Creativity comes in many shapes, forms and sizes, and in the case of Mikey Krzyzanowski - otherwise known as Mikey K - creativity comes packaged in vividly wild colours, a charismatic energy matched by few, a genuine love for people, and a true dedication to helping the communities that need it most.
Mikey is the founder of GOMA, a ‘creative studio built around community projects’, but he’ll be telling you a lot more about that later. He’s also working with hip-hop artist Loyle Carner as his creative director, as well as partnering with him to run the ADHD cooking school Chilli Con Carner. We love the play on words.
‘Play’, a keyword for Mikey, GOMA and all the creative projects he’s been getting involved with over the past few years. ‘Play’ meaning that everyone involved with GOMA’s creative endeavours should be smiling and having fun. The ‘GOMA’ logo is playful, as is the studio’s approach to design experimentation and involvement with numerous ACG projects. Serotonin levels may or may not go up whilst perusing GOMA’s Instagram.
I somehow always manage to make these introductions a tad too abstract. In my defense, speaking with these Greater People leaves me inspired, overly pensive and just pretty gassed. My conversation with the Mikey, the myth, the legend was memorable and motivating, but I’ll let you, the transcript and a cup of tea be the judge of that. Read the interview with Mikey below, with all imagery shot by Greater Goods' Jaimus Tailor.
Hey Mikey. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What comes to mind when you think of Mikey K?
My name is Mikey Krzyzanowski. I like carrot juice, flowers, and floating in the sea with my friends and the sun.
That’s beautiful. And when it comes to you on a career or industry level, what can you say about Mikey K?
Mikey K is the creative director for Loyle Carner. He’s the founder of GOMA which is a creative studio built around community projects. Those are the two main things.
Sweet. So what are you by profession? I appreciate that you do loads of different things and maybe you wouldn't even say you're this thing or that thing, but where did that creative journey start?
I think putting a title on it is probably a bit of a reach. I’ve occupied different roles for different people but realistically it all started when I was around 17. I was a part of this thing that Converse did called Young & Laced. You could apply and if you got through, you were a part of a collective of young creatives in London aged between 16 to 24 backed by the brand.
My pitch to them was to start GOMA. At the time I thought I wanted GOMA to be a brand that sold products and then used the profit from the products for community projects. I did my first project with Gaurab Thakali; we worked together to raise money and support Nepal's DIY skate scene.
But I think where it really started was when I met Loyle Carner. I approached him and basically said “I want to work with you”. I was a fan at that point and asked him “what community project would you want to do?” and he was like “a cooking school” and he talked me through it. I was naive as fuck having never done anything like that before. I was like “yeah, let's do it, don’t worry, I’ll sort it all for you!”
That was when we made the decision to sack off the product side of things with GOMA and focus primarily on community projects. That's when I realised that this is what I really liked doing: helping direct and produce creative projects that have some sort of purpose behind it.
So how many years has GOMA been running now?
When we did the first cooking school I hadn't gone to university yet. I was on my year out so it must have been when I was 18. Now I’m 24 which means we're six years on. I came out the other end of uni having worked for brands here and there, and on a few Nike community projects. When I pitched to Loyle I was basically like “hey, I want to go full time for you guys rather than full time for a corporation”.
There are loads of different things online about GOMA. I think the biggest thing that came across to me was that, like you just said, it started off with a product-first approach to then help with community projects. So would you say it's still that or is it as it says online, ‘a social enterprise focused on creative projects’?
In a nutshell, I do not know. Someone I know gave me some really good advice. I went to him and said “I don’t know what GOMA is and some people don't really get it while some people totally get it”. He was like “just keep doing things rather than worrying about it, just do more and say less”. So that's what I've been trying to do.
I'd say the best way I can package it up right now is that it’s a creative studio that focuses on community projects. We will do the odd thing too. We did this ACG shoot with Alfie Kungu which was really cool. It looked incredible and made a little splash in the industry but I feel like we could've done more with it. We just did another project with a rock climber called Eugenie Lee which was a lot of fun. She's trying to open up the rock climbing space to more women and women of colour. We're going to do free rock climbing workshops for women and Eugenie is going to lead sessions.
So I'd say that's kind of the space that GOMA sits in. I still want all of the projects that we work on to be tapped into the cultural touch points that I'm a part of, enjoy and that everyone else enjoys.
It’s not a charity, it's not a creative agency. It's kind of unplacable, floating in the middle. I hope it stays that way!
Do you think that’s just because it’s developed so much since you first started it and you probably know it’s going to continue developing?
