Need to add life to your wardrobe of all black outfits? Then a couple rings and a chain will probably become your best friend. Buying jewellery is all too often a tiresome process that causes as much stress as it does delight, Tabitha Sullivan decided to alleviate herself from this struggle.
Tats, 22, has been making Jewellery from a young age and fine tuning her craft over the past 2 years. With an already decorated background in fashion design, she decided to jump through hoops at the British Academy of Jewellery. She now provides hundreds of people with that feeling of glamour from a small workshop in Leicester.
Tats’ jewellery encapsulates her personality; ideas that don’t conform to trend, styles that vary more than government motives and a DIY attitude that is matched with quality. After completing a fashion degree “I didn’t really think I would go straight to jewellery but it was much more hands on and practical. I haven’t found a particular style yet I’m still experimenting because I feel like I still have a lot to learn. I change my mind quite a lot so it’s usually what I want to wear”. When creating any form of art the taste of the artist plays a significant role in the end output. This most likely intensifies when the end product is to be displayed on your body. Being able to design jewellery to our personal preference is a luxury far from the reality of the majority. We instead live our days in fear of losing rings that don’t fit.
“I’d like to learn things by working with another person but I like being able to have the whole process to myself and not being told when, how, or what to make, or even how to sell it. I wouldn’t rule it out. Maybe once I’ve finished this course I might go and work for someone and see how they do things just to get a bit of an insight. I just don’t want someone to dictate what I do.” With a mum and aunt as jewellers, it seemed likely they are a strong source of inspiration. Tats shines out of their shadow and operates independently from them to create her own style of jewellery. With years of experience and tradition subconsciously sitting above you, it takes guts to venture onto your own creative path. Elements of Tats’ background may be seen in the harsh lines that contrast the soft tones found in her work.
Tats’ working day seems better than most. “I see things that I like on Pinterest or Instagram and then start drawing things in my sketchbook and go from there, but that sounds really wet doesn’t it?” This should not undermine the delicacy or concentration that is required for creating each item. A sequence of numerous techniques are used before the final form is reached. “My favourite thing to do at the moment is reticulating, you basically heat up the silver and melt the surface. It’s so simple but so nice because you get loads of ridges and ripples.” Tats is quick to downplay her own talent, however her arsenal of techniques and products speak volumes.
There was a friendly energy floating around the workshop that seemed to make time disappear. “I’ll usually get a message from someone on Instagram to make something or I just start making stuff that I’ve drawn in my sketchbook. I’m just remaking a pendant for someone because I sold one that they loved. People are really appealed to the fact that they have the only one in the world when they ask you to make something specifically for them. It’s nice to hear the feedback. I’ve had a few second time customers as well which Is really nice to see.” The sales part of having a business is usually where all the technicalities come into play and some type of give is needed. Luckily for Tats she has a close relationship with some jewellers. “I’ve been putting the things I’ve made that haven’t already been sold in my mum's shop, Amabis, and it’s quite satisfying to see it go. Most of my jewellery I sell on Instagram through friends of friends. I’m waiting until I’ve got a full collection or a few collections until I set up a website. I want a big body of work before and to be able to design it myself.”
With everything being made in high demand, there is evidence that Tats’ one of one pieces are going to need siblings. All existing work comes with a touch of class and originality. With a natural eye for the aesthetic, paired with an evolving list of techniques, it is impossible to predict what her lookbook will consist of. If you need something shiny, dark, sparkly or plain to pierce your skin with then give Tats a message.
A Jaguar because they’re fierce and stylish but with Chameleon skin because I like the idea of being able to change. The mind would be a Dolphin because they’re clever but also a bit naughty, they know how to have fun.
A jammy dodger because they are sweet inside but crusty on the outside.
Quote of the interview:
“I just love fat gold jewellery”
Donk Wear is an independent, couple-lead, fashion brand based out of Manchester. What qualifies as ‘fashion’ lacks a uniform definition, leaving space for interpretation; a principle deep-rooted in the products made by Madi and Sam. They gave us the low-down on their daily operations, time in the fashion industry, and their cat, Enzo.
Firstly the name, the unavoidable slap that leaves you face down on the floor, Donk. It began by Sam exposing the word on a screen simply because he knew he would want it printed on something at some point and “it just ended up looking that sick.” It also ties in with other personal factors for Sam, being from Bolton, the hallowed Mecca of Donk, and a true love for music. “It’s a noisy word, we want to try and capture what it represents in our clothes.”
