The Tomorrow People, African Designers | EDGE Talks to Pretoria Designer, Sheila-Madge Bakker

The tomorrow people is what we can now call ourselves, because of the vision we hold as previously overlooked people/designers. African design brings forth a fresh vision and outlook or newness to international fashion platforms, implemented and seen in some of the top brands of the world. – Sheila-Madge Bakker [SMB]

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Sheila-Madge Bakker

I am very inspired by this interview because Sheila-Madge touches the language and spirit of EDGE.  As the founder of this platform recognizing the need to expose emerging designers, the Sheila-Madge brand stands their ground when it comes to creativity, innovation, and building a collection with meaning.  I can’t emphasize this enough:  the fashion industry is in a rut when it comes to this spiraling cycle of derivatives of the same!!!  In a recent interview with Silvia Giovanardi, she tells it like it is, ‘the fashion industry needs to demonstrate that it took awareness about the bad situation it caused with superficiality’.  Sheila-Madge integrates her South African roots and culture with a dynamic execution of design with purpose, skill, conscious, collaboration, and most importantly a cultural significance with an artistic hand.

Enjoy the story of Sheila-Madge Bakker.

Sheila-Madge, how did you get started in fashion? 

My story is not a new, exciting or different one. I did have one of those typical made-the-barbie-clothing type of childhoods. My best friend Bernette Bergenthuin and I used to dress up in my mother and grandmother’s wedding dresses and parade around like queens. But then came a time when I wanted to scratch in the dirt to find treasures and minerals; fashion and frills long forgotten. It wasn’t long though, before I secretly started collecting vogue magazines. Naturally the magazine industry was an obvious career choice, but after getting my degree in publishing I started my career in fashion and was hooked for life. Design to death!

courtesy-of-sheila-madge-edgexpo-com-_39b3322-2What artist and/or designers do you admire and why?

I could name a few fashion designers and people in the fashion industry, but in all honesty, I hardly ever go in that direction when I need inspiration or feel stuck. I do have admiration for all fashion designers. It is a really tough industry to be in.

My main muse is Andel Olivier, an age-old friend and illustrator, now living in Cyprus. Her work is so light, free and colourful. I was privileged to collaborate with her for the SS17 Black Lips range.

Another brand close to my heart is Lorean Jewelry. Their intricate floral crowns and hardworking spirit is most admirable. Not even to mention their outlook on life and design philosophy.

If I had to mention something fashion related, I would say that the evolution of African men’s fashion is admirable. Above all I admire nature as biggest generator of inspiration, evolution and creation.

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How does fashion connect to culture and how does that impact the design process?

Fashion never stands alone. Many external factors such as politics, the economy, social culture, identity groups and globalization plays a role in fashion as it is seen in a specific point in time.  As Africans we are privileged to move in an environment that is rich in culture and tradition.

Imitation of other countries that have been holding us back in design have now been broken by a definite idea of differentiation. African designers are starting to use their environment to portray an international vision.

The tomorrow people is what we can now call ourselves, because of the vision we hold as previously overlooked people/designers. African design brings forth a fresh vision and outlook or newness to international fashion platforms, implemented and seen in some of the top brands of the world.

Glocalization, the name for the combination of globalization and localization, is the direction of African fashion and culture, where there is a focus on local ideas but portrayed in an international standard of quality. – SMB

Now the challenge lies in finding the balance between what the consumer wants and what we as designers need to give the public in order to bring about new trends that are unique to Africa. In a culture where “high design” is not yet implemented in everyday life, and consumerism is still retail based, it is more difficult for designers to have freedom in designing garments that will break boundaries.

We can do this by breaking stereotypes, collaborating, by using skillsets that are understood and appreciated by our cultures and by involving the whole nation in the art of textile. There are so many people that could benefit from a job in beading, weaving, embroidering and many other that are unique to Africa. These skillsets should no longer be seen as exclusive, but should be a everyday thing as it were many years ago in tribes and settlements.

Africa is where its at!

Tell us about your Black Lips collection – the inspiration and story behind it.

Andel Olivier was formally educated in Fine Arts at the University of Stellenbosch, where she received her Honors Degree in Illustration in 2012. Since then, she has enjoyed doing various childrens book illustrations, working as a freelance designer and has been part of a few group/solo exhibitions in South Africa and Mauritius. 

Sheila-Madge Bakker is a Pretoria-based designer who reconciles concept and the Avant-garde with wearability, assimilating the fashionable masses to thought-out clothing and deliberate living. 

