Over the past few years an influx of small clothing labels whose designs draw heavily on occult imagery and iconography have been popping up all over the world. Many cite Toronto-based art and apparel label, Monster Aesthetics, as one of the pioneers of this trend. We chatted to label founder, Trevor Nicholls, about what it takes to balance the demands of running an ever-expanding business with his desire to keep creating.
Can you tell us about your youth? Where did you grow up, and what led you to start creating art?
I grew up in a small town about 2 hours away from Toronto Ontario Canada. I’ve been drawing and producing art for as long as I can remember. My dad was an artist, which I'm sure had some influence. All through school I was known as the kid who was good at art, and it's something that has just kind of stuck with me throughout my life.
How did the idea to start your own fashion line come about? Have you always aspired to create fashion?
The clothing line came about pretty randomly, I have always had at least a small interest in fashion, however I really don’t think I ever expected to be doing what I do now. I always wanted to be a biologist, and was originally going to University for genetics and ecology. However, at the last minute I switched my major to fine art, simply because art was something that was easy for me. I was originally accepted into an upper year after a portfolio review, but I dropped out after the first year because I felt the program was bullshit. I wasn’t learning anything at all, and in several instances, I was actually teaching my classes because I knew more on a subject then the proff or TA. I then transferred to get a diploma in applied photography. It was during my time in school for photography that the clothing line really started.
I have always had a big interest in the music scene and am a musician myself, which is kind of how it all started. Originally, I wanted to get some work designing album art, posters and merch for bands - so I set out to design some shirts posters and other stuff as examples of my my work to hopefully land myself a few jobs. It was in doing this that I realised I was getting a great response to my own designs. So I began setting up a small booth at shows and selling some shirts and posters with my own designs on them. The response was overwhelming. I was amazed that so many people were actually into what I was producing. With the unexpected demand for my designs, it simply made sense to turn it into a clothing line.
How do you feel about the art and fashion industries today?
I feel like the current art and fashion industry is great, at least I enjoy the niche I’ve settled into. At no other point have I been as stoked on the stuff people have been putting out there. When I started my line I was the only one designing clothing that was anything remotely close to what I do - but now there seems to be a hundred similar clothing brands popping up. It means now I actually have some competition. I guess it also means that I was spot on as far as what I was doing and what people wanted. At times I feel like I live a pretty sheltered life and I don’t really have a clue what is going on as far as trends/media outside of my own little bubble go. There is probably an unbelievable amount of awful shit spewing out in the art and fashion world - but if so, I keep my head in my own world so I'm completely oblivious.
Can you give us a snapshot of what it's like to run a creative, independent business like Monster Aesthetics?
Well I would say it’s the most satisfying and frustrating thing in the world. That said, I really don’t have any frame of reference to compare to, since I’ve never had a “real job” in my life. I've always worked for myself and on my own schedule. MA started out as something fun in my free time, drawing and designing random stuff, going to shows and having fun. But with the increase in demand and the up-scaling of the company. most of that fun and just doing whatever has kind of come to an end.
There is constantly just an insane amount of bullshit work to do on the business side to make things work. I really don’t have free time at all anymore. It's stressful and overwhelming and not fun at all a lot of the time - however, like I said, I've never worked a real job before in my life, so maybe that’s just normal for “work”. Who knows. This is the kind of job where you are not allowed to take a break or time off if you want to succeed. Until the company is big enough where you can step away and the business can sustain itself, you are the business and you are never off the clock.
How do the day-to-day demands of running a growing a business impact your creative process?
Massively. I don’t have time to design or be creative at all anymore. When MA started out, the creative side was 100% of the business, Now it has reached the point where the business side is 100% of my time. It sucks, It's no fun. But at some point I'll be in a place where I'm able to employ people to manage all the bullshit business stuff that I don’t have time for so I can get back to the creative side of things. That day will come soon, and I'm looking forward to it. It has been a long time since I had time to just be creative and it has taken its toll, but it has also been worth it.
Tell us about your apparel - what inspires your aesthetic?
Down to its core, I simply design things for myself. I design clothing I want for myself and make more for other people. So far that mentality has seemed to serve me well. My inspiration comes from all aspects of my personal interests and tastes. I have a huge interest in ancient cultures, religion, mythology and the occult - so you see a large range of my designs reflecting that. Music is also a huge part of my life and likewise plays a large influence.
Financial goals aside, what are you aspiring to achieve with the Monster Aesthetics brand?
Monster Aesthetics has always been a personal project. I design things for myself - things that I would enjoy or want. I guess my main aspiration would be to expand the line to include many more types of products, such as other clothing, accessories and even some décor items. I already have a line of Monster Aesthetics jeans in the works. If I could expand to the point where I simply didn’t need to buy clothing or accessories at all anymore I would be stoked. Outside of Monster Aesthetics though I am also in the process of starting up two new clothing lines, as well as a retail shop and screen-printing business.
Who would you love to collaborate with artistically and why?
This is a tough question to answer. I’m not sure I would be able to name an individual person. I feel like my Ideal person to collaborate with would probably be someone who shares similar tastes / style as myself but works in a completely different medium. My favourite experiences are always those where I'm working closely with someone who I can learn from. Working with people who I can watch and think "oh shit, I never would have thought to do that like that" or "I've always wondered how to do that".
Share with us your proudest moment in your career so far?
This is also a tough question. I’m going to have to say my proudest moment to date would probably have to be this winter, when I was approached to become an official sponsor of the Vans Warped Tour. Warped Tour is a music festival that I have been going to since early high school. I’ve never missed a year since I started going. The first year I started Monster Aesthetics, by chance of fate, I landed the opportunity to become a vendor on a couple dates on the tour and I have been a vendor on the tour ever since. Now, going into the 5th year, they have asked me to sponsor the tour - for me that’s a pretty amazing thing. Without Warped Tour my brand would be nothing compared to what it is now.
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
Five years form now: hopefully I'll have a full team working for me and managing all of the main aspects of the business(es), allowing me to focus on designing without having to worry that, if I step away, everything on the business side will fall apart, I am at a point now where I feel like, without me having significant involvement in all aspects of the business, things can't sustain themselves. It seriously takes away any time left over to be creative. Finding time to be creative is one of the hardest things to do these days - but it's why I started the business and it would be really good to get back to it.
From your experience in art and fashion, what advice could you offer people looking to get to where you are today?
Just start. I think that is the biggest thing that holds people back. Just start and keep doing it. Constantly re-asses yourself to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Give your project serious attention and commitment, and more importantly, always push yourself to find ways to improve. I have absolutely no formal training in art or fashion. I hand coded my whole web-store. No one has ever taught me how to do any of this - but If there's a will, there's a way.
Who? Monster Aesthetics
What? Art & Apparel