I think so. There's no pressure on it to be anything in my head. Because I always want it to be community orientated, I think it ruins it if I package it up into one thing. I want to be able to do a cooking school and then rock climbing workshops and make a documentary on surfers in Rio. Keeping it kind of ever growing and unconfined, it’s good.
Being able to tap into all these different things that people around me are really passionate about is what's important. Freeing it up and making sure that it's liberated in that sense means that it can help whoever might needs help.
Is GOMA a collective of people, you and other people, or is it just you? Is the platform a facilitator of all these things, all the passions you and others have?
It's not a collective of people - that's what I was tripping on at first. When I started GOMA someone that was mentoring me was looking at website domains that were available and they were like "it should be a collective, you and other people", and I was like cool.
And then like the term collective got really lame really quick. It really lost its potency and meaning a lot quicker than I had hoped. So I made the decision to take it off and make it ‘GOMA Projects’ about a year ago. That's what all these things are. They're just creative projects.
It's something that I still don't know what to call… and the thing that gives me peace in that decision-making process is Madbury Club. That was a ‘creative agency’ where they were always just like, "it's a dysfunctional studio experiment, we don't know what it is".
I thought what Madbury did was cool too. It’s an interesting way to work. When they started it I didn’t really understand what it was, it just seemed like a really cool group of people creating crazy shit.
I think they nailed it then - I would be interested to see how that would exist now. At the time when it was running, it was super innovative and that was really interesting. Phil said something really interesting to me once that was helpful, and that’s been helpful recently actually. He was like, “if you want to make money, make money. If you want to help people, go help people”. But looking back, I don’t agree with that wholeheartedly. If there’s a space where you can get paid to help people, then the world's a better place.
I do think it's important to give yourself a little bit of a boundary to be like, 'we're doing this to help this community' because it helps you stay on track throughout a project.
So where do you think this idea came from, you wanting to start GOMA? Was there something niggling in you - even before you went to Young & Laced - that wanted to start a creative project?
Before Young & Laced I was running a t-shirt company with one of my friends called Joe who did hand-drawn illustration. I then photoshopped the illustrations and we printed t-shirts. I think I was like 15 or 16. I was just selling them at school and on platforms like Wavey Garms. It was like my first ever business and it felt really cool when I was that age.
Then I got a bit bored of it because I was like, this isn't really doing anything. And then I was really interested in sustainability and read a book called ‘Let My People Go Surfing’ by Yvon Chouinard, an awesome book. I highly recommend it to anyone who's making anything. I read that and was super inspired by his ability to run a business that was built on philanthropy, on a purpose to do good shit for good people.
I combined that book with what I was doing before, applied to Young & Laced and then started GOMA. And then ended up sacking off the t-shirts and just doing GOMA.
How long was it until you sacked off the T-shirts? How long were you producing them?
So we did the thing with Gaurab, the Nepal project, and then started with Loyle. We were going to do - and looking back it's so whack - we were going to do rugby shirts and skateboards all inspired by his childhood love for cooking. We wanted to sell them and use the money to do the cooking school, put a fund together for it maybe to happen one day. And then we just sacked off the idea of the skateboards and rugby shirts and were like, let's just do the thing rather than making shit people don't need and that alludes to maybe doing ‘the thing’ one day.
Where does the name ‘GOMA’ come from?
As a word, I remember just writing down the letters and they looked good. And it means like gum in Spanish or like rubber, it's like a salad in Japan, it’s a place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s like the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art. There's a lot of random shit and people are like, “did you call it after this? Did you guys know this existed?”.
You said you would write out the letters. Do you have an interest in design, the visual side to things?
I’ve always loved graphics. I did graphics at school. I’ve grown up around a lot of art and design since I was a baby, which is a super privileged position to be in. My dad is a furniture dealer and my mum is a visual merchandiser - they both love antiques and interiors.
I've always loved stuff that's happening at street level too. Keith Haring is a real big inspiration and love in my family for sure. His ability to create simple things that communicate to a lot of people really quickly and cheaply is what I get stoked on.
Beautiful. If you had to name the principles that GOMA follows, day to day, the guiding thread for all the projects you work on, an ethos let’s say, what would that be?
There’s nothing written down. There is no bible for GOMA projects! Off the top of my head, I'd say ‘do cool things that help people’ is the mantra (internally). Nothing should be too serious. They should be colorful! People should be smiling!
When I think of a GOMA project and how I want it to feel, I want it to be casual and hold its own creatively. It’s definitely not a perfection thing. In terms of what it’s not, it's not minimalism, it's not like all old, hard steel, it’s not like all black. It’s more of an organic vegetable. It’s a bit wonky but it means a lot, and it means more that it’s a bit wonky.
