From drugs and sexism to the United Nations and Sex and the City - the rise, fall and resurrection of my career as a t-shirt designer

Most of you probably don't know this, but a long, long time ago, way before I'd heard the term startup or PR, I stumbled into a brief and intense career as a t-shirt designer. Completely accidental of course - back then my main calling in life seemed to be to provoke and outrage, and fashion was a great way to go about it. At the time my best friend and I lived and worked at a fashion/furniture/bicycle shop called Sick in London's East End. Sick was a very apt name for the shop - I've written more about living at Sick in this blog post. Our boss was a former punk who'd come out with pretty outrageous stuff every now and again. I remember him calling us "useless fucking females" whenever we'd done something wrong, which was all the time - pretty unsurprising considering we were two 18-year-olds, put in charge of a shop in spite of never having worked in retail before. Now, ten years later, I find it pretty horrifying, but at the time we thought it was nothing but hilarious. We never took it to heart but rather reclaimed and owned it in ways that our boss, ironically, loved. Part of that process was turning it into fashion.

  One of my first t-shirt designs. I was sweeter than I look. I think.

One of my first t-shirt designs. I was sweeter than I look. I think.

It started as a provocative joke but pretty soon blog readers started asking how they could get their hands on one. My blog then was much bigger than it is now, with thousands of daily readers at its peak, and it wasn't long before I made way more money on the shirts than I did at Sick. After Vice Magazine included some of the shirts in a shoot, a distributor doing punk fashion got in touch and placed a bulk order (see guys, PR works!). I should've seen this was a business in the making, but I was young and I just wanted to have a bit of fun.

Coke built this body - inspired by my grandfather's t-shirt that said "beer built this body"

  Jason Jail - inspired by my then-crush Jason, who kept saying he was going to jail (?)

Jason Jail - inspired by my then-crush Jason, who kept saying he was going to jail (?)

I'd hate me too - inspired by all the trolling I received on my blog
 

I fucked Franz Kafka - really not sure where the inspiration came for this one...

Other people definitely saw the potential, though. The French fashion label Vetements presumably nicked one of my designs for one of their t-shirts, which was then sold for $980 and worn by the likes of Rihanna. Oh well.

You Fuckin Asshole, by me, 2009

You Fuck'n Asshole, by Vetements, 2016

Anyway - a year later I'd abandoned my career as an East London Klub Kid to move to South Africa. I didn't know it at the time, but this was basically the beginning of what I'd now call my political awakening. I worked at a Cape Town shelter for homeless women and children, and spent most evenings reading about some of the most prominent socio-economic issues faced by South Africa. HIV/AIDS is one of them, and as a result I decided to do a fashion campaign highlighting World AIDS Day. I designed, printed, modelled and sold several different designs, all focusing on the huge problem of people around the world not knowing their HIV status. All proceeds were donated to UN's Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. At that point the blog was much smaller, but I still managed to raise and donate some £500.

Know Your Status - One of the biggest issues in battling HIV/AIDS is that people don't know that they carry the virus

Fuck Responsibly - Clue's in the copy

  HIV Positive - There's still huge stigma around HIV/AIDS, and I think few people who are HIV positive would display it on a shirt. Not necessarily just because of the stigma, but also because people are obviously so much more than their status. The main reason I printed this top was to point out that there's no way of knowing what sexually active person is HIV positive or not, unless you've seen their test results. And that goes for you, too.

HIV Positive - There's still huge stigma around HIV/AIDS, and I think few people who are HIV positive would display it on a shirt. Not necessarily just because of the stigma, but also because people are obviously so much more than their status. The main reason I printed this top was to point out that there's no way of knowing what sexually active person is HIV positive or not, unless you've seen their test results. And that goes for you, too.

That was in 2010 and since then I haven't printed anything - up until last night, when I printed my very own We Should All Be Mirandas t-shirt. It’s an excellent parody on Dior's terribly ironic $700 We Should All Be Feminists shirt - as the designers say themselves, “It’s hard being a Miranda in the age of Trump and $700 feminist slogan tees. But if Mirandas ruled the world, the world would be a considerably less fucked up place. We should all be Mirandas: smart, pragmatic, ambitious and unafraid to eat cake out of the garbage“. I first spotted the shirt on Instagram in October and have tried to get my hands on the original since then. Alas, I've been unsuccessful, but with some spare time on my hands over the holiday season I bought the same printing gear I used at Sick all those years ago, to print my very first shirt in over seven years.

