DONK began from humble beginnings with one half loving to sew and the other loving graphic design and printing. They tear apart the classic fashion production book by utilising vintage clothing and ripping and putting it back together again. Using techniques like airbrushing, painting, over dying, bleaching, spray painting and cutting out some funky silhouettes. They are as DIY as they can be, writing out their own labels and making everything in their little studio space, which is full of great pieces. Their aesthetic is that perfect cross over of punk, torn up denim and what your local drug dealer wears, but put together in such a northern way, with images of Sheffield tower blocks stencilled into jackets and clouds smoking joints. they really are a one off brand. Being from Bolton and growing up in the early 2000’s they were massively influenced by the gritty underbelly of Donk and Gabba music which was rife in that place at that time. Who can make the hardest tracksuit? That is their vision now.
Sustainability is the key with these guys, rarely using any new fabrics besides to make totally one off pieces that really don’t exist in vintage fashion. This is the ethos of the brand, anything you can imagine, they will make it for you, it will be one off and trust me, you can go wild with your ideas. Usually something reserved for the big spenders of Haute Couture, now you can get a denim jacket with a cloud spitting out your name or even a bum hole with a worm coming out of it. But these are the extremes! With customers like Lee Trigg, DJ Nadam X and Shay Casanova their iconic tracksuits have really got them into the forefront. Big brands are trying to look sustainable and DIY and these guys are the real deal, that is the DONK way.
“Chat shit is what we specialise in”. When we started this interview we just sat and chatted for at least an hour before the interview started. Commenting on Gucci’s new fake range, huge brands justifying their new sustainable range, Prada making £4’000 bags from sea waste and why can’t you do all this stuff yourself?
Meet Sam and Madi, both the better half of DONK.
Sam: We don’t really get influenced by fashion ranges because we want to make our own thing and not just copy another brand. So we watch documentaries.
Madi: I love watching mushroom documentaries, they really get me going. But I don’t take mushrooms, I’m too scared. I literally mean documentaries on fungi.
So where did DONK all start?
Sam: It did start naturally didn’t it? Made did the sewing and i did the graphics. We both put up on add on Craigslist saying looking for lover and print screener and it all came together, nah I’m joking.
Madi: We basically got together and we made some pieces. I like made a jumper and Sam screen printed Donk on top of it and that was it. We just started like that and we did an event with Cow, which is how we originally got hired by them. But we do it for ourselves now.
Sam: That was our first experience of the true fashion industry. It was good practise doing it so we could understand what we were doing. It was also our first creative job so it really let us hone in our skills and build ourselves.
Madi: We could practise and learn what we actually wanted to do. Now we know what we are doing and that’s why we now get stocked by Atika!
Sam: It’s hard to please a boss and please ourselves and we couldn’t always work together and that is truly our USP, we are a couple. I don’t like working with other people, we’re alright! Donk has grown naturally and we do what we love. From starting it one week to being stocked the next, we must be doing something right?
How did it all start with ATIKA?
Sam: I messaged a few vintage shops and them on a bad day and they didn’t reply, but a week later they replied saying they loved it and really wanted to talk to us.
Madi: A month later they stocked our stuff and now you can buy our stuff in London.
Sam: We were skint for that month. We spend more money on DONK now than we ever did. You’ve got to spend money to make money. We decide prices on how long the pieces take to make rather than what they are made of. That’s another reason why you have to learn on the job, how do you know where to draw the line?
Now being stocked by Atika we really do have freedom to do what we want, there is no pressure to make certain things to a really specific deadline. We have a month to make a collection and get it out and that is perfect for us.
What has changed now you’re stocked by them?
Sam: We will always make tracksuits, that is what we specialise in and that is what our demographic wants.
Madi: But our silhouettes and patterns change!
Sam: You can make a fancy pair of joggers and there is really a market for fancy tracksuits. We now have the ability to make just exactly what we want.
