Sophie Thomas

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am


Who is she? Sophie Thomas is the founding director of Britain-based communication design company thomas.matthews. She is also co-founder of Three Trees Don't Make a Forest, a social enterprise set up to educate and inspire communication designers, and Greengaged, a sustainable-design events and networking organisation.

What's her story? Thomas grew up in a family of activists. 'My parents were big in the peace movement in 1960s and 70s Britain,' she says. 'We were very active as a family in promoting nuclear disarmament. My first exposure to communication design was through political activism, through poster and campaign design.'

After earning her degree in graphic design from London's Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in 1994, Thomas enrolled in the Royal College of Art. In 1997, she collaborated with fellow student Christine Matthews on a project called 'What Goes Around Comes Around' (above far right), which led to the introduction of a recycling programme at the college cafeteria, and the formation of thomas.matthews.

What does her company do? Thomas.matthews established its name in 1997 with the 'No Shop' project, which was part of Friends of the Earth's 'Buy Nothing Day' campaign. 'We created a shop that sold nothing. The media coverage was enormous,' Thomas says. 'When we started, there weren't any companies doing sustainable communication design. Because we began with such a visually loud project, people thought we were bigger than two women with one laptop. In 15 years, we've created a big network and a sound reputation.'

In 2007, the firm designed the exhibition Market Values for English Heritage when London's Smithfield market was threatened with demolition. Other clients include Unilever UK, The Architecture Foundation, Capita Symonds, Shell and ActionAid.

'We do lots of print projects and now we are very good at auditing our carbon footprint,' Thomas says. 'We know our paper and ink sources, and how much post-consumer waste our materials will generate.'

What about Three Trees Don't Make a Forest and Greengaged? Thomas vocally promotes sustainable thinking in design education and regularly participates in conferences and workshops internationally. She was one of eight panel speakers at the Hong Kong Design Institute's 'Green is Cool - Designing for Sustainable Living' Forum recently.

'How do we deal with global growth in a sustainable way? For designers, it's a question of how we can produce things that are better, more responsible. When I go for talks I ask designers if they've considered where their materials come from and where their products will end up - and whether they have built those considerations into the design itself. It is about educating designers and that is where I focus.'