It felt great.

  We should all be Mirandas - inspired by @everyoutfitonsatc

We should all be Mirandas - inspired by @everyoutfitonsatc

Three things I learnt from the crazy person that happens to be my mother

I've met my fair share of pretty special people, but my mother outdoes them all. She is, by far, the craziest person I've ever met. On a good day I can say it in an endearing way, but obviously, not all days are good. Because of some of the batshit crazy decisions she's made in her life, I didn't get to spend my childhood with her. In fact, I saw her very rarely, but that doesn't mean she hasn't had much of an impact - she certainly has. Good and bad, of course, as is always the case, though I'm working hard on letting go of the bad and embracing the good. Here's my top three list of good stuff she's taught me.

Don't fear the road less travelled
I grew up with very little sense of stability or direction of, well, anything. The same thing can be said for my mother, only for her, it lasted a lot, lot longer. Attending university had a disproportionate impact on my life in that I met people who offered guidance and advice, and I finally found some sort of path. My mum didn't. Instead, she very much created her own path, seemingly blindfolded, with most of the establishment rallying against her. I think it's her determination to try things out and create things for herself (even though they sometimes have been truly mental) that's allowed me to not bat an eyelid at the prospect of moving into a second-hand shop at the tender age of 18, or take a year out of uni to try the diplomatic life in Uganda, or do any of the things I've done that have first seemed a bit... odd.

If one door closes... obviously, just take the window
My mum's made some interesting career choices and regardless of what one wants to say about them, she's always stuck to her guns and found ways around pretty much everything. She is an entrepreneur at heart - perhaps albeit without realising it herself - and whenever she's encountered a problem (there were plenty, and often) she's simply found a way to make it work. Regardless of whether it's involved moving countries, striking up new, albeit somewhat suspicious, biz ventures, or, well, anything really, she's just managed to plough through the most bizarre scenarios, including having to build up her life from scratch, again and again. Her resilience is second to none and it's taught me that there's a zillion solutions to every problem, and if you can't find it, it's because you're not looking properly.

Work hard and be nice to people
She has a heart of gold and always aims to be nice to people. Her kindness extends to the point where she drove back the first car she ever stole to the parking space she first stole it from once it'd emptied on petrol. Haha. I know that's not funny, but it sort of is... I also remember vividly when a beggar came up to us when I was about 10, asking for money, and mum first said "no one gave me any money when I was homeless" (lol such a pragmatic), then immediately being hit with a wave of regret and ran after him with a tenner - even though she, at that point, had little money herself. I try to be kind, and I try to remember that everyone is fighting their own struggle, but I'm not doing half as well as my mother is. Although no one would blame her for being full of rage for all the shit life's thrown at her, she's really just incredibly generous with her kindness. I try to imitate that best I can.

As you can see below, she's also taught me that it's ok to wear sports bras as tops... Which might just be the biggest learning of them all.

  1990: Mum and I at the tender age of 19 and 1, respectively.

1990: Mum and I at the tender age of 19 and 1, respectively.

The weirdest places I've lived: a trip down Memory Lane, via shops, restaurants and fashion photographers

I somewhat unbelievably just bought my first flat. It's not something I ever thought would happen, perhaps partly because I've spent most of my adult life in London, where even the idea of saving up for a deposit seems unfathomable. The London housing market is insane and the political aspects of it used to frustrate me immensely from an ideological and socio-economic perspective (still does), but me buying a house was just so unlikely that I never even really considered it.

And then I moved to Sweden. Malmö, that is - the housing market in Stockholm is not too different from that of London. All of a sudden, buying didn't seem like some sort of fairytale idea. After spending weeks and months analysing the housing market (which was a lot more fun than I would've expected) I finally bought my own piece of real estate dream. I can't believe I'm going to get to decorate MY VERY OWN FLAT in whatever way I want. That hasn't always been the case - I've lived in some, err, pretty interesting places. I've typically moved at least once a year over the past ten years - below are some of the weirdest places I've lived at.

