Sophie Thomas: Campaigner
‘You need a creative or design-oriented brain to figure out what the system is and how to shift it. Designers are good at this.’ [EXTRACT]
Sophie Thomas studied graphic design at Central Saint Martins, followed by an MA at the Royal College of Art, and worked for Anita Roddick’s company The Body Shop. In 1998 she founded the design practice Thomas.Matthews (TM) with fellow RCA graduate Kristine Matthews. The agency quickly established a reputation within the fields of sustainable and ethical design (see ‘Don’t buy this’ in Eye 27). After Matthews left the company in 2008, TM helped establish the employee benefit trust Useful Simple Trust (UST) and became a social enterprise. For over a decade Thomas has been drawing attention to design’s role in combating pollution. In 2015 she launched the exhibition ‘Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean’, which highlights ocean pollution and vividly demonstrates the plastic problem. She has also worked with the ocean charity Common Seas on circular (as opposed to more linear) design solutions. Since her pioneering work on The Great Recovery (2012) – which aims to challenge issues around waste – Thomas has become an in-demand consultant, advising clients including Proctor and Gamble, Dr. Martens, Festival Republic and individual designers on ways to initiate more sustainable methods and re-think the design sector’s impact on the environment. Since 2010 Thomas has been design director for sustainability consultancy Useful Projects, part of the UST group of companies that shares offices with Thomas.Matthews. She also makes and exhibits glass art pieces (in collaboration with UK glassblower Louis Thompson) that draw attention to marine pollution. Her exhibition ‘Broken Ocean’ won a Collect Open Award in 2019.
Sophie Thomas is quick to point out that graphic design is only one aspect of the work done by her multi-disciplinary practice Thomas.Matthews (TM). As time has gone by, her efforts have become more focused on the ‘urgent narrative’ she believes is missing around companies’ carbon and material use.
‘I’m a big-picture person, a campaigner. It is vital that the work we do and the clients we have reflect the world we aspire to be in.’
Confusion about what to do and anxiety about ‘brand risk’ can often lead to poor decisions made quickly and without proper understanding of the data. ‘When we face the quadrupling of global plastic production by 2050, we cannot stop at the small fights of rejecting plastic straws when we order our frappés. These must be a way into the bigger issues.’ (See also Thomas’s article ‘Living and decaying in the plastic age’ in Eye 94.)
Portrait by Phil Sayer.
John L. Walters, editor of Eye, London
Read the full version in Eye no. 100 vol. 25, 2020
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