GUGUBYGUGU, a South African fashion brand based in Gqeberha, is unapologetic, bold, genderless, and experimental. “Fashion to me means a host of things – it’s about identity, it’s feeling, it’s an expression, and yet at the same time it’s just clothing to fulfil a basic need,” says founder Gugu Peteni.
After she studied fashion and textile design at Nelson Mandela University, Gugu worked as the in-house designer and retail manager for Mohair SA for three years. She launched GUGUBYGUGU in 2019.
The English translation for “GUGU” is “to be proud of”, and Gugu is working towards a legacy brand that thrives on a global stage. We asked Gugu a few questions to learn more about her fashion journey.
What is the earliest memory you have about fashion?
My earliest memory of fashion dates back to when I was a little girl and I used to cut up my mom’s curtains to make my dolls’ clothes. But, my curiosity peaked in my early teens when I started developing my personal style and having fun with my wardrobe. People started identifying me as the “fashion-ny/artsy” one. As a twin – and being called “the twins” or “Peteni sisters” – I know the role of clothing in forming identity and personal expression.
How did growing up in the 90s in South Africa influence your design style?
Growing up in the 90s in South Africa had a significant influence on my design style, not only in silhouette but also in energy. 90s fashion is effortless and there are no rules or genders. It’s an expression and I love that. That’s the energy I want to carry in my brand.
What does it mean to redefine the African narrative within global fashion?
It’s about innovation. It’s creating fashion that does not fit the “narrative” that African designers create garments in a certain “African” style. It’s showcasing African design as innovative and global, not themed or alienated.
You often design from your own experiences – could you give an example?
I usually draw my inspiration from what is happening around me. A good example of this is my first collection for Design Indaba in 2018 titled “Golden state of mind”. This collection was inspired by affirming Black beauty within fashion and beauty when I felt under-represented in the media that I loved and consumed every day.
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion to me means a host of things – it’s about identity, it’s feeling, it’s an expression, and yet at the same time, clothing fulfils a basic need. We make a choice every single day that is so complex, yet so simple. I find beauty in its dual complexity and simplicity.
When did you become aware of sustainable fashion?
I learnt about the harmful causes of production and manufacturing at university, but I understood it better when I started manufacturing for my brand, and I realised that I had a responsibility. Working with mohair also had a big impact on my choices, because the industry is sustainable. It made me want to do better. But, I also credit my mother who raised us to be eco-conscious about food, water and recycling. I became vegan at age 15 for the planet, so I have always been “green” or a bit “hippie” to others.
Tell us a bit about your SA Fashion Week AW23 collection.
Sketchy was inspired by the fashion week brief which was to create a streetwear collection made from renewable fabrics and inspired by a sport. I chose skateboarding for my sport, because it speaks directly to street culture and my style. And I chose mohair for my sustainable fabric to knit, and unbleached calico as my base material. The collection is a little bit of everything – a mix of sustainability, street, and fashion.
Why do you love working with mohair?
I was introduced to mohair in my 3rd year of university. I had no idea what it was, nor was I aware that I was living in the mohair capital of the world. I loved the versatility of the fibre, because you can create almost anything with it. I love the sustainable aspect of it as well. And, I love that it’s home-grown. I’m a little obsessed with my city so to know that we produce this luxury fibre is amazing. I want to continue working with it and also make sure that more local designers know about it.
Your GUGUBYGUGU designs are gender-neutral. Was this an intentional decision?
Growing up, when I went shopping, I always found myself in the men’s section because I always thought men’s clothing was designed better, more comfortable and more accommodating. So, I always knew, that I wanted my brand to be gender-neutral. I never really understood the need to answer the “is this menswear or womenswear” question – if you like it then it’s for you.
If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
I would have so much to say. But most importantly: life is crazy, beautiful and unpredictable, so soak up every moment and celebrate every win.
What is your favourite item in your wardrobe? And why?
If I had to choose one, it would be a blue sweater I made five years ago. It’s one of the first pieces I made after university that is branded. It’s wonky and not well made at all – I had no clue what I was doing at the time – but it’s so comfortable and it’s the first thing I put on when I come back from a long day. It reminds me of how beautiful and crazy this journey has been, how I started, and how we are growing.
- To learn more about GUGUBYGUGU, check out their online store and follow them on Instagram at @gugubygugu
- Images supplied by Gugu Peteni