Sublime: Tell us something about yourself and your story.
Gunda Hafner: I studied fashion. But starting a fashion career in Austria is difficult, and I got married quite young. I knitted and sewed clothes for my family, but that was it – I didn’t do anything with it, my focus at that point was on supporting my family. After some negative events in my life, I developed allergies to clothing fabrics, among other things and in order to tackle them, I changed my nutrition plan and and became aware of what materials I was wearing. I went back to my roots, picking up on what I’d learned from my grandmother, growing up in a rural part of Austria where I was close to nature. With all of my intolerances, those memories of my grandmother and her knitting, her vegetable garden, reminded me that it was not only important to eat well, but also to dress well, and in breathable, non-plastic, non-synthetic materials.
S: Was it then that you researched textiles, and realised you wanted to create your own collection?
GH: You have to study technology at college in Austria anyway, so I already had that background. I just needed to source the textiles. I decided that this was my moment: my kids were all old enough and didn’t need as much attention, and I could do something for myself. That was when it started.
S: Where did you go from there?
GH: I jumped in as a limited company, rather than beginning as a small start-up, so that I wasn’t able to back off so easily – it had to be a total commitment. That way, I could gain access to textiles markets and be taken seriously.
Going to trade shows was really exciting. I was both overwhelmed and fascinated to see what was possible, and what was on the market. But I felt a bit restricted, because textile companies usually sell to bigger brands, and they have limited minimum orders. I wasn’t able to buy from any supplier, as I couldn’t process 300 metres of one type of fabric in a single colour. As I got inspired by the materials on offer, I saw that my choices were narrowed down by a number of different factors, in particular what was sustainable and what was not.
S: You mentioned about how you source materials. Could you describe the process?
GH: I start off by sourcing the fabrics. Or I might begin with a particular look in my head, and decide what colour scheme I want to go with for the season I'm working on. And from all of that, the design emerges. I do not sit down and start sketching. I try to process the concept in my head in terms of colour and textile, and it evolves into the design, and then I make the pattern myself.
S: Do you have a favourite part of your work?
GH: Yes, the part I enjoy most is designing and sewing. I am quite hands-on; I like to do everything myself .My least favourite part is the bookkeeping! And the marketing side, too. I find it tedious, and it takes time away from the parts I really love.
I still sew and knit by hand. I get up early in the morning and come to the studio and work, and when I get home in the evening, there’s my knitting – whatever needs to be finished.
S: Do you have any thoughts on fashion becoming local and reviving cultural traditions like weaving?
GH: I do, that’s why we create all of the clothes ourselves in the studio. There are so many different aspects to reviving handmade crafts within fashion. All of that has been lost to modern life – no one knows what to do any more, or how to do it. Yes, some things are phenomenal: it is an advantage to be able go wherever you want, and quickly, and that creates so much opportunity – these are some fantastic ways in which we have evolved. But there are downsides, too; I would say that losing the traditional trades is definitely one of them.
S: When you design your clothes, are you aware of the negatives of fast fashion?
GH: Absolutely. The smaller companies are trying to influence the wider market towards slow fashion. Education is also a big part of the change – we need to re-educate people, and it will take a while, probably several generations until everybody sees the urgency. So many people follow the mainstream, mostly around buying at one end status symbol clothing, and at the other, fast fashion. If more companies join the movement, it might get to a point where it’s really fashionable to be sustainable.
S: Do you think you are making a difference to the industry and society?
GH: A lot of people are suffering from depression. I think it’s partly to do with the fact that no one makes things any more. Creating things by hand can be very satisfying. But everything is outsourced to other countries, largely in the East. Supporting smaller companies gives us a chance to make sure that production stays in our home country, which is important for employment. And when we employ people who are actively making things by hand, we support good mental health too.
S: In terms of your place within the fashion industry, do you feel that your brand adds a deeper dimension?
GH: When I started the brand a few years ago, being sustainable felt a bit alien. But if you go to trade shows, you get more involved with social media and become familiar with other brands, and discover that it’s quite a big movement. It’s just starting, but it is a movement, one I think society needs in order to make a very necessary change.
I didn’t set out to start a brand. To begin with I wanted to create a portfolio for myself, to show to bigger companies I wanted to work for. I thought, what’s the easiest way to get the work I want, given that I am not so young and can’t work my way to the top of a company? I needed to take a shortcut, with something that made me stand out, to end up where I wanted to be. So I organised my own photo shoots, and the brand evolved from there. I am taking it slowly and seeing where I can go. I am currently looking for an investor, to take the brand down the fashion route. I need someone who is as enthusiastic as I am about the brand and who will support me. And I am trying to grow the brand organically, not have huge marketing promotions. I want to keep it going for a little longer at a pace I can manage and feel comfortable with.
I am passionate about fashion nature and I feel strongly about diversity inclusion. My dream is to create garments that are wearable, practical and fashionable - that do not harm the environment and are created by and for people no matter what colour or ability.
S: What are your plans for the future?
GH: I am reaching out to concept stores right now - that approach is working for me, so I’m concentrating on that. At the moment, parts of my my collection are available in parts in a shop in Kensington, in Vienna and on my website. I am aslo working on a project with wheelchair model Samantha Bullock.