Amelia’s Magazine | NKOYO Silk Scarves: an interview with illustrator and print designer Alice Nyong

NKOYO by Alice Nyong
NKOYO by Alice Nyong.

When contributing illustrator Alice Nyong got in touch to tell me about her beautiful new printed scarf range, I had to know more… here she offers invaluable advice about setting up a label, keeping production in the UK, and best ways to wear your scarf.

nkoyo preciousstones portrait
NKOYO Scarves
What is the inspiration behind your new NKOYO silk scarf collection and how or where did you research the imagery?
I’d say the inspiration for the scarves is twofold, firstly, I love the traditional format of silk scarves, which I’ve always been drawn to. I love the configuration used by classic designers such as Versace, Balmain and Hermes; the use of symmetry and how your work changes so much once it’s mirrored, and then again once it’s worn always appealed to me. Secondly I’m influenced by the world around me. I grew up in london, but my mum always had a really lush and green garden, so the contrasts of those two aesthetic environments really inspired me. I love nature and the natural beauty found within it, so that informs a lot of my designs. As far as researching images, I tend to draw from real life, or photographs I’ve taken myself. I trawled through loads of old national geographic magazines for my more nature-rich designs such as the precious stones or under the sea. 

NKOYO Scarves
How long has it taken you to set up the label and what has been the hardest part?
It’s been a real growing process. I started designing in October last year, and made a little online shop of my first samples, all finished by me at that time. I then realised I had to improve the way they were being made, and size them so that the designs translated correctly on the wearer. I worked with two different suppliers to get the silk and the production just right, and I’m only recently feeling totally happy with it. It’s been different for me coming from a graphics background, I was naive, and I’ve learnt as I’ve gone along. They’ve been stocked in Luna & Curious since the beginning of this year, which is great. I’d say the hardest part is the patience you have to have. With pure illustration, there is more of an immediate result, but theres a lot of waiting with what I do now. But I find the end result way more fulfilling.

NKOYO Scarves
Self portrait.

NKOYO Scarves
What has been the most rewarding part of working on the collection?
Seeing it worn on someone is so rewarding for me. I also really enjoyed seeing them through the prism of another artist when my friend, and great photographer, Alma Haser shot the lookbook images. They brought another element to my work, which was amazing. Although I enjoy running a business, and all that comes with; it doesn’t always come naturally to me, but I think picking colours, and imagining how a design is going to look on a woman does. I feel very proud of myself for the collection I’ve made.

nkoyo underthesea
NKOYO Scarves
The scarves are ethically made in the UK – how did you source production and why is it important to you to make things locally?
I started off talking to fellow young designers, and asking for advice on where to have the silk printed. I quickly became aware that so many scarves are made abroad in an unethical manner to keep costs down, and that I’d have to be in direct competition with them. So as much as I need the support of the customer that wants to buy good British design, the good British manufacturers need my support. It’s also important to me to have someone on the end of a phone or a train journey away, to talk to about how my final product will be. From a wider viewpoint, after all the work I put into my designs, I want them only to be a thing of positivity, I don’t want myself or the customer to be left with a bad taste in their mouth when considering where the product has been made.

NKOYO Scarves
How do you recommend that the different sizes of scarf are worn?
I think the great thing with scarves is they are so versatile. Recently the 90x90cm braids scarf was styled as a top for an editorial, which looked amazing. Normally I’d wear that one folded in a triangle around the neck, to show off the design at the back. I also love turbans, they suit all hair types. The long scarf comes in either 165cm x 14cm or 130cm x 30cm, so theres a few different ways to wear. I love to see either worn with a collared shirt in a pussy bow style, which I think brightens up a quite formal look. Or twisted around the head. The thicker long scarf is also great hung loosely, as the design is quite bold. 

NKOYO Scarves
Where is your studio and what does it look like on a busy day at work?
I have a studio space at home in North London, which I really like. Its all focussed around a large desk and a large desktop mac. I do like to spread out, and work on quite a big scale; Drawing on A4 paper or anything smaller gives me mild anxiety. After a busy day, there’ll be a lot of pieces of paper with frantic lists and doodles, and I have a lot of magazines piled up around me, but nothing too manic. I think I’m similar to a lot of creatives, when I say I like my space how I like it. Nobody move the mess. 

NKOYO Scarves
Why do you think that scarves are enjoying such a renaissance at the moment?
I think it’s because they are a blank canvas. The wearer can be daring in a much more accessible way, and there are very few outfits that don’t benefit from the addition of a scarf. There are some great artists out there, who are experimenting with the medium, and having fun with it. With promotion from shops like Liberty, they are also a very luxurious item, I think people want to spend their money wisely in this climate, and although it sounds corny, you do get a piece of art and something wearable at the same time.

NKOYO Scarves
What other projects are you working on now?
I am always working on freelance illustration and graphics projects. Soon I hope to collaborate with some friends who are starting a menswear label called heresy. As well as illustration, I really like writing, and have a writing website that I try to update as often as I can. Its a little more acerbic than my designs would suggest I suppose, but I love it. I want to write short stories when I have the time. 

NKOYO Scarves
See more on the NKOYO website: or check out illustrations on

NKOYO Scarves

Categories ,Alice Nyong, ,Alma Haser, ,Balmain, ,ethical, ,heresy, ,Hermés, ,illustration, ,Local, ,Luna & Curious, ,Luna and Curious, ,print, ,Silk Scarf, ,sustainable, ,Versace

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