So to me, the dudes in Brazil really embody what GOMA is about, where they’re helping kids in the community and teaching them how to surf off their own backs. There wasn't a brand involved, it was super DIY, super genuine and they were having fun with it.
Everyone should be smiling. Things should be colorful. Things should be playful. I think those are kinda some of the principles that are threaded throughout.
And when you first started GOMA, were there any brands that inspired you, brands that you were looking up to back then?
Patagonia for sure inspired it, definitely less from an aesthetic point of view but way more from a principle perspective. I think aesthetically I've skated for most of my life so I guess skate culture seeps in there a little bit too.
Okay so this is a bit of a deeper question. So now that you’ve moved on from this fashion-first approach to projects and more into the community-first approach, wouldn’t you still say there’s a strong relationship between the two? Fashion shouldn’t just be fashion, it should also give back.
I think the relationship between fashion and the community is essential, and one of the main legs propping it up right now. People are becoming more socially conscious on the whole and I think that’s starting to seep into everything we do as individuals.
People are looking for specific values within themselves, within their other practices, whether that's the clothes they buy, the food they eat, the places they shop, what they dream, what drugs they take, communities they support and the impact it has on the world. All of that is becoming more important for people.
It's one of the things that brands have been tapping into more and more. It's stopping it from total collapse where everyone's like, actually this is really shit for the planet. This is really shit for my self esteem long-term. Why don't we just sack it all off and wear potato sacks that we paint ourselves?
Yeah. But at the same time, brands can sometimes come across as inauthentic when they tackle both. I actually wanted to ask you about Story mfg. They’ve managed to crack being sustainable, selling their clothes for high prices - understandably due to the manufacturing process - and being in high demand. How do you think they've done that?
It’s a bit impossible really. Story mfg, when you tap into the psychological side of it, I think they have done really well because they're making stuff in a really responsible way, and it looks cool. The price point - it being expensive - is sadly essential because yeah, if it was easy to get, if it was ‘the good guy’ and easily attainable, I don’t think the same people would be as interested in it as they are now.
I understand that it has to be expensive but are consumers buying it because they want to look cool wearing Story mfg and it’s another way of stunting your wokeness or what not, or are they actually buying them because they care about what the brand is trying to do? It’s not very black and white is it?
It’s definitely not black and white because it's an insanely privileged place to be in when kids are struggling to eat and you can afford to spend £300 on a jumper to flex your impact on the world. Yeah, so that part of it sucks, and doesn’t make any sense.
I'll give them their flowers though. They're doing an incredible job and the longer they stay relevant and in industry, the more that they’ll be able to change the space and our opinions around it. I think they're really important and influential in the ‘fashion space’ at the moment.
But I'd also totally agree with you in that doing the right thing should not be inaccessible, especially financially. I think the true answer to all of this - brands wise - is for people to just do the right thing and not tell anyone they're doing it.
Agreed. What are your thoughts on what sustainability means today?
Um, so for this I'll refer to chapter seven of our favourite book. Let me go get it.
Here's one: “The word sustainable is another one of those words like ‘gourmet’ and ‘adventure’ that have been so overused and misused as to become meaningless”. That’s a real one.
Another one: “If the government, private sector and science don't begin to cooperate immediately to address issues of environmental degradation, the earth will lose its ability to regenerate.” That’s page 175 for anyone who has the book.
There's loads of stuff in this book that makes you lose hope in everything we’re doing right now. The word ‘sustainability’ - to me - is pretty meaningless. I think ‘responsible’ is a better word because nothing that is made is ever going to be entirely sustainable. Even digital things on the internet have a footprint. I think things being more responsible than others makes sense, but 'sustainability' as a word is pretty meaningless.
Great. So in terms of how you go about your creative projects, is there always that element of responsibility? Is that why you and Loyle clicked?
It’s definitely why we clicked in the first place, bonding over wanting to do something for the community. And then, when we started working together professionally, I was like, "look, I'm doing this stuff for massive corporations but I'd much rather apply my skills and knowledge to what you guys are doing, because it's really personal". I care a lot about him as a friend as well as an artist.
Without saying too much about his next album… it’s deeply tied to the community and if we roll out the album in a way that doesn't positively impact that community, we will have really, really failed at the ‘brief’ (so to speak). We're working on a couple of things that we hope will tap into what the music's about. Responsibility to the community and to the planet is definitely at the core of what I do, especially with Loyle.