This particular collaboration was inspired by their mutual love for unexplained phenomena, nature and growing up in South africa.

The collection explores the versatility of African art and the different ways other cultures borrow from the African identity. With the exposure to new cultural influences, it is twisted into something unique. The main Exploration was that of the Louisiana Bayou. Trade slaves from Africa were sent to work on the plantations and farms in Louisiana, situated near the swamps, it was the perfect breeding ground for the use of African Mysticism and the practice of sympathetic magic to conjure up their own type of Magic known as Voodoo. Voodoo, contrary to popular belief, was mainly used for good and not evil. The theme is used loosely to enclose a philosophy more than a direct idea. We wanted to showcase just how influential the African diaspora has been on an international level, for centuries.

A combination of block-printed textiles, embroidery, knitting and beading is explored in celebration of skill-sets unique to South Africa.

Ahh. . .what a story. . . thank you for that aspect of cultural history both with South Africa and the Louisiana Bayou.

I call fashion design living sculpture. An idea used in many forms as 3D object in a functional manner, taken away by a consumer to live a different life within that person’s lifestyle or cultural sphere. – SMB

What effective means of exposure do you use to communicate to your targeted audience?

In a day and age where people hardly have time to sit still, it is my belief that the importance of communication lies in visual culture. I try to tell as many stories around a product on as many platforms as possible. We have many different peoples in South Africa, each with their own background, to perceive a product in a different way to that of their fellow countrymen.

By telling a story with images, the consumer can make up their own mind about the milieu of the product. It is true that a design takes on its own form when it is relieved of the restrictions connected to it by the designer. With the help of a Creative team, the product can be shown in a new light, new angle or different way to that what was intended.

I feel it is incredibly important for the product/design to grow organically out of the hands of the designer. That is why I call fashion design living sculpture. An idea used in many forms as 3D object in a functional manner, taken away by a consumer to live a different life within that person’s lifestyle or cultural sphere.

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Sheila-Madge, how would you describe today’s fashion?   What would you like the future of fashion to look like and do you think we’ll get there?

There are hardly any restrictions for us today. In the 90’s, punk culture opposed rigid right wing politics and culture. In the 80’s, women wore clothing as a power tool to oppress ideas of patriarchal culture in the workplace. There are many other examples to illustrate fashion as a tool for uprising. We now have little and everything to fight for. 

Conservation of nature, and clean living drives people to be more conscious about the origin and manufacturing methods of their clothing.  Gender equality sways fashion into androgynous masterpieces.  Feminism and female rights activists can either be seen in overly female garments or masculine shapes.

There are so many causes to dress for, which gives the fashion world a broad spectrum to work with. So broad in fact that identity is lost if the focus is not narrowed into a specific niche.

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By standing together we learn from each other and add value to products. – SMB

How does the business side of the brand affect how you think about the creative side?  

As designer you are 90% business(wo)man and 10% designer, but with that it is important to remember to embrace your surroundings, your upbringing, your background, your country, and use them all to influence your designs. Forget about what the others are doing, how they conduct their business, do your own thing, no matter how ridiculous or outrages it may seem, somewhere in the world there is someone that will give anything to wear it. You just need to find a way to target and reach that person. The great thing about having a business in the creative sector is that one can more easily come up with creative solutions to intricate problems.

One of these solutions being implemented in (South) African design is collaboration. Inclusion and community are highly regarded values in all the cultures of our country. We are a very tactile-practical nation with many skills, by combining different industries we get products that are truly unique to our country. By standing together we learn from each other and add value to products. I really believe that South Africa is rising up into the textile phenomenon it should be.

Because we have challenges in the availability of textiles, machines and hardware, we come up with creative solutions to compensate for the lack of things that are not readily available to us. – SMB

Persevere, have integrity, and as my dad always says: Don’t JUST go for it, Go it!

courtesy-of-sheila-madge-edgexpo-com-_39b3322-13Congratulations to the Sheila-Madge brand!  EDGE wishes you continued focus, purpose, and success.

Read more interviews on emerging designers and brands at EDGE Radar.

Image credits: 
Head shots:  Photographer, Bernard Brand.
 
Black Lips collection:  Photographer, Chris Saunders; Stylist, Kristi Vlok; HMUA, Liezl Leach; Model, Phetogo at Boss Models; Assistants, L’mri Erasmus and Blunke Jv Rensburg.