I think it’s funny we are now being stocked in London because I love my culture and where I am from and love the fact that people not from here are now enjoying it too! I’ve got mates from London who moved up here to chill out and really breathe. It’s a completely different way of life down there.
Madi: We were told we had to be in London to be a successful brand, but that’s rubbish. Being from is what we are all about, it’s what inspires us. And the people. It’s important to surround yourself with the culture that you are making work about. I know we are a bit clubby, especially being called DONK, but that’s not really us. There is another shop we are going to get stocked by, 50M. They are proper.
Sam: DONK is just all about the north and people all over the world getting it is amazing. Obviously our name means something to us in the north, but to other people it’s just a word. The name really fits the brand, it's just, yeah. Done.
Have you got any catwalk or luxury inspirations?
Sam: There are designers I love, but I know what I can’t do, seen as I’ve just started sewing. A Cold Wall are excellent.
Madi: Paulina Rosso! She is one of my favourite designers!
Sam: I love womenswear. Honestly Made In Fashion inspired me to get sewing and to make clothes. Tan and Alexa made the perfect show!
Madi: People, muses, films, music.
Sam: We’ve got mates who we just make clothes for, we know that our stuff is perfect for them.
After this I think we chatted about our shared history of sitting on Urbis in the late 2000’s wearing green and black checkerboard cuffs and having bad fringes. But therein thing was how that was a breeding place of counter cultures and how everyone accepted each other regardless of your background.
Madi: We watch the same mushroom documentary all the time when we get home, what’s it called again? The magic of Mushrooms, that’s the OG one. There’s another that’s more in-depth though, The Kingdom of Fungi.
Sam: She came home one day and what did you say? Mushrooms are the closest thing we have to a god? I get where you’re coming from.
Madi: Mushrooms existed before plants, live and death and that. They are so essential. We found this one called a Stink Egg, it grows out like a penis, its covered in black goo! There were a couple of lads trying to get a Chicken of the Woods out of a tree once, trying for ages!
Sam: I’d love to make clothing out of mushrooms, people make meat. They make packaging out of mushrooms now and everything. Closest thing to a god mate.
What is the funniest thing you’ve ever put on an item of clothing?
Madi: I drew a massive bum on a confederate shirt once.
Sam: It was pretty graphic. When we were making our labels we thought it would be really funny to put dockers (end of a spliff) laminated in the label. We stopped doing that pretty quickly because it stank.
If you could bin a trend, what would you bin?
Sam: I hate skinny jeans, I mean used to wear them, but I can still hate them. I was going to make some leggings and Madi lost it, but then went and bought some!
But in fashion there is so much and it always changes that you just never know anymore.
Anything Virgil Abloh, anything OFF WHITE. It’s just really unthoughtout and terrible designs.
What do you think of fast fashion?
Sam: I fucking hate it, I can’t believe it’s all centred in Manchester. Coming from places like this you can’t believe it. People like Misguided and Boohoo who just steal all their designs from Instagram and just remake whatever they feel. It really gives a bad image to Manchester when there are so many good designers and creatives here. Here’s one trend I would bin, when they do campaigns about DIY, sustainable stuff or about body positivity it gets me because it’s all fake, it's just they look good and current, but it’s all lies. They talk about inclusivity, but it’s a gimmick. They make nasty clothes and put them on beautiful models but for nothing.
Madi: Another problem is that the market is saturated with this, so when we try to sell something for a higher price people don’t understand our process and why it costs more. That isn’t their fault. The consumers have been brainwashed into thinking that everything should be immediate and cheap, it has been shoved down their throat. They are surrounded by messages saying they should get a new dress every time they go out and some people just can’t afford that.
Sam: That’s where it gets hard.
Madi: Someone bloody stole one of our campaigns, literally robbed our designs, did the same styling and make-up and then shot it in the same location. It’s hard when you put it out there on social media because anyone can take it.
So with their hard hitting working class background to making clothes inspired by mushrooms, there’s so much to take away from this brand. Check out their Instagram @donkwear to really understand what's going on and then definitely get an order in!