Knitting a legacy: Gugu Peteni's GUGUBYGUGU brings a fresh look to fashion with mohair and textiles

By Lindelwa Masuku

Welcome to this week's edition of Threads of Inspiration, where we feature the talented South African fashion designer, Gugu Peteni. Gugu is the founder and creative director of the brand, GUGUBYGUGU, which she established in 2019. 

The brand is unapologetic, bold, and genderless, and experiments with natural knits and various textiles, such as mohair. Gugu draws inspiration from anything and everything, and her creative process always starts with a concept. 

GUGUBYGUGU brand owner Gugu Peteni

She was a contestant on the first season of Project Runway South Africa, where she was the youngest competitor, and was one of three designers to represent South Africa at Lagos Fashion Week. Gugu is a versatile designer, paying special attention to quality and silhouettes, and her ultimate goal is to create a fashion business that will take African fashion to the world. 

When asked about how she got into fashion design, Gugu revealed that she had always been into the arts, sketching garments from the age of 10. She applied for fashion in university and never looked back. 

As for what inspires her designs and creative process, Gugu draws inspiration from everything around her, whether it's running, listening to music, or catching up on current affairs. She starts her creative process with a concept and visualizes the end product before sketching and sourcing fabrics.

GUGUBYGUGU brand owner Gugu Peteni

Gugu's time on Project Runway South Africa was a nerve-wracking but rewarding experience that taught her to be fearless, a quality she needs as an entrepreneur and artist. She is proud of all her collections, but showcasing at Lagos Fashion Week is definitely one of her pinch-me moments.

In this interview, Gugu shares some insights into her background, inspiration, and memorable moments on her journey as a designer.

1.Can you tell us about your background and how you got into fashion design?

To make a long story short, growing up I have always been into the arts, I started sketching garments at age 10, and at that point I never did it because I thought of a career in fashion, I was just always pulled to clothing. 

I used to cut my mom’s tablecloths to make clothes for my dolls, I enjoyed putting looks together from my wardrobe. Until literally the day came that I had to pick a career and although met with a lot of defiance from my parents at the time because I was an academic, I applied for fashion in university and I never looked back.

2. Can you tell us what inspires your designs and creative process?

for inspiration, I try to not limit myself. I’m always open to being inspired, whether I’m on a run, listening to music, or catching up on current affairs or even just expressing how I’m feeling in that specific season, I draw inspiration from anything and everything. 

My creative process always starts with a concept, then I always vaguely visualise the end product, not the actual pieces but how I want it to make people feel, the story I’m trying to tell. It's often followed up by some song associations that bring out those feelings, then I start sketching, then it’s the planning and fabric sourcing, manufacturing, showcasing the shooting, and then we do it all over again.

Model Juan Kakembo in the GUGUBYGUGU black fringe hat and loose knitted overlay; Photographer: Jessie Crichton

3. As one of the youngest contestants on the first season of the TV series Project

Being on Project runway still feels surreal, it’s like doing extreme sports, you are nervous and excited, there’s a lot of adrenaline. You do it then it feels like a crazy dream that actually happened. 

I grew up watching the show so I never once imagined I would be crazy enough to put myself through those challenges especially straight out of university, but I owe a lot to that experience because it taught me to be fearless which is something you need as an entrepreneur and artist. It also showed me a side of myself that I didn’t know.

4. Can you share a memorable moment from your journey as a designer so far?

I have worked extremely hard to push my passion, so there have been a few pinch me moments, one of them is the project I’m currently working on, but so far I think showcasing at Lagos fashion week is definitely up there.

Model Amber Lauer in the GUGUBYGUGU oversized cardigan and cream pants Photographer; Jessie Crichton

5. Can you tell us about a project or collection you are particularly proud of?

I am proud of all my collections, because what a lot of people don’t see is the crazy amount of work that goes into them. It takes a lot to allow people to see what is going on in your head, and then give them the space to critic or have an opinion. 

These collections are birthed from simple ideas and as the creators we grow attached as we see them come to life so yeah, every collection that gets completed is definitely a collection to be proud of.

6. How do you stay current with fashion trends and incorporate them into your

Luckily in this generation information is so easily accessible and things or trends go viral in a blink but also become disposable just as quickly. I keep up with what is going on, but I never let it influence what I’m working on. 

I create from my own space and ideas but of course making sure that it is relevant or a need because it has to sell, but I always try to give my consumers something different because no one wants to look like everyone else after all.

Model Juan Kakemboin in the GUGUBYGUGU white linen and beaded bag Photographer: Jessie Crichton

7. How do you approach sustainability in your designs and production process?

I was lucky enough to grow up in a home where my mom was very conscious about waste and the environment so she taught habits to be environmentally conscious from a young age so going into manufacturing was already ingrained in me. 

Working with mohair and for the company also taught me a lot about sustainability especially at that big scale so we as a brand promote slow fashion, and natural fibres and conscious ways of production.

8. Can you share your plans for the future of your brand and career as a designer?

Growth, that is the bigger picture. I see GUGU in the same sentence as Gucci, and Chanel. So that is what we are working towards. I want our legacy to be a proudly African fashion brand that exists and competes internationally as a household name.

Model Joshua in the GUGUBYGUGU purple coat Photographer: Sesethu Dawudi

9. How do you plan to make an impact and stand out in the industry?

By staying true to who I am, doing what I love, which is to create art. I’m not trying to be the “next” anyone, I’m just doing me, and that is my superpower.

10. What advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers?

To stay true to themselves, there’s so many people doing the same thing and not enough people taking risks. Also the industry is hard so make sure you have a solid support system.

Gugu is working on some exciting projects, including an exhibition showcase in Chengdu, China, in September. Her vision is to create a fashion business that celebrates the beauty of the continent through fashion and ensures that her garments can be worn by everyone, regardless of age, size, or gender.

Models Lelethu & Mihlali Jekwa dressed in GUGUBYGUGU garments Photographer; Dani

In the words of Gugu Peteni, "Believe in yourself and your vision. Be authentic, be passionate, and work hard, and everything will fall into place." 

Stay tuned for our next edition of Threads of Inspiration, where we will feature another talented designer.

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