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Q&A: NOKI connects upcycling with African storytelling

by | Aug 5, 2022

NOKI is a Mozambican upcycled jewellery and lifestyle brand. The handcrafted product reflect a commitment to creating wearable art and storytelling medium. Founded by Mozambican-Spanish Maputo-based multidisciplinary artist, Dilayla Romeo, NOKI was brought into the world during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I mostly work on photography and design. Being a photographer during the pandemic was challenging, because I couldn’t work or meet people to shoot. So, my mind was running wild with new ideas,” says Dilayla, who had studied fashion design before pursuing photography. The pandemic gave her an opportunity to create wearables again while using local, sustainable materials. Almost two years later, Dilayla continues to grow her ethical and sustainable brand.

We caught up with Dilayla to learn more.

Tell us why you chose to create “art to wear”

I didn’t just want to start a brand for the sake of creating more clothing or fashion. I want to create special pieces and objects with identity and purpose. A piece of art that you can wear feels significant, because it has real meaning behind it. As an artist, I enjoy the creative process. So, I wanted to continue doing that with NOKI and allow my energy to flow as I do when I create art.

What inspires NOKI’s designs and choice of materials?

I get inspiration from nature, the ocean, spirituality, animals, African traditions, street culture, and, of course, Mozambique. I started working with palm straw to create hats and bags. This local material is very commonly found and used by many craftspeople in their beautiful, traditional techniques. I also like to play with African wax fabrics for the bucket hats. The colours from the prints are fun.  But, I’m pretty careful about choosing the ones I want to work with. We also use sandalwood for one of our jewellery lines. This amazing wood is spiritual and smells so good. It has a lot of healing properties for the body and soul. Recycled aluminium is one of the brand’s key materials, because it is versatile and gives us so many options when it comes to creating different shapes and forms for our upcycled jewellery.

A model wearing one of NOKI's upcycled rings

How do you work sustainability and ethics into your design process?

As a sustainable and ethical brand, we ensure that we work with eco-friendly materials and produce in a way that is respectful towards nature and the people in our team. For example, our main upcycled jewellery collection is made from recycled aluminium which we get from old pots that would otherwise go to waste. And, no two upcycled jewellery pieces are ever the same. We also have a line of bucket hats that are made from old clothes sourced from the secondhand clothing markets in Maputo. We go to the local markets to choose the pieces and then we tailor them into a new piece with a new history.

Two models wearing NOKI's upcycled creations

Can you share more about NOKI CYCLE?

NOKI CYCLE is a sustainable project model that we use to run our brand. It is our attempt and supporting and contribute to the circular economy. Our goal is to reduce the harmful impacts of fashion production. With NOKI CYCLE we focus on recycling used materials and transforming them into sophisticated, beautiful pieces that can be worn with pride, but also do not harm the planet. We are living through a climate crisis, so creating sustainably is the only way to go. We want to encourage this as a lifestyle for everyone. There is no time to waste!

A model wearing NOKI's upcycled jewellery

Storytelling is a key part of your brand. What do you convey through your pieces?

I mainly focus on telling traditional African stories when I design the pieces. I’m a very spiritual person so I connect a lot with nature and the ocean. That is why you can find Cowrie shells in some pieces. They are powerful protectors and entities for African people. The textures and shapes from the pieces also symbolise African narratives.

How do you want people to feel when they wear NOKI?

I like to explore my femininity through jewellery. I like to think that I am helping all people who wear one of NOKI’s pieces to feel more connected with themselves. African majesty is sophisticated and I like to start from this idea to create each of the pieces. I hope that wearing NOKI’s pieces will help people cultivate this sense of majesty in the everyday.

A model wearing NOKI's Sandalwood jewellery

Can you share a few Mozambican brands you love?

These are some amazing and very talented women that I admire:

How can people support your work and invest in your creations? Do you ship outside of Mozambique?

You can order our NOKI pieces through our Instagram page. We are working on our first online shop and at the same time finding solutions for shipping worldwide. It is very difficult to find a good shipping deal here in Mozambique. But, we sometimes have opportunities and we manage to ship abroad. If you are interested in buying our products, get in contact with us and we will try to find the most sustainable solution until our online shop is ready.

  • Images supplied by Dilayla Romeo
  • To take a look at their creations, follow NOKI on Instagram
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