I don’t know what kind of experience you had in the music space prior to meeting him, but what impact does music have in creating and affecting change, especially if you had to compare it to, let’s say, fashion?
I've thought about this a lot recently. I would say music resonates way more with people and is way more powerful in helping affect change; music connects with more people at a deeper level than fashion does. Fashion is still a super important way of expressing yourself and connecting with different cultures, scenes etc, but I think music does that by tenfold.
Another reason working for Loyle for me is more important than working with anyone else is that it's very vulnerable music. Working for someone that's getting messages saying like, “yo, this song saved my life” or like “this song helped me through the last six months”, that’s important. To be super frank, I absolutely want to help push that to as many people as possible, in the right way. Music has a huge impact in changing the way people act, think, feel, help themselves and others. I think it's an amazing thing and I would like to stay here for a long time.
It’s probably because music is more accessible too. You don’t have to drop hundreds for an outfit. You can just get a monthly Spotify or Soundcloud subscription.
So true. It can be accessed at lightning speed no matter where you are, no matter who you are. There's this video that my mum showed me that for some reason has really stuck in my head. It’s irrelevant but very relevant. So my mum... her whole thing is like... shop windows. And for time I thought it was very surface level, not that deep at all. She was watching this video of this old New York lady and she was talking about the importance of her shop windows.
She was just like, “you can be a dog, you could be 12, you could be homeless, you could be gay, you can be straight, but you will see my fucking shop window. This is my opportunity to put something fucking weird in your face”. I was like, wow, that's sick and it aligns with that accessibility thing you just mentioned. All of those people might not go into an art gallery. If they do, they might go there once a month or something. On a street level, that experience is so much more accessible. That’s really meaningful to me, something I definitely treasure and do not take for granted.
Interesting. I’m sure there are so many people that don’t go into shops. I personally find going into the Supreme or Palace store quite intimidating. I’d love to though but if that’s something that I can look at and feel a part of from the outside without putting myself in a precarious social situation, that makes the experience so much better.
Yeah, that’s a really shit thing that I think is sadly needed to prop the whole fashion world up. Exclusivity and exclusion. Whereas music doesn’t feel - or maybe less so - but it doesn’t feel exclusive. You can quietly listen to whatever you want in your headphones - outfits don’t give you that privacy or privilege.
Okay so going back to GOMA. How do you source people to work with for projects? Do people come to GOMA with the intention of doing something with you, or do you reach out to people that you think are relevant and right for the project? And how do you know when someone is right, or when a community is the community to be helped?
Great question because this is something I definitely have thought about a lot. I guess because I’m the main brain behind GOMA it kind of comes down to how much it resonates with me.
I love humans! I think humans are amazing. So the Nepal project happened because I thought Gaurab's story was incredible. I love his art first and foremost and his stories as an artist are interesting and really beautiful. He moved from Nepal to South East London when he was 16, didn't know anyone, was still developing his English skills. And then he found skateboarding, saw people skating and was like “I want to do that”. Then through skating he met other artists and other musicians, ended up becoming an illustrator, the best illustrator graduate out of Camberwell for time.
And basically he'd gone back to Nepal and saw this budding DIY skate scene, kids who had really old boards but were still so stoked to skate. And he wanted to bring what he learned to love in London back to these kids that were in a similar position. Stuff like that just gets me so hyped, when people are doing shit off of their own back that’s creative and super expressive.
I guess it's the same thing with the guys in Brazil. I think coming from skating and then hanging out with these kids that were having so much fun but doing something so deeply nourishing for themselves and their community was incredible. When I see people that are having so much fun and also helping people is when I want to be like, yeah, let's do this, let's push it further.
Great, that brings me to my next question. How do you know when a community project has been a success?
If people are having fun. There've been times where it's been a bit rocky for sure. The Brazil surf film ‘Rocinha New Wave’ got really deep once we had finished it and wanted to put it out.
In the community one of the older surfers fell out with the younger surfers and I got caught in the middle of it. The older guy was then like, “fuck you, you've come to our community, thrown us some Patagonia board shorts and then just left again. Don't ever come back here. We don't want you”. I was in bits because I was coming from a genuine place.
All I wanted to do was help and somehow I'd done the opposite. I was still cool with the younger guys and we managed to bring about some change. I went to the Embassy of Brazil in my weird smart-casual sixth form clothes, having cold-called the guy we needed to speak to, got a meeting and was like, “please, you need to put this film in the embassy because right-wing people here need to see what people in the favelas are doing because they look at them in the wrong way”. When we secured the embassy as the venue to premier the film in London, I was like, “this is gonna be huge for these guys!”
