worn modernly. So with the Polluted Landscape project there's been a lot of reflection on how those kinds of idealistic scenes and ideas of a romanticised world feel less available to our generation and those coming. How we are kind of forced into finding a twisted beauty in and love for these desiccated landscapes that have been left behind for us. Only a few pieces have been finished in the series so far and it's a project we don't plan to rush like we've had to do with others, but rather add to as the ideas come. We'd love to present the series in some way when it's complete and are really looking forward to planning something special for it.
With the trends of knitwear and, more specifically, crochet hitting the runway, fast fashion industries are quick to line shelves with unethically sourced products. As a creative, is this an infuriating trope to observe?
The pace and turn over of fast fashion is pretty horrifying. From our small studio's perspective, it's almost unimaginable when trying to think of supply chain and distribution. And of course not only does it create catastrophic waste, but also directly rips off so many independent designers and creatives who couldn't possibly compete with big brands' ability to produce and scale. Like most industries, it feels like funding within fashion is disproportionately in the hands of those who don't give a second thought to what happens to something once it's made or what it costs to make it on a deeper level.
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On the subject of conscious consumerism, would you say there lies an onus on creatives to use ethically sourced products, such as second hand and cruelty free fibres within their work?
Maybe there should be that kind of pressure for all creatives and even people in general - to at least try to be conscious on some level where we can when accessibility isn't at the forefront of the obstacles. But these things vary so much from person to person and project to project, so there are definitely people working on things that would be harder to source ethically for and I don't think that means the work shouldn't happen if it's important to the creator in some way! It's just that the corner cutting and detachment that's been bred into clothing making specifically really needs to change. But maybe with more reflection on what we make and how we make it could pave the way for better solutions for us and future creatives who care deeply about what they are making and what happens to that thing before and after it's floating freely in the world.
Despite the digital interface, user engagement on your Instagram page remains a personal and intimate experience – in a way, emulating trade at a vintage market. How do you strike the delicate balance of modernity and antiquity? Especially when presenting vintage goods through an overtly modern platform.
We always really loved the irony of presenting vintage clothing in such a modern and semi-artificial space. Often it feels like the combination of the two really embodies this weird time we live in, like having one foot in the past and one in the future. With all this new technology it often feels our human bodies and personal stories can't evolve fast enough to keep up. So with vintage you have these hand-me-downs of various eras that lived old lives which we use almost like anchors of the past while cyberspace attempts to untether us all. A little over dramatic maybe, but it does feel like the further we integrate all of these technologies into our lives the less connected we become with each other, history and the earth, and those connections are big influences for Nong Rak as a project and brand. Because of this we were always actively looking for ways to make Nong Rak more sensorial despite being based online. Adding in our handicrafts and knit work has worked so well for this because even in 2D the textures and colors can still be experienced in some capacity, and we've had a lot of people reaching out to tell us how moved they are by the work which has been beyond fulfilling. In the end it's all really personal and intimate for us and so we couldn't be happier to hear that it comes off in what we do.
Looking ahead, what’s next for Nong Rak in the coming year?
A lot of new goals and dreams! We can't wait to start on some of the projects we have been preparing for next year. We would also really love to get more responsible with paperwork and other mind-boggling bureaucratic things that go into running a business. We have always been so bad at those aspects! We hope for a year for really setting things up and into motion.
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