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The Irish Designers Reviving Bang On The Door

Words: Ciarán Howley
Images: @shvne.jpg

SADSAC designer Daniel Walters and Bang On The Door co-founder Karen Duncan have spent over a year working on the relaunch of Bang On the Door – the brand behind Groovy Chick and Friends. With the first drop on the way, Ciarán Howley chatted with the duo about nostalgia, sustainability and plans for the Groovy Chick & Friends universe.

Remember Groovy Chick? That colourful animated hippie girl who dominated the 90s and 2000s with t-shirts, pencil cases, lunch boxes, mugs and just about every conceivable item of merchandise. In many ways, she’s one of the faces of growing up in Ireland at that time.

What many do not know is, one of the company’s co-founders grew up in Omagh, County Tyrone. After graduating from a Printed Textiles course in Loughborough Art College, Karen Duncan knew she wanted to be her own boss.

In 1988, she set up shop at a stall in Camden Market with business partner Samantha Stringle where the pair began selling hand-printed t-shirts with striking yet adorable animal designs. While different designs and new characters would emerge since that first batch, Bang on the Door’s endearing feel would be a constant. 

“We just kept doing that and then we started supplying shops with Groovy Chick and then it all kind of went from there.” 

We had a different concept in mind, but when we did the shoots with the photos that you’ve probably seen, Karen was really interested in bringing back the original t-shirts. And we could sort of see this vision of what it could be again.

Daniel Walters

Fast-forward to 2020 and the brand has a viral moment online. Irish author Sarah Maria Griffin tweeted about Groovy Chick t-shirts being sold on ASOS and a landslide of nostalgia erupted from original fans of the brand online.

Clearly, Bang On The Door still holds a big place in people’s hearts from their childhood.

Which brings us to the present-day as another self-made Irish designer is helping breathe new life into the brand as its new creative director. SADSAC is the alias and company of Donegal-based designer Daniel Walters who has built a global brand from his bedroom. In the case where most companies tap young talent to come into the fold, it was Walters who reached out to Duncan. 

With his designs selling like hot cakes and even seen sported by famous musicians, Walters was feeling incredibly optimistic. Looking forward, he began to think about his next move. 

“I’d absolutely love to collaborate with Groovy Chick. I think my character and her character together would be phenomenal,” he told someone at a party. When they told him one of the founders was actually based in Northern Ireland, he knew it was a sign. 

After months of emailing his interest to Duncan about working with the brand, she agreed to sit in on a Zoom call to hear out his ideas. Gradually, they developed a partnership and began working on a new avenue for Bang On The Door.

A year on, and the pair have begun exploring the brand’s archive with the hope of relaunching early collections chronologically. In the coming months, the pair will release the original Classic Animals tees, the first ever sold. 

We raided Karen’s old warehouse and there were loads of vintage Bang on the Door t-shirts,” says Walters. “We did a photoshoot last August and basically, we had a different concept in mind, but when we did the shoots with the photos that you’ve probably seen, Karen was really interested in bringing back the original t-shirts. And we could sort of see this vision of what it could be again.” 

Which hopefully means future re-releases of Groovy Chick are imminent.

Bang on the Door at its original Camden Market stall in London.

“You know, they had kind of been sitting in boxes and you (Daniel) were just raving about these old shirts from the 90’s. I was like ‘Really, are these that nice?’ But maybe they are!”

“I’m a vintage nerd so that was a heavenly experience for me,” he’s happy to admit. 

“That’s my thing about being an artist in Ireland, I refuse to emigrate. While everyone leaves I refuse to. I’m never leaving, there needs to be more opportunities here.

Daniel Walters

The pair are hoping the revival will not only draw in the original fans as well as a younger crowd with a penchant for vintage brands and the Y2K aesthetic.

While producing product photos, Walters styled the shirt a few different ways resembling pretty accurately just how young Irish people will probably style it when they get their hands on it.

SADSAC as a brand embraces its Irish identity and has collaborated in the past with Irish musicians like SOAK. And while Walters is open to working with modelling agencies, he often approaches people in his native Donegal to model.

“I just shoot with local people who’ve never modelled before,” Walters says with pride. “That’s my thing about being an artist in Ireland, I refuse to emigrate. While everyone leaves, I refuse to. I’m never leaving, there needs to be more opportunities here. But yeah it’s nice to do that with the local people.”

“I was a big fan of Supreme when I was growing up and just seeing people model in skate parks. There were so many opportunities there, you could just be a skateboarder and model. But in Donegal if you skateboarded, you just get called names. It was just so cool to see some of the local skaters get paid for a gig and that’s really what it’s all about.”

Being able to create opportunities was one priority for the pair, but another greater one was making sure the product was sustainable.

“You have to understand, we spent the last year developing this product. The design is insane and the fact that the two of us came together to create this is really cool in itself. It’s very patriotic. But to produce such a sustainable product like this that’s like full screen-printed with like water-with-water based ink. There’s just no one else out there doing anything like this.”

It’s easy to say “oh we use recyclable cotton” but it doesn’t actually mean a lot. You know, we could have a cheaper t-shirt, we could use cheaper inks but we’ve chosen not to. We know that means we’ll sell less but that’s okay.”

Karen Duncan

Screen-printing is a form of garment making that has been criticised for its harmful environmental impacts. Walters and Duncan used a water-based ink to circumvent the pollution and hazardous waste normally associated with the practice. From the labels to the packaging, everything is organic, recyclable or plastic-free. With three decades in the business, Duncan is well aware of the ills of greenwashing campaigns and fashion brands reneging on their promises. 

“That’s why I think it’s important that you have to be able to show that you can back that up. It’s easy to say “oh we use recyclable cotton” but it doesn’t actually mean a lot. You know, we could have a cheaper t-shirt, we could use cheaper inks but we’ve chosen not to. We know that means we’ll sell less but that’s okay.”

While it may dent profits, it’s something that brands are facing increasing scrutiny over. Last week, Patagonia founder Yvan Chouinard pledged the entirety of his company to environmentally conscious companies. Setting a high bar, brands can no longer hide behind greenwashing campaigns with vague-sounding initiatives. The pair are in good stead for the more eco-conscious consumer base that awaits them.

Creatively, they’re a match made in heaven. Their first drop is expected to arrive later this Autumn.