And then when that happened, some of the dudes in Brazil were like “yes, this is insane” and the older guy was like “nah, fuck you, you’re claiming that our stuff is yours”. That was hard. The logos were theirs. The whole film was about their experience. We weren’t in the film. Anyway, at the end of that whole process I was just thinking, have I flopped big time? In hindsight, I know I didn’t, but now I know that helping people - or trying to help people - isn't as straightforward as you might hope, or isn't always as rosy as you might hope.
Out of that shit situation was Vivendo Um Sonho which is a new surf school started by Carlos who’s the young icon in the surfing community in Rocinha. He was like “look, don’t worry about the old guy, I want to start my own thing” and I was like “yeah, I’m behind you, I’ll help you do it”. Helped him brand it, printed T's, got him some free product from a few surf brands, etc. So out of that shit situation was birthed a really independent and beautiful new movement.
When a GOMA project plants a seed that then grows into its own project, that's when there's been a success, whether that's a kid from the cooking school having the confidence to go on to a job that they would have been too scared to do, or this new surf school starting, or someone attending the rock climbing workshops that we do with Eugenie ends up loving the sport and it becoming like favorite hobby. I think that's success - when the seed is planted.
I found it interesting how you said that helping people isn’t always as easy as people think it is. There are so many considerations to helping someone, a community or a country, economic, social, communal, historical. Do these people need your help or someone else's help? Are you the right person to help them? Is this the right way? So many things to consider.
I completely agree with that. You can't ever go in being like 'you need this' because they might be like... it’s a deep one because they might need it but they might not want it. In regards to the guys in Brazil there was a helpful person who mentored me through this process, a professor called Jon Anderson. He was the one teacher at university that I really liked, a lecturer on surfing and cultural geography, the best nerd on the planet.
He told me, paraphrased of course, that “no matter what you do, no matter how many films you make for these guys, no matter how much you help them, you will always be the middle-class white kid, British Airwaysing his way over to the favela and leaving again” That’s facts. It’s so true and that is an inescapable L. Yet it’s not worth not trying out of fear of that.
If you had to summarise your experiences so far in one or two learnings, what would they be? What have been some of the biggest things you’ve taken from your journey so far?
Okay. Number one. You do not need a brand to do anything.
Doing things without a brand will be more meaningful 90% of the time. I think I really got caught up on the idea of being like, “okay, we're going to partner with a brand, give them the community project, and we’re going to come out with this kind of branded collaboration thing”.
The reality is that working with these huge corporations sucks sometimes. It comes back to that philanthropy thing where it's like, if you want to help the world, help the world, and if you want to make money, make money. It's not that I totally live by that because we've got the ACG projects of course, but the things that I've been most proud of are the things that we've ended up doing off our own back.
So the very first cooking school was totally funded by Loyle which was amazing. Of course everyone also donated their time for free to do it, but any money we did need at that point came from him and that was only because a brand was going to pay for it and then just aired me two weeks before the school was meant to start. We were forced into it, but it ended up being the better thing. Same thing with the first surf school film; I was pitching it to Patagonia. Again, one of the people there didn't think it was the right fit or was like “we'll support but only to this extent. We won't give you any money. We might put it on our YouTube channel”.
And really, rather than chasing the brand affiliation, I should have just been like, “forget about it, we'll do it ourselves”. Again, it's like a lucky position to be in because I'd saved up some money to rent a camera. Not everyone has that. So that's one big takeaway.
Another would be that working with your friends is awesome, but not always the best option. I think in some projects I've put people close to me on jobs that really, if I had got out of my comfort zone and asked someone that maybe I didn't know, someone that I didn't have a relationship with already, then maybe the whole project could have turned out better. And by better, I mean like more authentic to who it was trying to help.
On this recent ACG thing we did, the whole core of the project was to elevate women. But it still took me a minute to realise it made no sense to work with my usual crew of friends, which was mostly guys.
And then even when working on these workshops, I was just like “here's the team putting it together, you don't need me. If you need any help, I'm here, but do your own thing". So getting over my ego in that sense has been important, but yeah, I’m trying to just try and pick the right person for the project, even if I'm not friends with them. And one more takeaway is that nothing really matters and it is more important to have fun than anything else.
Any elaboration on that?
When things have gone right and felt the best in my soul is when people have had loads of fun and everything’s been super playful and flour is getting thrown across the room at the cooking school or paints splashed about everywhere and put on people’s faces at This Way Up workshops.
You did the Nepal project, and then the Rio project. How did you take inspiration from the locations in which you were in?
