Sophie Dunster is an artist on a mission. The founder of Gung Ho Designs, which officially launched a year ago, insists that she’s created more of a movement than a brand, born out of a strong desire to do something positive and sustainable with her talents. Despite the strong ethical angle, however, Dunster’s target customer isn’t the typical ethical shopper. “My clothes appeal to feisty women who have something to say,” she declares, adding that both actress Jodie Whittaker and comedian Sarah Pascoe have been spotted in her gear.
So how was Gung Ho born? The name itself refers to an old English expression for raw enthusiasm. “My Dad is a zero-carbon architect, so I was raised living a low carbon life and attending hippy festivals at which he spoke,” Dunster explains. “I knew I wanted to make a difference in some way similar to my dad, but I’m no way a scientist. I can draw, though, so decided to become a political artist, and went and did a foundation at Brighton where I realised I could put my drawings onto fabric. That appealed: suddenly instead of my drawings being stuffed into one room of a house, not seen by many, I decided to put them on clothing so many people could see them.”
Sophie’s desire to have her designs seen came out of a wish to kick-start discussion as much as make an impact with eye-catching clothing. “I want people to fall back in love with their wardrobes and really value every piece. I do this myself (I call it voting with your wallet), following a rule where I either have to save up to buy something high quality and ethical or I buy from charity shops and vintage outlets (upcycling).”
All Gung Ho pieces, whether dresses, shirts or sweatshirts, have hidden messaging in them, says Dunster: “The seabird dress is all about the fact that it’s not just underwater that’s affected with ocean plastics, but on top of water too. On the print, nine of every ten seabirds have plastics in their stomachs as signified by the toxic-hazardous sign on their bellies. You can only see this if you look closely.”
That’s why, when you buy a piece from Gung Ho, you’ll receive give a mini-zine to explain what you’re wearing / what the image refers to and the everyday things you can do to help. Just a few nuggets of information, nothing complex, didactic or overwhelming, but something that adds meaning to the purchase and gives every customer the opportunity to think more about meaning behind clothes.
Gung Ho also works with charities relevant to each image / issue so £5 from each purchase goes to taking positive action. Their production process tries wherever possible to keep things as UK-based as possible to reduce energy output / improve sustainability. The shirts, blouses and dresses are made out of tencil (regenerated wood cellulose) and are printed in Gloucestershire and manufactured in Stratford. The sweatshirts are made at a fair trade factory in Bangladesh, a place that has a strong connection to where the organic cotton is grown, and are embroidered in Oxford.
There are other philanthropic ventures supported or initiated by Gung Ho too: “I live on a boat so I see the plastics issue on a day-to-day basis,” says Dunster. “We’ve been doing monthly beach cleans along the River Thames in London. We have a lovely community of people who want to make a difference and can also make new, like-minded friends whilst they are doing it.”
Last month the movement took things a step further and put on a big event to showcase their SS19 collection called ‘Food for Thought’, all about the impact of food on the environment. Gung Ho teamed up in sustainable bar in Hackney and sustainable cocktail genius Mr Lyan. Thanks to help from Oddbox and a zero-waste chef, all guests feasted on ethical canapes whilst enjoying a panel discussion and musical performance relating to issues around food and environment.