After surfing their rail you instantly pick out the trademark characteristics - not trying to be anything previously known, and not necessarily caring or understanding what is going on, but rather being enticed by whatever is happening. This is not dissimilar to the way Donk originally developed into a brand. Madi has always been engrossed in fashion, and studied it before the two met. Sam was more into the world of graphics and screen printing. Once they got together it was a match made with levels of divine potential, not seen since dumplings and soy sauce. “I would print off fabric to give to Madi and she would sew it all together. Then it has kind of grown organically, we didn’t plan to start a brand.”
Neither one of them opt for the 'fashion designer' label, rather artists, using clothes as a canvas for expression. “It’s not just about the clothes, we both love drawing and thinking of new concepts and ideas. Sometimes I just want to find things that are really anging, which you wouldn’t think would be nice on, but turn them into something really different.”
Describing their clothes as “on the verge of wearable art” it is clear that their priority is not in an items practicality or selling ability. “We do the hard dance stuff, all the boingy outfits, trackies and things, but there are some things that are just our art, made only to be in here (their studio) or a show. It’s always going to be an exhibition if we are going to display our art.” With one exhibition already under their belt, anticipation for another is growing. An exhibition by Donk is sure to guarantee a rollercoaster of looks that will leave you suitably spun.
When they’re off the runway the couple cater for alternative styles within everyday wear. Madi wants to have fun with the work she does, making clothes “that other people want to wear and feel comfortable in as well as stuff I enjoy making”. Producing sportswear seasoned with street influence, or punk animation trousers, there never appears to be a limit to what is possible in the studio.
Naturally, having a variety of abstract styles can be a challenge when aiming for a cohesive ‘look’, nonetheless it appears to blend naturally for the pair. “We never actually think about merging styles, we both appreciate so many different elements of fashion which might come from us both being around vintage clothes a lot. Sam has worked in retail and my dad (Aka Carhartt Man) is obsessed with clothes.” Donk has no real target market as each piece is unique and can attract people from all places. If you’re quick enough you may find that one of one piece you didn’t know could ever exist. “The stuff that we make now we wouldn’t have worn before because we were the weirdos of our area back then. We came to Manchester and went to Afflecks palace for stupid jumpers and studded belts. We’re the ones making clothes for those people now.”
Everything is done in house, from design to construction, but it is clear that this stems from a passion for things being done right. Creative control is important, and often a struggle for young artists when they enter an industry under a bigger corporate name. Donk was in collaboration with COW Manchester, contracted to revive items for the shop to later sell. They have both recently decided to prioritise Donk, “we’ve gone freelance just due to working with someone who wasn’t a creative, a lack of communication and he didn’t see things as sellable. If a design is too crazy for you then it’s just not for you.”
The expectations they set at COW were far from reasonable, making it tough to have Donk on the side. “I was aiming to get things done and constructed in a day. Sewing it up, drawing the pattern and cutting is completely different. It’s like a 3D jigsaw, you have to figure out which pieces of the jigsaw fit on the body. You need to work out mathematically what goes where, it all depends on where you put curves and perfect measurements.” The future of Donk is bright, sonically and tangibly. The brand was commissioned with the outfit for post ironic pop artist GFOTY’s performance at Bangface festival, having her come down to the studio for a fitting suggests more could be in store.
The Donk duo are the furthest thing from glory seekers, and speak fondly of being a small-scale company. Their disgust of the word brand and their desire to interact with customers, alongside dreads of having to deal with the production side of fashion which they have seen all too much of, demonstrate their motivations clearly. As fast fashion has resulted in people losing interest in what they own themselves, Donk offers the service of taking in your old clothes and customising it for you. “It’s just good for the culture and the people in the area as well as the environment. It’s so much better if people just came down to the studio and could see what is going on, it’s not something you usually see.” Donk not only resurrects your once favourite garment but will refresh anything that you have purchased from them. “I think it’s quite sad and quite noticeable in an age gap that the attitude of fixing things has gone, there’s a lot more of it’s broken so I’ll just chuck it in a bin bag. I say to people that if there is a rip or the paint comes off send it back and we will just fix it for you. There’s no need to throw it away. These things will happen because we are a small studio and I do blaze quite a lot.” The personal touch that comes with Donk resonates from the relationship between Madi and Sam.
Donk Wear are everything a small business should be. Madi and Sam’s values seep into each and every fiber of their products, instilling a deep-set attitude of love, positivity and independence in anything they create. In a time of imposed separatism, and a broader age of fast-fashion spearheaded disposability, Donk acts as an early reminder of a better way, where local people and local desires are dealt with in a local way, allowing levels of personal input and customizability that most in the 2020 dystopia don’t think possible.
Follow @Donkwear on Instagram to become a better person.
Sam- A poisonous frog with the mind of a human
Madi- A chicken and an axolotl with the brain of a dog
Who would you like to dress?
Sam- The Queen
Madi- Rico Nasty