The Nepal project was mainly inspired by Gaurab, aesthetically. The product design was inspired by things around him on this trip back to Nepal. I'd say the Rio one is probably more relevant because we took inspiration from the people at the place rather than the place itself, visually. That project is really inspired by those surfers and who they are as humans, and as members of their community above anything else, above them looking cool or being trendy, or where they live for example. So yeah, I'd say traveling to find the right people that embody GOMA’s ethos is really important and I think that’s easiest to see in the Brazil work.
How do you seek out these communities? How do you find these inspirational people?
I guess it's kinda like going about my life. You’re not necessarily searching for anything. You come across it naturally when your paths cross anyway. With the surfers in Rio, I was teaching at a local school that they were bringing their kids to in the village so we crossed paths like that and became friends. I think it's more about meeting people that I resonate with or some of my friends resonate with, and not jumping into anything too quickly and making sure that there's an actual relationship there before we start talking about a GOMA project.
Rather than searching for someone it's really important to see what people are about before any promise happens, before any idea of like working on a project comes into play because if people are shit off their own back or they're naturally interested in something, then it's good to be like “alright let’s channel this into a GOMA project”. The surfers were already teaching the kids how to surf. Loyle was already cooking and had used cooking himself to channel like his ADHD. It's important to not force anything and to rather just amplify things that are already going on.
If the Nepal project was the first project that GOMA worked on, in hindsight, what was the biggest challenge that you had back then and what did you learn the most from the project?
I maybe wish I'd set up more of an infrastructure to continue supporting the guys in Nepal. Gaurab and Tom then went on to set up a charity called Skate Nepal so the initial work we did maybe gave them a little bit of a boost for something they were already doing. Maybe in hindsight I would have liked to have been a bit more proactive, continue reaching out and helping people affiliated with the project.
And I think that’s something that I then looked to correct when working with the dudes in Brazil. I was like, cool, I really like what these guys are doing, I can make the film for them, great, but then what can I do after that will keep pushing their mission so that I grow with them. I think that what I learned is that it is important to have some sort of plan. It doesn’t have to be huge but just so that it's not a one and done situation.
Do you think sometimes it’s better to not get involved at all if the other solution is a short-term, one-off strategy? I’m curious what your opinion is on that.
I think ultimately it depends on the situation. With the Nepal one, I think it was good to do it even if it is a bit of a one-off. Once you've made that link, it's like planting a seed, some things will grow and something might not grow for a whole season, but then a year later, another opportunity might pop up to help them.
With the Nepal project, we did that pop up shop and then Gaurab went out like a year later with one of his friends. I was like, “cool, let's get a load more product and go back out with you on this trip”. If I hadn't done the first one, that opportunity wouldn't have been possible and it also wouldn't have felt as chill to just be like, “oh, we can definitely do something again”.
You never know what ideas might be sparked by that initial first attempt to help. In the Nepal instance, we did this project and then Gaurab went on to start a separate charity that is just dedicated to support skating in Nepal.
What does skateboarding mean to you?
I think skateboarding is a really beautiful interpretation of the city in another way but I think it's a really incredible way to lower your guard and put yourself at street level with everything.
Skateboarding has become really fashionable now in a non-underground, more mainstream kind of way. Have you noticed that and how do you feel about it?
I think with that stuff you’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelette. It’s become trendy for sure which sucks and there are a lot of purists that will be like, “this sucks all the way. There's nothing good about it”.
Ultimately you will get 10 more kids going to Urban Outfitters and buying Dickies and skateboarding for a few months but as stuff becomes more mainstream, it will also inspire some kids and those kids will genuinely fall into skateboarding and love it for the right reasons.
As things become bigger, they get shared with more people and ultimately more people enjoy them and become happier from them. If you love skateboarding and you want to spread joy, I think you can't be angry at it becoming mainstream because it's just giving you the feeling it does, but for more people.
Do you have any projects in the works right now that involve skating?
No and I don't think there will be. I'd be surprised if I did another skating project, it’s not something that I'm driven to do. I'm kind of just happy existing as a fan.
Do you think that it’s something that you don’t really want to touch because it’s a personal love, sort of thing?
I think yeah. I don’t feel like - and this is going to sound cringy - but I don’t feel spiritually charged by it. Some people really do and that’s sick but with surfing for example, when I first met the kids in Brazil, I saw the difference surfing had made to them as people really quickly.
I think that grasped me a lot tighter hence why I wanted to work with them. I’m shit at surfing but I really do believe that surfing has huge holistic benefits for people physically, mentally, and emotionally. That's something I'd feel more genuinely compelled to push to people rather than the benefits of skating.
