Nikke Horrigan - Miner to designer

The 'pretty boy' miner wowing the world of fashion

FROM being taunted and called "pretty boy" working as an underground coal miner, to hiding his passion from his father to the point he was almost listed as a missing person, Nikke Horrigan's career change hasn't been easy.

But, as he says, if you're not doing what you love in life - what's the point?

The 28-year-old was living and working in the mines in Tieri and Moranbah during the boom, when the economy took a turn.

"When coal prices started to drop everyone was in a panic and losing their jobs... so I decided I needed to do something with my life," Nikke says.

"I've always had a keen interest in fashion so I decided to start my own label."

His "obsession" with fashion began through his mum, when she'd take her four-year-old son to the shops with her.

"When she was trying on clothes it made me want to try on clothes too so I wasn't bored," Nikke says.

"I'd find myself in the kids' section picking and trying on different little outfits. Mum would be going into the perfume section and I'd be going in the cologne section so it had an effect on me."


A family snapshot of a young stylish Nikke Horrigan, who's now a fashion designer.
A family snapshot of a young stylish Nikke Horrigan, who's now a fashion designer.

The highly sought-after fashion designer laughs as he remembers showing up to primary school wearing Tommy Hilfiger threads.

"I guess the teachers were kind of jelly at the time," he chuckles. "I was always rocking some kind of the latest shoes and clothes."

His eagerness to wear the latest styles didn't waver when he went underground.

"When I was at work I used to be called 'pretty boy'," Nikke says.

"I used to wear my own clothes with my own style, colour matched the uniform and used to be well groomed I guess even though I was dirty.

"I used to cop a heap of shit, but that's what you get when you're different."

The turning point

His first setback came when he almost lost his leg while playing rugby for Tieri, developing compartment syndrome after being airlifted to Rockhampton from the game in Emerald.

Shortly after his return to work, a disagreement with a supervisor and eventual job loss led Nikke to be sitting, bags packed, wondering what was coming next. He thought he'd be in the mines forever.


A family snapshot of Nikke's parents.
A family snapshot of Nikke's parents.

"Growing up I was always told 'work hard, get a trade' because my dad was a blue collar worker... he sorta pushed me into that," he says. "But I just decided I wasn't going to live my life on someone else's terms. I had to do something that I loved; and for me that was fashion."

So Nikke used the money earned in the mines to start his fashion label.

He went to fashion school in Fortitude Valley and learnt from a mentor.

Still not having enough money, he slipped back into mine work working at the gas fields near Chinchilla and Roma - secretly working on his fashion label at the work camps at night, in his lunch breaks and "sneaking into the toilets to check emails".

After getting knocked back from a number of factories in Australia, he bought a plane ticket and flew halfway across the world to an Australian- owned factory in China.

Because Nikke kept his fashion label from his father, he didn't tell him of his overseas trip.

"He wasn't able to get in contact with me, he was about to fill out a missing person's report," Nikke says.

When he finally came home, his dad scolded him for not telling him where he was headed.

"I just said 'if I did you'd tell me not to go and I wouldn't be where I am right now'," Nikke says, adding that he acknowledged his dad was "old school".

"He was born in a different era. He's 77 now. That was the template back then: business is hard, play it safe. Find a job and stick to it."

NIkke Horrigan swapped coal mining for fashion designing.
NIkke Horrigan swapped coal mining for fashion designing. Contributed

After seeing his son's success, Nikke says his dad is slowly coming around.

"I think (his attitude) has changed, just because of the fact I've I guess shown him that I've been working hard with this and starting to see some form of success - I've been in the newspaper, which is where he found out all about (my fashion career)," he says.

"I left the newspaper on dad's table, I went for a run and came back and dad comes up and he goes 'did your mates congratulate you on the article in the paper?' and I said 'yeah some of them did' and he said 'that's good' and walks away. That was my dad's way of saying 'good work' I guess."

Nikke says starting his own business was "lonely".

"You've really gotta believe in what you're doing - you don't get that instant gratification like other jobs," he says.

"It's very hush hush and it's not until you've made some tracks that people see you're doing well when really you've been at it for so long. There's been so many mistakes but no one sees it because you're tucked away in your office doing it on your own."


He says the pressure he put on himself to be a success in the fashion world has meant he feels like "a bit of a loner" having cut ties with some friends.

"I find myself pretty boring these days - I was a party person when I was younger and wanted to be in the crowd," Nikke says.

"But now I couldn't care less about that or what people think. I've found my own way of living.

"I think sometimes you need that one kick in the butt to send yourself in that direction."

So does Nikke have any regrets?

"No. I think everything happens for a reason and I think everything good and bad has made me who I am.

"You can't change the outcomes of your life but you can choose your attitude. You can wake up and think 'this is going to be a shitty day' or you can be 'all right let's do something positive today'.

"Self-development is something I'm big on. Knowledge is something that's so important to me, I listen to podcasts when I'm driving so I enjoy learning."


He'll also take part in this year's fashion parade at the Royal Brisbane Show.
He'll also take part in this year's fashion parade at the Royal Brisbane Show.

His fashion label

Nikke sells his collection predominantly online, at markets along the Gold Coast and through word of mouth.

"I have a pretty small collection as I like to keep it pretty exclusive and I don't want to be oversaturated," he says. "It's always good to be nimble and do a lot more that way instead of carrying big stock."

He says his taste has evolved as he's got older.

"From when I first started making snapback hats and boutique shorts like that to now I'm making suede bomber jackets to knitwear and playing with denim," Nikke says.

"For me I've liked the idea of being minimalistic with a bit of an edge. I do like street luxury, so I'd say I'm along those lines. Being in Australia we're all about the surf and skate culture but we don't have that street luxury brand like they do over in the states."

Buyers of his clothes come from "all over the place" including Victoria, Western Australia, Brisbane and even interest from LA in the States.


Nikke Horrigan
Nikke Horrigan Contributed

So will he ever think about making a collection for underground miners?

"A miners' collection?" he laughs.

"Hmm, I was thinking the other day it'd be cool to make stylish workwear. There's young guys out there that like to look good while they work.

"It's like that old saying: If you look good, feel good then you usually do good."

He said a big part of dressing up while working underground was simply to make himself feel good.

"Because you feel confident, you feel good about yourself," Nikke says.

"You don't walk around (in daggy clothes) because it makes you feel like you're daggy. If you're well groomed and look after yourself you'll feel good about yourself."

What's next?

Nikke's next big milestone came when he was personally invited into the fashion parade for this year's Royal Brisbane Show and Ekka in August.

"I'm working on a collection for that which is all about natural fibres," he explains.

"I'm working with denim a lot, as well as also connecting with a few major parties in the industry to get me into stores.

"But at this moment I'm just concentrating on the fashion show as that's a pretty big milestone for me."

Especially when you get an email from the Director of Fashion inviting you saying they really love your stuff."

"It's amazing what emails you find in your junk mail!"