There are a lot of strange things in Alex Nobleâs live-work studio. The weirdest is probably what he calls âthe green fistâ â an oversized green Hulk hand that sits on a shelf above his computer. Noble reaches over and puts it on: âWe thought weâd do thisâ â he punches the air â âevery time something good and ethical happens in the studio.â
Noble is an artist, stylist and fashion designer with an aversion to creating more clothes. âI am constantly overwhelmed by the amount of clothes that exist,â he says. Three years ago, he went from creating one-off, avant-garde designs for style icons such as Lady Gaga and Florence Welch to launching Everything Must Go (EMG) â an ethical creative design initiative that uses waste material produced by the fashion industry as a way to challenge âdestructive consumptionâ.
On the morning I visit his studio, which is on the ground floor of a converted council office in Hackney, east London, his assistant is engulfed in comforting clouds of steam as she prepares the latest range of EMG T-shirts. They are destined for The Hackney Shop, a council-run retail space in the boroughâs newly coined âfashion district.â Giles Deacon was the first to respond to Nobleâs call-out for waste material; others were quick to follow. Each unique EMG T-shirt will incorporate offcuts from up to six fashion houses. They retail for Â£125, with 40% going towards a day centre for children of garment workers in Bangladesh.
âWe donât exist to be a fashion brand,â says Noble. âWe exist to use our practice for positive impact. Thatâs the mission. We use creativity as a force for good. Only weâve been stuck making T-shirts for three yearsâ¦â Confronted by the transience and obsolescence of the industry, and a general surfeit of stuff, Noble admits, âThe whole industry is really complicated. Itâs such a massive subject that incorporates everything from serious human-rights exploitation to creative exploitation. Itâs difficult to navigate.â
For Noble, this struggle between the urge to create and the urge to âgo back to the bare essentialsâ is played out at home, too. His personal possessions could probably be reduced to a boot-load â if you exclude his collection of mannequins. âIâve always had a big obsession with mannequins,â says Noble. After graduating from the London College of Fashion Noble found a temporary job on the shop floor of Selfridges at Christmas. He stayed for two years, masterminding the window displays, and hoarding neglected mannequins. âAt one point I had 30 in here,â he confesses. âI had to do a cull.â
In the kitchen are vegan cookbooks, house plants, a jar of wholewheat pasta, a bottle of JD and âa female version of sliced bread in wooden formâ. At least thatâs how Noble describes the curvilinear mannequin that stands at one end of his kitchen table. âI love her organic curves, but sheâs really hard to dust.â
His bedroom has little in the way of furniture â Noble gave most of it away when he moved into the building five years ago. He has kept what matters: a wall-mounted Chinese chequer board and a one-armed bandit slot machine, both salvaged from his childhood home; a glossy bag for Fiorucci Safety Jeans that his mum bought when she was a teenager.
What Noble hasnât reappropriated from his childhood home or the basement of Selfridges, he has created. Murals and drawings cover the walls of his studio: above the bed is a totemic pink cat made for a festival; above the desk are line drawings of BjÃ¶rk. âThey are for work,â says Noble, who is storyboarding concepts for her immersive virtual-reality exhibition at Somerset House, London, next month. âBut I draw every night for my own personal practice, too,â he says. âYou have to commit to your work personally, not just commercially.â
No one could suggest that he does otherwise.