  2008: Pre photo session with our very own internationally renowned fashion photographer

2008: Pre photo session with our very own internationally renowned fashion photographer

CAMDEN SLACK DEN: 2008
It was my first summer in London and I'd managed to get hold of a tiny studio flat on a council estate in Camden. It was about £900/month and there was no way I'd be able to afford that on my own (particularly as I wasn't working), so I teamed up with four(!) other troopers - including Yvan Rodic aka Facehunter -  and the five of us lived there over the summer - three people slept in the bed and two in the sofa bed. There was little other space for a wardrobe (not that we would've been able to afford one anyway) so I remember dragging back a shopping trolley to keep our clothes in.... Grim. That said, we had a pretty epic time in our slack den - we'd only just moved over and spent whatever little savings we had on shoes and booze. There were plenty of good preparties before heading out in Camden, or less typically, to the West End. It was the first time I lived abroad, and honestly, who needs a wardrobe or personal space when you're 18 and full of life, amirite.

  2009: At my "house" aka shop, getting ready for a night out

2009: At my "house" aka shop, getting ready for a night out

SICK: 2008-2009
The clue is in the name. I was three months into living in London and had just given all of my savings (err, a full £1200...) in cash to a landlord who turned out to be the scam of the century as, apparently, the flat we'd just paid for didn't exist. I was fairly devastated, but never really thought I'd end up on the streets. I didn't - I moved into a second-hand shop called SICK which was run by a 65-year-old former punk whose main claim to fame was that he, apart from being the founder of Boy London, also used to work with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren back in the 70s. SICK didn't have a shower, central heating, hot water or a kitchen. It did have a toilet though, and the walls in the loo were covered in pages from 1980s porn magazines (as you can see in this photo... lol.). My best mate and I lived there for a year and a half, slept on a mattress in the middle of the store and took turns in opening the shop in the mornings. Customers would walk into the shop and nervously go "err, there's someone sort of... sleeping in the bed?". Haha. Brilliant. I'm not sure exactly how we did that for so long, but I think being drunk for most of it probably helped.

  2013: Weekly visit from the chicks

2013: Weekly visit from the chicks

LA FOUNTAINE: 2013-2014
Two months after I'd moved to Uganda, I was attacked outside my house as the guard had fallen asleep and didn't open the gate quick enough before some punk saw his chance of mugging a mzungu. Although I was physically fine (-ish...) I realised it probably wasn't the safest housing option since there was no lighting outside the gate and anyone could hide in the bushes. I consequently decided to move into a guest house on top of an Indian restaurant called La Fountaine, located literally twenty centimetres away from a nightclub called Iguana. Because of Iguana there were always bouncers outside my front gate, and although it was incredibly loud and noisy constantly, I felt safe. Living there also developed my ability to sleep through anything (a few months ago I fell asleep in the dentist chair while getting a filling done - should say something). I had no furniture apart from a bed and some hangers, though I did get a lot of in-house visits from the chickens that the La Fountaine family bred for the food. Very organic. Mind you, they did have the best Biryani in all of Kampala... I stayed there for eight months and when leaving I remember already thinking "I'll look back at this and think it's really fucking weird" - particularly as I then moved into a diplomat mansion for an eight-week house sitting session.

  2014: A rare skull-free zone in the House of Skulls - my room

2014: A rare skull-free zone in the House of Skulls - my room

HOUSE OF SKULLS: 2014-2015
Once I was back in London I moved into a house in Walthamstow which looked beyond lovely. Unfortunately the person I was moving in with had only just bought the place, so I never got to see her interior style until we'd both unpacked. BIG MISTAKE. HUGE. There were skulls bloody everywhere. Everything interior-wise you can imagine, my live-in landlady had skull shaped. Vases, glasses, curtains, rugs, cups, pillow cases, candles, shower bottles, tiny booze bottles... I got a new-found respect for the number of things that come skull shaped or with skulls printed on it. She also liked to decorate the walls with bats(?!). It was her house though, so I couldn't exactly complain. She did, though - when I put fresh flowers in the bathroom she threw them out and said "this isn't a showroom" haaa. I kept all the flowers in my own room after that...

