Pretoria-based fashion designer Sheila-Madge Bakker reconciles concept and the avant-garde with wearability. Her latest collaboration with illustrator Andel Olivier explores block-printed textiles, embroidery, knitting and beading. We needed to know more…


A typical working day for you…Tea, work, tea, work, tea, work, tea, work…

Your studio space is…Like the earth after a rocket launched into space, lined with colour, sketches, fabrics, patterns, candles, plants and flowers. You cannot find anything you need, but ask Blunke (my main Guru in studio) – she can find anything in the chaos!

Three words or a quote that best describes your work…More is more.


Do you have one particular collection that is your favorite? Ha! That is like asking a mother which child she likes best. I love all my collections for different reasons. The latest one is very special however. It is the first collection I will be selling commercially and it was a wonderful collaboration with my friend Andel Olivier.

Please elaborate on the concept behind your latest collaboration with Andel. It was inspired by our mutual love for unexplained phenomena, nature and growing up in South Africa. A combination of block-printed textiles, embroidery, knitting and beading is explored in celebration of skill-sets unique to South Africa.

We looked at the versitility of African art and the different ways other cultures borrow from the African identity.  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. 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.


Please elaborate your thoughts on use of colour, fabrics, textures. I have always believed “more is more”, within balance. If I could incorporate the sense of taste into clothing, I would! Natural fabrics are wonderful and more luxurious. It is harder to print on them though. That is why I use skill-driven techniques to manipulate them. There is however also a place for synthetics. What is better than a water-resistant raincoat when it’s raining? I love how each fabric type, has its own sound when the person wearing it moves.

In South Africa, we do not have as many fabric options, that is why I strongly believe in refabrication/ fabric manipulation. Take what you have and change it into something new. Design should not just regard the silhouette of a garment or the colour, the concept of the collection should stretch through all aspects into even the smallest detail of a single garment. Texture is the thing I believe in most! It is wonderful to involve the sense of touch by using interesting fabrics or knits, but print, embroidery, beading, colour combinations or  could also create texture.

Thoughts on sustainable design and following these processes in your business. I think its still really hard to find natural fabrics in South Africa, and if you do it is very expensive, which leaves little room for the exploration of design (usually just shift dresses or wrap-around dresses etc, more seams makes the process more expensive, makes the garments expensive). One could easily up cycle, which is a growing trend in SA, but you will be making once off garments, which are much harder to sell.

Thoughts on South Africans needing to support local talent. They just do. That’s that. The more we give them local, the easier it is for them to get it.

Specific rituals to prepare for new collections. I drink a lot of tea and then… I believe strongly in 90% research/prep and 10% execution. My designs are really time-consuming (with all the texture and beading etc), which just illustrates how long I take to conceptualize. I look at pictures, draw sketches, and then leave it to brew in the back of my mind. The design process is very organic and one must give room for change. The original idea or picture, sometimes turn out completely different to the end product. By the time the product is done, it has its own story. With that said, I think, I think too much and that is in my own way an escape plan into my own alternate reality.


Do you draw inspiration for your work from life, travel, people…? Nature! When I am stuck I go to a botanical garden, nursery or greenhouse or park, or go through all my books or watch a “Planet Earth”

Best advice you’ve ever been given? From my grandmother: “begin Januaaaaaarie” (begin in January) meaning, don’t think you still have time to do something, do it straight away. This counts for time sensitive matters, bucket lists, anything you need or want to get done before you die.

Top 3 major influences on your work? Nature; art; cultures

 Top 3 icons of all time? Eliza in “My Fair Lady”|  Hayao Miyazaki| My gran

Who should Elle Decoration be following on instagram?
@andedebeerable | @trotse_tert | @conservatory_archives | @thevelvetinsides

 Favorite words to live by? Words by my father, he says that one should not just do what you do, you should “Go it!” beyond expectations. Its not what you do, it is how you do it. Even if you are busy doing dishes or something you think meaningless, do it to the best of your ability.


Website | Instagram @sheilamadgedesign


Then you may want to read Artist Profile: Andel Olivier’s Abstract Series 

The 2017 Field Report is not about fleeting trends – its about quality and perfection, about bringing back traditional skills and craftsmanship. We speak to the visionaries, icons and experts who shape their unique, lasting and life-enhancing concepts for us to embrace through their designs, recipes, buildings and explorations. Pick up your copy today and tell us what you think on Twitter @Elle_Deco using #2017FieldReport.