Meet Novel Being, Sophie Dunster of Gung Ho

Sophie Dunster is a perfect example of what we consider a novel being. Very simply put; she is a human being doing novel things. Using her skills and talents to inspire real change.  Sophie grew up living a low-carbon lifestyle, but unable to follow in her father’s zero-carbon architecture footsteps – as science wasn’t her ‘strong suit’ – she chose to use her creative talents in another way and launched Gung Ho after having graduated from Edinburgh College of Art. The first collection debuted in AW17.  Sophie now lives on an eco-friendly houseboat in London and runs Gung Ho from a converted shipping container on top of the pier at Nine Elms (clearly her dad’s passion has indeed rubbed off on her!). By utilising the power of fashion to act as a conversation starter, her aim is to get people talking about current environmental issues. With Gung Ho, Sophie is creating a movement in the design world, becoming a hotspot of creative inspiration and using collaboration to make waves of change.

We love the way each of your collections weaves meaning into the prints, educating about environmental issues and allowing people to wear their hearts on their sleeves. What made you want to take this Novel approach? 

Growing up with a low carbon lifestyle, I originally wanted to make a difference by drawing attention to current issues through fine art. I found myself being drawn to silkscreen printing where I loved that the designs were on fabric and could be worn and seen by people – not just the select few who saw your living room wall! This made a lot of sense to me as clothing and style are so personal – it makes no sense to me that fashion only makes you look good and not showcases the things you feel passionate about. Fashion is such a great conversation starter, and I hate small talk, so this cuts it out!

What unexpected challenges have forging your own path and merging fashion with ethics thrown up for you?

That realistically the best thing you can do is use what’s already out there. People should only be buying second hand and upcycling. Saying that I’m trying to be the next best thing. It’s unrealistic to tell people they can’t buy anything new ever again, so saving up and treating yourself to something that is a piece of you is great as you start having a real relationship with your wardrobe.

What advice would you give to an entrepreneur or designer wanting to create a socially and environmentally responsible business?

Make it new, make it different. We have saturated markets with so many options – so if you decide to make something, make sure it’s not another product competing against the flow. Also, design so it doesn’t look sustainable. There’s already a number of converted customers, but we need to target the people who will want it because it’s ‘cool’. Use that as an opportunity to charm and educate those customers with how clever it is. We’ve got to be ‘cooler’ than the regular designers – yes, it’s a challenge – but ‘it’s totally doable. 

The sustainable fashion world needs to get personal.

We live in uncertain, confusing and bizarre times. What have you experienced or witnessed that gives you hope for a brighter fashion future?

XR was something that really surprised me in a good way. The rebellion in April was much bigger than I expected. I wasn’t sure about it starting on a Monday and running on for 2 weeks, thinking that something huge on one or two days would’ve been more impactful. When I went, I saw so many people who had taken leave from work to campaign around these issues. To creatively and calmly educate others. It struck home just how many people are on it. Sometimes the sustainable world can seem quite small. Well, it’s definitely growing, as a small one wouldn’t be able to hold down 5 locations for nearly two weeks. Brilliant!

Your current collection, Food for Thought, educates people about the environmental footprint of food and aims to ignite change through design. Why was this particular issue important to you, and what are your hopes with the collection and launch event?  

We choose a different cause to campaign around each year, starting with Precious Insects, then Plastic Oceans. I wanted to pick a cause that people could really relate to (daily decisions that really mount up). I also wanted to pick a completely different campaign each season because I didn’t want Gung Ho to get cornered into being a conservation brand. Designing is my favourite challenge, and finding ways to make these issues relatable and engaging is the best bit.

Your creative practise utilises the power of design to raise awareness. Why is this such a powerful tool? And what changes would you like to see other brands and businesses implement?

It’s important because it changes the conversation entirely. No more preaching – we want to inspire change and get people to want to become part of the movement. Something fun and inclusive that you can relate to. Getting people on the journey, engaging with others and the wider community is a big thing for us. We support each other, and that’s part of the brand DNA. Design can be subtle, we don’t need shouty slogan T’s – after all who is going to start a conversation about a t-shirt that simply says ”vegan”? If you have a blouse with veg all over it and someone comments on it, you can start it off with “Oh this is where you get your protein from if you don’t eat meat” and it is an entirely different conversation, around the same values. Businesses need to start making more effort and put more thought into their design, the current design world can be lazy.

Sustainable fashion has evolved so much in the last year alone. What does a sustainable fashion future look like to you? 

One where people respect the clothes that are mended and loved, and where they become more valuable the more you love them. A lot of vintage, upcycling and sharing, as well as technology to help revolutionise new fabrics, wastage and end of life. The sustainable fashion world needs to get personal. 

You’ve collaborated with 12 female chefs to educate people on the environmental footprint of food. What role do you think collaboration plays in working towards a more sustainable future? 

It’s huge! Gung Ho becomes a hotspot for the issue we are raising awareness about. So we research what’s going on and promote brilliance in that area. Getting 12 inspiring female chefs to design a dish on the causes we are campaigning around means that people get to experience those at the forefront of the sustainable food movement, and get to not only hear about the issues but taste the change to – and I think this is essential.

Are you working on any projects or initiatives that you would like to share with our community of Novel Beings? Or do you know of any events or actions that are worth spreading the word about?  

Our attention has really been focused on the launch for the new AW19 collection at The Curtain on the 12th September! It’s going to be a mad night. The chefs will cheffing up a sustainable 12-course feast with dishes and drinks designed around the issues within our campaign,  and really getting stuck into the cause. We have some tickets open to the public for under £55!

What other fashion entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

LDC (Lone Design Club): They promote independent designers and have a strong, sustainable angle. In a world where it’s difficult to be heard as a smaller brand, they help to make things doable and create more of a splash pulling these designers together.

Compare Ethics: These guys are really helping people shop their values, and I think that is a very cool way to get people to think about the things that matter to them personally.

Do you feel you suffer from eco-anxiety? If so, how do you manage it and what do you do to unwind from running a game-changing fashion brand?

Oh, 100%. I felt so much anger when I found out The Amazonian Fires hadn’t been covered by the press – that it wasn’t a big deal that the world’s lungs were burning. I actually think it just makes me more determined to get the word out there… It just needs to happen, so let’s get it done. I recently got a black lab puppy called Quincy… that is really helping to unwind and can be a welcome distraction!

Don't just wear what you love, wear what you believe in.

Sophie Dunster


Social media: @gung_ho_london

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