Peggy Noland

"Like Spring, Summer, Fall? No, that's not how I work."
Interview & Portrait by Cali DeWitt

At the age of 23, Peggy Noland opened a tiny storefront in her hometown: Peggy Noland Kansas City. While the ever-changing storefront has remained the same in scale, Nolands's operations have expanded beyond Missouri, with her bright, patterned, personalized items embraced by everyone from touring musicians, fashion boutiques and club kids around the world. Now a resident of Los Angeles, Noland's activities continue her exploring her signature pop punk aesthetics all the while maintaining a true dedication to the fun DIY tactics they came from.

We're recording. 
Oh my God! I'm nervous!
So, I'm Cali and I'm here with Peggy. 
I'm Peggy, chillin' with Callie.
Hi Peggy.
What's up?
We should do this interview.
Peggy, where are you from?
I'm from Kansas City. Independence, Missouri which is a suburb of Kansas City.
I feel comfortable saying Kansas City though, because it's close enough. It's like if you say Independence, people aren't going to know.
Kansas City is radical right now.
I guess it depends on who you ask.

Peggy Noland Store, Kansas City

It seems like good things come out of Kansas City.
Sometimes I wonder if it's wonderful because I'm from there and I know cool people, or if it actually is wonderful. There's cool people everywhere, in every city, right?
There are but you need someone who's like fucking really active. Because most people are kind of lazy, right?
I know what you mean. There's several people that are really active that I think contribute to making it awesome. For sure.
You lived there for how long?
I lived there for 29 years. I mean, I've traveled a lot, but that's where I was paying rent. It's so cheap to live there. My rent was like 200 bucks a month for a giant place.  That leaves you a lot of extra money to travel and do things. I think that's why I was there for so long, because I could leave and come back a lot. 
Were you a young starter? Like were you young and leaving town and going on adventures? 
Not like that. I was really naïve when it came to that stuff. I wasn't like hopping trains as a teenager. I didn’t have a sheltered life by any means, but I was scared for some reason to do that stuff. But I started like my own stuff young. I opened my store when I was 22. I wasn’t scared. I definitely didn’t know anything. I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t expect it to last a year there. 
Was it other people's stuff or your own?
It started out as my own, but I wasn’t making it. I was having it produced at a factory in New Delhi that I used to work at.
New Delhi, India?
I was a production manager for a clothing line in New Delhi. The clothing company was in Kansas City.

Puffy Painted Top, 2013

Did you go to New Delhi?
Yeah, that's basically where I learned about sewing and pattern making. I didn’t go to school for that. I didn’t speak Hindi, so if something was like an inch or something too short and I couldn’t communicate that for whatever reason, I would have to get on a sewing machine and take it in at the waist. It was easier to show than it was to tell.
How old were you then? 
I was 20. That's when I started sewing my own stuff.
Had you always wanted to make clothes?
No. Never. Just out of high school I thought I was going to pursue religious studies. I took a couple of classes at a college called Rockhurst in Kansas City. I dropped out of the program because I got offered that New Delhi experience. I mean on one side you have sitting in a classroom and learning about world religions and the other was like going to India and living that day-to-day experience. 
Were you a spiritual person at that point?
Yeah. I grew up Catholic. My parents are really different. My mom is seventh generation Catholic and my dad is like extremely Agnostic. But they're both so supportive of one another. 
But you grew up Catholic.
Growing up Catholic was really important to me too. I personally had a great experience in the Church. I loved my Church.I was spiritual in that sense.

Noland Family Photo

You were interested.
Definitely. And I was interested in comparative religion, not theology. I wanted to understand the world view, not just my own. I didn’t want to make clothes. 
Were you painting? Anything artistic?
No! Which is weird because my dad is a full-time artist. I was like, "Oh I'm not good at that". But I was making stuff, crafting as a kid. Making barrettes and stuff from Hobby Lobby. 
So how did you start your store?
When my job ended I was like, "I can do this on my own." It was a tiny, tiny store. It's like a tenth of this space.It's what most people's closets are like. 
The store is like a closet with great big signs?
Exactly. It's all storefront. You walk in and that's pretty much all you can see. The rent was reasonable enough for me because it was so small. I had a full-time job for the first four or five years that I had the store. Then it finally got to a place where it could run itself. It doesn't make me a ton of money at all, but it doesn't cost me anymore.
It takes care of itself. Who works there? 
There's three girls that work there that were students of mine at the Art Institute.
But at first it was just you?
Oh my God. Yeah. It was just me. Making clothes! 