So yeah, my housing career to date hasn't been particularly straightforward. It's kept things interesting though, but for now I'm looking forward to having my very own place with no skulls, chickens or fashion photographers... Just me and my cat.

From Uganda to eternity.

I'm a restless soul and it's the curse and blessing of my life. I'm always happy but never satisfied, and sometimes it feels like it's eating me from the inside. I don't know what to do with myself because everything's brilliant and everything's way off from something that can't be identified.

It's exhausting, and a privilege. It's an oxymoron that's wildly alive.

And sometimes I meet with friends and I ask them the most inappropriate and intimate of questions that would be allowed in no ordinary social setting, and without batting an eyelid they look me in the eye and go "we're polar opposites, and exactly the same".

It's an oxymoron that's wildly alive.

From Uganda, until eternity, and with all my love.

From sofa to Palestine in 14 weeks - or, you know, not.

Remember that I started training for the Palestine half mara about seven months ago? Probably not, considering it's seven months ago. Having never run further than six kilometres in my life and also having a bit of a cinnamon bun baby going on, I decided to use the half mara as a way to get exercising again - and I also thought it was a great excuse to finally get to go to Palestine.

  Race day. Or, as it turned out, walk day.

Race day. Or, as it turned out, walk day.

I made it to Palestine, but I never ran the half mara there. Why? Well, three weeks before the race I headed over to SXSW in Texas and had a jolly good time, which unfortunately resulted in me coming down with bronchitis from hell. I was gutted, but not that gutted as I travelled to Palestine on my own, and the only one who'd suffer from my being annoyed would be, well, me. Instead I walked the 10k with an old acquaintance of mine, which was pretty great.

Last week - six weeks after the race took place - I finally ran the 21.1k on my own, right here in Malmö. At that point I hadn't run for nine(!) weeks. So yeah, it was interesting. All in all it took me about seven months from starting training to finally getting across that imaginary finish line. Here's what I learnt.

Don't underestimate the power of tech
You'd expect this one from someone who works in tech amirite. In all seriousness, my running app was really helpful, particularly in the beginning. I hadn't done any exercising in months at that point, and since the app told me "congratulations" and actually cheered me on when I ran my first eight minutes (which, mind you, was pretty hard at that point) I didn't feel like a loser for only running for eight minutes. The app also helped me avoid procrastinating - I had to run only four times a week, and every day I had a run to do it was a bit like Russel Brand going "you only have to get through today being sober, who knows what happens tomorrow". Every time I dreaded going for a run (which, surprisingly, didn't happen that many times), the app somehow got me to just do it. Lol. And I actually started quoting Nike. That's how you know someone's branding works.

Steer clear of the dickheads
This goes for most things in life, but I find a reminder to be helpful every now and again. Some people - they were very few, but still - actually said that I didn't train enough, or that I wasn't strong enough, or that a half marathon is "very hard" (thanks Sherlock, really appreciate it). Most people were really supportive - impressed even - and that helped me ignore the BS. More than anything, knowing that I was well on track according to my app convinced me that I would be able to run it - and this goes for even when it turned out I wasn't going to be able to run the race in Palestine. Generally though, talking to others about the challenge brought out other people's anecdotes and running tips, regardless of whether they were beginners like me, or pros who'd run several maras already. At one point I even felt like maybe I was approaching the running community, but lol who am I kidding. 

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Know the difference between giving up and being an idiot
Three days before the race I was in the office, having a cough that sounded like it was about to kill me, but I was still pretty adamant I'd make the race - until a colleague sternly looked me in the eye and said "don't be an idiot" (Swedes aren't usually that vocal). To be fair, it's probably the wisest piece of advice anyone gave me throughout my training. Dropping out, giving up, whatever you want to call it, isn't equivalent to it being a failure. Had I listened to the dickheads (see above point), it probably would've felt as such, but it would've been such an epically shit move to try and do the race while really ill. If I'd tried to do it, I would most likely have had to drop out during the race, which might have put me off running for good.

Last Saturday I finally ran my half mara. I ran 21.9k in 2 hours and 27 minutes, including five pit stops at different restaurants to fetch water, a couple of red lights, and helping an old lady out finding the hospital (no joke - that's what happens when you run your own little race).

Needless to say, it felt pretty fucking epic.