You said you saw how it impacted their lives. What was it that you noticed?
We were teaching them English and they were really funny, fucking around and laughing but when you're like, “okay, now let's get back to it” they were all straight back on it. They were super disciplined but at the same time really happy.
All of the kids that we were teaching during the day were not disciplined at all. They had no composure in themselves, angry and acting out. It was really obvious seeing the kids who had no guidance at home - through no fault of their own - versus kids that still didn’t have that much guidance at home but had these surf instructors, they were chilling it.
I was just really amazed at the little citizens they had made of cool, lovely, passionate kids. I was just like, damn, if all of these kids can become these kids, then they’ll learn way more at school and be able to go on to fulfill their dreams.
What was the purpose behind the ‘Rocinha’s New Wave’ documentary? Did that ever change? Did it go from an informative piece to a raising awareness piece or was it always to raise awareness and to educate people?
Yeah, something we did pretty good is stick to the core idea of that project. The goal of the documentary was to show Rocinha in a positive light through the lens of surfing. It was definitely about the surfers but we wanted to show the rest of the world the truth - opinions on the favelas are really split and differences in living conditions within Rio can be really stark.
I wanted it to be an awareness piece about how amazing and beautiful that particular favela is. I wanted the surfers to tell that story and highlight the work they were doing. Also, alongside the surfers were also jujitsu groups in the favela, football groups, art groups. All of these people are on similar missions to surfers. It was all very inspiring and I wanted to share that.
In the spectrum of helping, where do you think big sporting brands sit when it comes to responsibility? Where do you think a Patagonia sits and a Nike sits in actually, genuinely helping people and being responsible for helping people?
The way I've used them so far and I think where they sit is that they have loads of money. It’s really great being able to pay people a fee when they're doing work to help someone, even if they don't want it. Like when we did the This Way Up workshops with Nike, where we were taking the old delivery boxes from Nike Town, and doing art classes, designing playgrounds with young Londoners. It was sick because I was like, cool, this is the budget, and it was quite a lot of money, but the reason it was quite a lot of money was because I wanted everyone working on this to get paid, as well as do the good, philanthropic thing.
So their job is to put money on the table, to put it bluntly, and also to unlock doors to people, places and platforms that we otherwise don't have access to. I think sports brands definitely have a role to play in community projects and their role is to - ideally - pay for things to happen, sit back and let the community or whoever direct the project. Their role is to unlock those doors that will allow the project to benefit more people, whether that’s financially, or give them access to athletes, publications and people that will help share their story.
Agreed. So I want to talk to you about your recent ACG shoot with Eugenie. That shoot was beautiful. What else happened alongside the visuals of that shoot? You mentioned climbing lessons. Was there anything else that was raising awareness around Eugenie?
We shot the photos and then extending from that, we ran free bouldering workshops exclusively for women. Eugenie did that with a crew of her friends at stronghold in Tottenham. The idea was that we'll pay for everyone to do the session, but then they can go back and have another free session, and bring a friend along too. That's the incentive and seed that we wanted to plant with it. We’re planning on making it a monthly thing, led by Eugenie.
Okay quick topic switch. How do you onboard students to the cooking school?
We just do an online application that goes through how ADHD affects their everyday lives and why they’d like to do the cooking school and then pick the kids that seem like they would benefit most from it. We just did a cooking school with the Hackney School of Food who are an amazing charity. They have a beautiful space in Hackney Marshes with a kitchen, then a massive garden with flowers, a pizza oven, bees, chicken! Very cool.
And for each lesson, you have special guests coming in to teach?
Yeah, so it started off with Loyle just teaching the classes and then we started bringing in guest chefs and now Loyle’s there but more as a friend and a helper to the kids rather than the teacher. We found that it’s better that way because then the mentoring relationship is easier to establish when you're able to float around the room and buzz about and chat to people rather than lead the class.
Loyle obviously has a lot on his plate. Does he mentor all the kids or are there special circumstances or stand out students?
As it stands, yeah. With this class, we’re all constantly walking around the room, chatting to different people. There’re a couple people that we’ve brought through and got them work experience at Rick Stein’s restaurant, for example. Maya who interviewed Eugenie for the ACG thing wrote all the copy for that and was in the cooking school like two years ago. Then there’s Eric who was in the first ever cooking school, met him when he was 16, he’s worked with me on a couple of Nike things.
Yeah, there are some kids who really appreciate the help and the guidance and we've managed to keep tabs on them and keep them involved.