Malcolm Stewart for Peggy Noland, 2010

What kind of clothes were you making? 
They were wild back.  I would see on blogs, or club kids in the early 2000's. That was really important or  popular then. I wanted kids in Tokyo to like what I was making. I was never making clothes for Kansas City. That sounds bad but you know what I'm saying. I had a very specific vision for my clothes—they were for someone that wanted to look outrageous on a daily basis. 
But not like a costume.
I was making street wear. Most people think they're costumes but they’re for wearing! Every day! Like, on a Tuesday to go to the grocery store.
How did it go over in Kansas?
I always felt so encouraged out here, but as far as customers go, I didn’t have any. And that's an important part of a business: customers. It became clear to me that I was just trying to do something cool. 
Not make money?
I thought that was what I was doing at first. There would be times when I had really boring stuff in the store that would like fly off the shelves. I was able to pay my rent that month but I was not inspired by it. I didn’t think I was contributing anything.  I didn’t think it was cool. It was too average. It was too basic. I realized that by making stuff that felt cool to me, even if it didn’t sell, I was like way happier. I think most artists figure that out.
Yeah. Please yourself first. That's really the main thing.
Exactly. I was willing to have another job in order to be able to make stuff that I like. Then I finally got my act together and finally got a website.

Tilly and the Wall: Beat Control, 2008

Was that around the same time you started making clothes for bands?
I made clothes for Lovefoxxx of CSS when they were first starting. That was huge for me.
How did she find you? Did you already know each other?
No. A friend brought a girl named Kianna into my store. She was in a band called Tilly in the Wall. They were touring with CSS at the time. I was already a huge fan of Tilly in the Wall and so I said, "Oh my God! Please let me make clothes for you, for your tour, for your show. I'm so happy!" She was so sweet about it so I gave her a bunch of shit. They went on tour with CSS and Lovefoxxx's clothes didn’t come from whoever was making clothes for her. Kianna wrote me an email and was like, "Do you care? She doesn't have anything to wear. I have too much. Can I give some to her?" For years after that I was making Lovefoxxx clothes. 
She was on the cover of Dazed and Confused in something I made. That was like a big deal because I didn’t know anybody. I was just this person with an overnight job in Kansas City, Missouri.
And a closet-sized store.
Yeah! It just happened so organically and felt really exciting and rewarding to have someone you admire, admire what you do.
How did you end up moving to LA?
Well I was getting a lot of work out here. Clients and musicians and things. I also felt like I was getting older. In Kansas City I had this great store, an awesome job at the Art Institute, a place I loved living in. It felt so easy. It was like, "Oh this could easily be the rest of my life". That really scared me.

Reading Glove, 2010

It was like a really nice problem to have. Everything's perfect. I gotta mess something up. 
What were you doing at the Art Institute?
I was teaching in the fibers department. Like, I taught sewing one and two. Pattern making. Entrepreneurial textiles. 
Have your designs changed since you've gotten here?
Yeah, definitely. I’d  never ever puffy painted on anything.
And now you puffy paint on everything.
On everything! I'm obsessed with it. I always think like the 12 year old girl in me would be like, so happy or like so disappointed. Like I like sewing, but it's so tedious and boring at a certain point. It's such a giveaway with the puffy paint because it looks better if it's messed up. It looks better when it's like a little bit fucked.
I love that it’s done by hand. 
I think that's what people like about it, because it gives them that nostalgia. 
You also use logos a lot in your clothes. Why do you love logos? 
I think that the logos felt responsive to being so happily American. I love commercialism and capitalism. I love being advertised to. I love purchasing things. I think that we're not supposed to, in a way. Maybe a more enlightened person is not supposed to love being susceptible to that.
Like underground people are supposed to say “Fuck The Establishment...”
Yeah, exactly. I get that and I feel like my spirit is there. But I feel like my wallet is definitely in the store and I'm so happy about that! It feels good to me—so it's stupid to pretend it doesn't feel good.

From Sex Magazine #6 Winter 2014
Labelled Fashion