Fine Artist + Fashion Designer on Resourcefulness, Creativity
and Mental Health
K: So my first question is, since we've just had Notting Hill Carnival here in London, can you tell me a little bit about your work for Carnival in the past? And why it's an important celebration?
N: So, I did my dissertation on Carnival arts, and the impact of Carnival on Black British culture, and struck up a love affair with Carnival, because of all the aspects of it— the art, the music, the design, the creativity, the culture. And then I spent 18 years working within that structure, travelling Europe, doing exhibitions, doing shows, designing, making, assisting and definitely performing.
I think it’s changing a lot now. It always has been lucrative, but now, it’s more profit-making. So I think a lot of people are jumping on board because they see the possibilities, and the amount of money that can be made.
But, aside from all that, I think it’s still a great way to express, and have an opinion, and reach so many people and have such an impact at one given time. So I still think it's totally beneficial. It is a celebration— I would prefer it to be acknowledged as more of a cultural celebration, but you know, people take on that how they will.
[photographer: David Tett]
K: I mean, it's similar to Pride, right? It started as a riot and a protest and something, yes, joyful, but also quite political. And nowadays, Pride parades are full of corporations, and it's all rainbow flags and the edges are sanded down in a major way. I feel like Carnival is similar because it's born from quite intense circumstances, but maybe some people only want to see the music and fun parts, when there’s a lot more to it.
N: Yeah, there's a lot of organisations that are still around that actually do some great work and need to be acknowledged, but I think that they’re not promoted enough. We hear a lot about the dramas and negative aspects of Carnival, but not much about the positive.
One of the bands this year did a whole thing on sustainability, bringing costumes over from Brazil and reusing them. I'd really like to see more Carnival bands reusing materials and showing that sustainable element. I mean, we do it anyway, with the big costumes— we keep the frame and then rework it. But it would be good if more people took recycled materials on board, and set an example that could help make a change.
K: So, let’s talk about sustainability— it’s at the heart of your practice. How did you decide to put it at the centre of what you do, and how do you think it shapes your final designs?
N: I think, at the minute, ‘sustainability’ is a real buzzword, and I think it's been overused. And when something's overused, it also gets misinterpreted. When I've talked about sustainability within my practice, it's just been out of necessity— out of resourcefulness, and my upbringing, and the reality of how we can work with what we have.
Again, I'm talking about the big corporations that just put sustainable buzzwords on their branding, which dilutes the impact of what small people are trying to do. Because there are a lot of people who are doing great work, coming up with new inventions to recycle and rework the materials that we're finding all over the world that are messing up the environment.
K: Could you give us an example of how you found a material, and how that worked its way into your design?
N: Next door to my studio, there was a bike shop. And it was when I saw them throw some stuff in the bin— it was inner tubes for bike tyres. I thought to myself, I need to look at this because you've just thrown something away that I see as being valuable. I think that's where my thought process always lies: when I see something being discarded, when I see something being thrown away and overlooked. Then that becomes the focus for me.
So, until that moment, I'd actually never even considered recycling tyres. But then I started to research it, and I realised the type of material it was and what could be done with it, and how much waste it creates and how much is being discarded, and the need for that particular material to be recycled.
So by putting it in the limelight, and showing the material for its strengths, but also creating something visually beautiful, I can highlight its purpose and give it a new use. And it's something that will last, that will stand the test of time.
K: I think something that really inspires me about your practice is that it seems like it's ‘object-first’ inspiration. It's not like you try and shoehorn materials into a vision, you let the object speak to you and see what can be done, what blooms from the structure of the object itself and the properties of its materiality. It's quite adventurous because it ends up in spaces that maybe you didn't expect at the beginning.
N: Yeah, I mean, I just recently did a fashion show at the Southbank Centre, and as you saw, I used the bicycle tires to make the rings of the hats, and then I made the inner tubes into the earrings and some of the accessories. I also did an installation, where I used the bicycle tires as yarn.
And it's not always to be seen. I don't really think that you should always throw that in people's faces. I think that the quality and the actual beauty of an object should be viewed first. I don't think it should be rammed down people's throats that this is recycled. I think it's only when people are inspired by it or see the beauty of it, that then you can tell them the story. And that will develop their appreciation for the cause.
[photographer: @photographybypeltier ]
K: I agree with that, because you wouldn't have known that there was a bicycle tire in that hat. And when I first saw your earrings, I didn't know what they were made of, I just thought they looked great. You catch people with that hook.
So, you’ve run a lot of workshops in your career— I was wondering, what are your thoughts on how creativity impacts people's mental health, especially for people who don't necessarily consider themselves artists?
N: Well, you know what I say: Bring it to the table. I use that as a central concept in my workshops. Creatives, and non-creatives, bring what you can to the table. Learn and develop whatever you want, whether that's just verbally or actually participating in a craft activity.
Definitely, crafting is therapy. I think that any type of crafting process helps you relax and clear the mind. And any type of activity that brings people together to communicate will help people's wellbeing.
There's nothing better than doing a craft activity or art activity, and while you’re doing that you engage in random topics that are brought to a safe space, you can get feedback, and it’s kind of a release. Because having that safe space while actually physically doing something helps people feel like they’re on the same grounded level. It’s like, we're all doing the same thing. We're all in the same position in a way, so it encourages people to actually confide in each other. By actively doing something, the physical process works with your brain to calm you down.
K: Yeah, I can imagine it would be so much different if you just brought a group of people together around a table and didn't give them anything to do, but you were like, ‘Okay, now talk about your feelings.’
N: I mean, it doesn't have to be the most challenging idea. It can be something really simple. I find that even just winding yarn, or making pom-poms, something very simple with a process, can just bring everyone to a grounded level, no matter what they do in their personal lives or their work lives.
K: It's creativity, but it's also community— it’s a magic combo. So, last question. What’s next on your creative horizon?
N: Oh, travel, travel, travel. Going to Ghana next. I think that the same theme will always go with me, looking at sustainability but in different places and spaces. We all have the same problem globally. But we deal with it in different ways. So travelling helps me learn new skill sets and how people solve problems in other places. It’s about skill sharing.
You can find Nicola on socials at @nicola_jreid, and information about her workshops at @bringit3t.
Nicola's headshot photo credit: Danny Jackson, @_barksey_