It is. So when you first introduced yourself you said you’re the creative director for Loyle Carner. What does that role entail?
It’s understanding who he is as an artist and making sure that that integrity is upheld in every creative conversation that he needs to have, as a rapper in 2021. I’m trying to help him shape all the creative decisions he’s having to make - business, brand, label, videos, photography - to reflect his core ethos.
So we lightly touched on Alfie Kungu and you working with him. Can you remind me how that project with ACG came up? And on that topic, what is up with working so much with ACG?
I think with Nike that's the one part of the brand that I think GOMA aligns with the most. It’s all about going outdoors, it’s a bit goofy, there’s room for a lot of creativity and I think that all these things really resonate with GOMA. I think they saw that as well. Brand space, ACG is the perfect fit.
The Alfie thing came about with Louis at Nike being like “Hey, GOMA represents ACG. I really want you guys to do something with the brand. What would you want to do?” And I’d met Alfie through a friend, we started hanging out and one day we were just talking - after Louis had planted the seed - and Alfie was explaining all these walks that he goes on back home in Leeds, in Yorkshire, and I was like this is amazing. I told him, “we could go and shoot you as the story for the photoshoot”. Alfie represented what ACG is about and what Nike wanted it to be about where it’s like being in the city and doing your thing, but also making time to go into the countryside.
How do you make something look inherently ACG?
To make something feel ACG, it should be kind of silly. Those images with Alfie were jokes which is why they felt ACG. ‘Play’ is the most core thing for the brand. With Eugenie it was like, how do we elevate her as an athlete while still keeping it fun’. She’s training for the Olympics and excelling at what she does so we don’t want to mock that by trying to do something comical. With her it was more about how we give off the vibe of her doing a really dangerous high-skill level activity but still give it a warm tone, show that she’s doing it with friends and that other women could look like she is on a rock chilling.
What are some of your favourite brands and brands that you look up to?
Patagonia for ethos. I like Stüssy - their energy seems to be in the right place. Always Do What You Should Do is in there, one of my favourite brands without a doubt.
Okay. Jaimus mentioned you really like furniture.
Yeah, I do.
What do you like about furniture?
I like that you can use it everyday and it gives you happiness every day. That's one thing I wish people did more, think about the things they interact with every day and whether that makes them happy, even down to the glasses that you drink out, the knife and fork you use, the chair you sit on, whatever you’re going to smell, the light you’re going to switch on when you wind down to go to bed. All that stuff is super important to your wellbeing.
Do you have any design inspirations?
Yeah I’ll throw some out there. Graham Landin. He's a legend. He makes stuff out of wood. He finds beautiful pieces of driftwood and then makes them into things - stairs, chairs, cactus greenhouse. He made some totem poles for Stussy that were cool.
Isamu Noguchi is a design inspiration for simplicity and simple forms. The way that kids do anything is also amazing. It’s important to see the value and beauty in their creations. Also Kitty Shukman, she’s an incredible designer who again, on the same wavelength of Noguchi as like, super simple forms. The shoes she’s designed for Yeezy, if they ever come out, are the most simple yet future forward thing possible.
What does the future of GOMA look like?
I do not know! I almost wish someone could tell me because I don’t know! I'd like for GOMA to continue operating in this space of community projects, working with brands, artists, anyone. I’d be so stoked if everything I do could fit in one entity. The reason why it can't all go in GOMA is because it's really not streamlined that way and it doesn't really make sense. It's kind of janky to be like this creative direction for Loyle Corner and this surf school in Brazil are in the same thing. If there wasn't someone really analytical or my friends telling me like, “you can't do that because it doesn't make sense”, then I’d do it. I just feel like there's a real pressure for things to be packaged quite tightly to make sense right away.
Obviously, as the creative and individual heading up GOMA, you, in order to help other people, have to be happy yourself.
Yes.So how do you look after yourself and maintain your happiness, in order to continue being that person that wants to help people?
How do I look after myself? Things that make me happy. I love music. A lot. Music plays a massive role in my life of keeping me going, keeping me thinking about the right thing. I love being outside in every capacity. I love just sitting on the street, chilling, watching things, and hanging out with people. Talking to people.
Sport is awesome. Playing five aside football with my mates is nice, just makes me feel so good. Being able to go and get in the sea is so beneficial although I don’t get to do it as much as I’d like to.
In terms of what keeps me well and happy, I think it's a handful of really genuine loving relationships that are really important to me and keep me happy - Liv, Dolly, Sirus, Nick, Ben, Alfie, just to shout a few. Good humans, love them all a lot!That’s really great. Thank you Mikey.