By: Cameron Rubner
If you keep up with popular rap artist Juice Wrld’s social media, you might’ve seen him rocking a tie-dye t-shirt featuring a smiley face with stars for eyes at one of his concerts. That piece was made by Joke MFG, a local brand, and brainchild of Phoenix native, Liam Nenortas. Joke MFG has two main contributors; Nenortas, and his friend and Scottsdale, Arizona native, TJ Riley. The brand has been making a splash in the Phoenix fashion scene with its unique take on tie-dye and its use of screen printed logos on pants. The brand takes inspiration from skate culture and the entire D.I.Y ethos, keeping things close and personal in the creative process by only having two good friends as the creative directors and visionaries of the brand. The brand has an overall authentic and original feel to it. Most of their promotional video on Instagram are all crafted to give a certain vintage type of vibe, whether shot on a VX1000 camera or edited to seem like they’re straight out of a classic western. I talked with the two designers, Liam and TJ, to get some info on their background, Joke MFG, and their plans for the future.
Cameron Rubner (CR): Tell me a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and where you grew up.
Liam Nenortas (LM): I grew up in Phoenix, I spent pretty much all my time at the skatepark growing up. Me and my friends grew up together, were such a tightly knit family.
TJ Rikey (TJR): I grew up in Scottsdale & I have been here my whole life. I went to California with my family basically anytime I wasn’t in school, but besides that, I’ve just been in AZ. I never did too much just basic skateboarding & sports.
CR: When did you first know you wanted to get into making clothes?
LN: I would say that I knew I wanted to make clothes when I was about 18. I remember being in my last math class of high school just doodling so much and that’s actually when I drew the joke face.
TJR: I knew my freshman year of college that I wanted to start making clothes, but I didn’t know what to do. Then it got to the point where I couldn’t find anything I wanted to wear on the shelves, so that’s when I started designing & making clothes.
CR: Can you give me a little rundown about the brand Joke MFG?
LN: The whole reason behind the name is that me and my homies started it as a joke, my whole idea behind it was that if it fails or if people don’t [like] our clothes then I’ll say the whole thing was a joke. I think it’s safe to say now though that it’s no longer a joke, but I still enjoy the idea behind the name.
CR: How did you [TJ] first get involved with Joke MFG?
TJR: My partner, Liam, started Joke MFG and at the time I was interested in making clothes so I asked him if I could help with any designs or help with anything and that turned into being partners.
CR: I saw Juicewrld was repping your guys’ tie-dye shirt, how did that come along?
LN: We made the tie-dye collection pretty quickly I would say, shot the product shots a couple of days later and threw them on the website. I was actually out of town and we got a repost from a fashion Instagram and literally that day I had Juicewrld’s girlfriend (Ally Loti) in my DMS saying that she and Juice wanted shirts and pants. A super unreal moment, I remember not believing it at first, I thought she was trying to scam us.
CR: Have any other artists or celebrities hit you up about copping products?
LN: Not anyone as big as Juicewrld, but we’ve had smaller artists hit us up for clothes. I remember like a year after we started, I had Yung Cortex trying to cop clothes, Yung Cortex was a music producer at the time and had just made some beats for Lil peep.
TJR: Some smaller known artists & the owner of RipnDip is actually a fan of the brand and we’ve made some clothes for him. But many more artists will be on Joke MFG soon.
CR: Who are some of your biggest influences in terms of style and fashion?
LN: My biggest influences would probably be Erik Brunetti (Founder and director of lifestyle brand FUCT), he has such a crazy outlook on everything and he created a path for the entire underground clothing industry, not to mention he’s created some of the most iconic logos/graphics of all time. I also would say that Adam Ariagga (Founder of Phoenix-based clothing brand Foulplay) and Jordan Hartigan (Founder of clothing brand BURMA) are both major influences for me. They’re both local and run very successful clothing companies.
TJR: One of my biggest influences is Bajowoo (Owner & designer for 99%is). He has consistently put his foot down & made a mark in the fashion world. He’s doing exactly what he’s doing by changing America culture while heightening & strengthen fashion from Tokyo, Hong Kong, etc. Every rapper is wearing their pants I guarantee you have seen them & I guarantee you love them. Another influence is Alexander Mcqueen. Bringing beauty to the dark side of things. No one has done what he has done & they haven’t come close. My last influence is Virgil Abloh. Cliché yes. But with his success from Off-White alone, what he has done for Louis Vuitton is amazing & I am beyond happy I am living in this time period. Taking Louis modern while still keeping its roots. Everything about it I love & obsess over.
CR: What drives you to make clothes?
TJR: What doesn’t drive me to make clothes. Before I go to bed I am laying in bed just thinking of a thousand different outfits, I wake up & I will still take an hour to decide just because I want it to be perfect I want it to be exactly how I’m feeling that day. That’s how it’s been my whole life than when I started making clothes it was like the same thing, but I was constantly unsatisfied. Even if I loved my fit there’s just always something I’m thinking about adding or modifying or just improving it one way or another. It drives me to make more clothes. There’s a lot of really amazing crazy creative stuff you can do with fashion & people tend to go with whatever’s hype I want to wake them you, I want everyone to express themselves to their fullest extent & I just want my clothes to allow people to do just that.
CR: What do you hope to get out of making clothes?
LN: I don’t want anything from making clothes, I want the brand to become well-known and successful. I could care less about my own gain. For me, seeing a random person on the street or anywhere wearing a joke shirt is the best feeling and surpasses money and fame.
TJR: Well I kind of answered that above by accident, but just to sum it all up I want to make clothes that people can express themselves with. No matter what it is who it is I think we need more creativity & less going with the norm. I really want to make an imprint on fashion. I want to do the most that I can.
CR: Is there anything new coming out from Joke MFG that you’d like to promote?
LN: “Hellfire West” is dropping within the next couple of months. Super hyped on this capsule and all the work put into it.
TJ: A whole lot of hard work has been put into this drop & I am beyond ecstatic about the pieces in this drop & I am extremely hyped for everyone to see what we’ve been cooking up.