In conversation with Shaka Maidoh + Sam Lambert from Art Comes First

Words and interview by Grace Dlabik
Published in BE. BOSS Edition #3 BUY MAGAZINE
Images by David Pattinson

I first met Shaka Maidoh and Sam Lambert from Art Comes First in 2015 when I was involved with a project with them and The Social Studio, which included mentorship and collaboration for a showcase at Melbourne Fashion Week 2015. They were so open and accommodating with their time and guidance that everyone involved with the project instantly became family. That’s exactly what Art Comes First is: a worldwide family collective of many different creatives. That so happens to be their intention and it is definitely felt by everyone they meet along their nomadic journeys around the world.

Since then, we’ve stayed in contact. I met up with them again when I was in NYC presenting BE. to a number of different initiatives and organisations. We jumped in an Uber to go eat some vegan treats and had the best driver—the guys were adamant about giving him a five star rating. (You can view this on our Insta.) One of the greatest things about NYC is the characters you meet along the way.

While chowing down on some faux-meat, we discussed BE. In their usual fashion, the guys were open to hearing all about it and offered to assist wherever they could to be part of our collective.

So recently I hit them up on Facetime and we did this interview.

BE: How did ACF (Art Comes First) initially meet?

Shaka Maidoh: We met in West London. We had a mutual friend who thought that the two of us should meet as we had many things in common. Sam was into vintage clothing and I was into records. We would go to Portobello Market in search of treasures. It was during a time in our lives when everyone around us—including us—was searching to find themselves, realism. It was an instant connection.

Our connection was easy. We had very similar things that we were passionate about. We began a collective. Art Comes First grew over time. It wasn’t something that was set out and pre-planned—it grew over time, exploring our interconnectivity and being around creative people. It grew through sharing ideas, creating things, cultures and evolving.

We felt that there were people behind the scenes—important people—doing things that were very important to the culture but weren’t being seen.

Sam Lambert: We use tools to express what we do through many hands and collaborative efforts from other creatives. What we push out is really the culture and craft. What was out there was something that didn’t resonate with us. We felt that there were people behind the scenes—important people—doing things that were very important to the culture but weren’t being seen. The expression of Art Comes First was the fact that we felt that this needed to be at the forefront. ‘Coz that drives everything else.

BE: Is collaboration an important part of what you do?

SL: Yeah, I mean the idea of craft people coming together to create something totally new is what ACF is about. ACF is a rotating collective. Based on specific projects, we tee-up with like-minded people that we feel will contribute effectively to the project. We build relationships with people along our journeys, people we admire. We get them involved with projects.  

SM: Everyone we work with is vital to our projects. Our factories, manufacturers, artists—they’re all contributors to the story of the culture. Everyone that is involved with our projects is respected and valued. ACF is a full circle, like an ecosystem.

BE: What have been some of the challenges to creating your vision?

SL: One of the challenges that we faced was to make the decision to quit that 9–5 and really focus on this and make it something. You need to claim it and go for it.

SM: It’s easy to be a soldier when there’s no war. Wanting and doing are two totally different things.

It’s not about the money or how many likes you get on social media. It’s about how you as a person take what you do and do it from your heart.

Something we’ve learnt over time is that failure can be a huge source of inspiration. When you’re too scared to fail you’re never gonna grow.

SL: We’ve realised how important failure is and that we’ve probably failed more than we have succeeded and because of that learned so much more. It has fuelled us and pushes and drives us to keep going.  Fail big. To quote Mandela: “I never lose, I either win or learn”.

BE: How do you find the right balance between business and creative?

SL: 80% business, 20% creative. That’s our advice starting out. Most creatives do it the opposite: 80% creative, 20% business. To make it sustainable so that you can live, you need it to be the other way ‘round. We’ve been trying to balance out this percentage more, because we’ve learnt so much along our journey. We’ve learnt how to apply a good business model. That paves the way for us to apply more creativity.

SM: A product will not sell itself. As good as it might be, you need those key elements like branding, marketing, positioning, PR. You need to be aware of the business, ‘coz if you’re not it’s going to be very hard to make it sustainable. Position yourself to have good business sense and know how to position yourself in order to be ahead of the game.

BE: How important is following a vision from seed to fruition?

SL: Consistency is everything. It’s as important as being creative. Consistency allows you to apply yourself and be disciplined. It allows you to evolve with time without losing your identity.

BE: How do you measure success?

SM: Success for us is not about how many records you sell or how many clothes you sell. Our mantra is “inspire to be inspired”. Because it’s a circle. We are able to fulfil some of our dreams based on the hard work people before us have made. We need to keep this circle going to continue to build.

SL: That’s why ACF is a collective, ‘coz the idea is beyond us—Sam and Shaka—and beyond the clothing we make.

SM: The idea is being able to inspire the next generation with their thought process, where it’s not about the money or how many likes you get on social media. It’s about how you as a person take what you do and do it from your heart. That should be your success.

BE: Advice you would have given to your younger self?.

SL: Create much earlier. Never second guess yourself.

SM: Never leave anything to tomorrow, ‘coz tomorrow never comes.

Follow Sam and Shaka's work on Instagram here.