Alana Gunn

Alana Gunn

Creative Director + Owner / Kukukachu

Design

Alana Gunn is my own personal career crush.

You see, in this perpetual quest to uncover the most eminent, trail blazing career stories, Alana’s stands out for a million reasons. Her oeuvre? A creative riot of exclusive artwork prints for Swimwear, Women’s, Men’s and Children’s fashion labels.  

You may not know the name Alana Gunn, but despite her relative obscurity you are likely to have seen many of her creations before or even worn some yourself. Alana has designed and directed textile prints used by some of the country’s top designers and brands such as Billabong, Zulu & Zephyr, Seafolly, Bonds, Ripcurl, MinkPink, Victoria’s Secret, Macy’s, Three of Something, Somedays Lovin’, and Kivari… just to name a few.

Talk about a cool career, right?

In this #careerstory we tell you where Alana studied design, what she thought of the process, where her first job was, and what motivated her to start her own business. If you know of a girl wanting a career in fashion design, textiles, or even the business side of fashion then this is the interview for them. 

Let’s dive in…

Alana, thank you for joining us today. Can you start by telling us about yourself and where you grew up? 

I grew up in a coastal town on the Mid North Coast of NSW, small town minded I still carry those values today.

Where did you go to High School, did you love school? Tell us about your experience. 

I went to High School in Port Macquarie, I was a pretty quiet and introverted kid with a bit of quirkiness attached. I don’t remember being a huge fan of school, it was just school.

I do remember though, that I could not wait to start living my life once I got out. I always felt older than I was, maybe that had something to do with it.

Ahhhh same here, I always felt that I was older than I was and couldn’t wait to finish school. Let’s talk more about your high school. Do you think they prepared you for further education and career options?

I was lucky enough to have some extremely supportive teachers in my creative subjects that really believed in me. I still remember them and think back to the encouragement they gave me to this day.

Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.

No, our school didn’t have those kind of opportunities available when I was there.

I was working at Baskins Robbins since I was 16 and had a really great working experience with such a fun team. Thanks Bob and Carol :)

Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?

I went to Billy Blue College of Design in Sydney, and studied a BA in Applied Design. My 1st choice was actually to study Zoology, I was however pretty shocking at Maths and Science. Fortunately this led me down my creative path instead.

I chose to study Graphic Design as the arts were always my strength at school and something I always enjoyed doing. I think initially when I started Uni I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator or an art director in film to come to think of it.

I chose to study at Billy Blue because at the time I was there 90% of the course was practical work. A lot of other designers I know who have studied the same degree left with minimal technical skills and had to learn on the job.

I was lucky enough to step out into the work force like a bull at the gate with super speedy skills to boot.

Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.

Straight out of Uni I started working for a surf company, Ocean & Earth, in a tiny town on the South Coast of NSW as their Junior Graphic/Design Assistant. It was a really great experience and I learnt about the fashion side of graphics that I didn’t get to experience while studying at Billy Blue.

I travelled to the U.S and Europe with the design team on a sourcing trip and I also was allowed to bring my puppy Elvis to work with me. I realised the town was too small for me at the age of 21 so I packed up and moved back to Sydney.

From there, I worked for another surf company, Between the Flags, as their Graphic Designer and eventually Designer as well working on their Mens, Womens, Children’s and Accessories labels. I was there for two years and was doing everything from marketing graphics, fashion textiles and design, managing photo-shoots and became a bit of a jack of all trades.

I then got an itch to travel, said my good byes to the team, and moved to London to explore Europe for a year.

Alana’s dog Newman, and Kukukachu’s Chief Creative Director!

Wow, what an incredible trajectory Alana. So how did you start your own consultancy and biz?

After travelling, I moved back to Sydney and struggled to find work during the recession being a mid-weight designer. I settled for a few different fashion retail jobs and freelancing, never really feeling fulfilled. During that time I spent two years of interviewing for design roles with many companies only just to miss out every time (I’m very thankful to them though as many of them are now my clients).

I finally got fed up and said to myself…

‘If no one wants to give me a job, I’m going to make my own’, and that’s just what I did.

I realised I wasn’t going to be happy unless I was doing something I love and I’ve never looked back.

What is the hardest part of your current situation?

I’d say trying to lock out an entire day to be creative.

It’s something that I’ve been striving for but haven’t tackled yet. There’s always so many different aspects of my job that need my attention and hopefully one day soon I will conquer this.

What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job?

Every day for me is different, most mornings I start with an early pilates class, then a walk on the beach with my dog, Newman.

I come back to my home office make a coffee, and sit down at my back table looking over a paddock full of cows and start organising my day.

Once the caffeine has kicked in, my tasks will vary from creating mood boards, creative direction to the freelance team, marketing content and design, operations/accounts management, admin, designing and brainstorming new ideas.

Tool of the trade for a textile designer

Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?

To be honest, I never had a ‘hero’ growing up. I looked internally for inspiration being the introvert I am.

My greatest hero at the moment is Iris Apfel, I recently watched a documentary about her. I love her house. Her relationship with her husband, (they are like a couple of big kids). Her decision making throughout her career is based on whether or not it ‘will be fun’, and I think that is a great philosophy to live by and something I aspire to.

What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?

Three things:

Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do something. Anything is possible if you really want it and willing to put in a lot of hard work and perseverance.

Practice, practice, practice is key. Not only your drawings skills, but more importantly to exercise your innovative mind. To be able to think outside the box is what makes a good designer.

I would definitely recommend considering a tertiary education and/or internship to give you a leg up if it offers a large amount of technical training.

Textile design is a technical job and I always take that into account when taking on new freelancers to my team. In saying that I am a self taught textile designer, but having the knowledge of Photoshop and Illustrator that I did, made it all that much easier to learn on the job.

Alana and Newman at work in the studio.

List your most valuable resources that you turn to for inspiration:

  • Favourite Websites: I’m only on the computer when working so I’d say Pinterest is probably where I hang out the most.
  • Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: I can’t think of one there are so many. I just keep on scrolling, I follow an eclectic mix of artists, designers, fashion labels mostly.
  • Favourite Podcast: I’m not a podcast girl, but have been a sucker for an audible book on a long drive. My fav so far has been ‘Leaders Eat Last – by Simon Sinek
  • Favourite Netflix Series: I’d have to go with Stranger Things

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