Barking up the design tree

After years of hard work and dedication, one entrepreneur has finally opened his studio.

10 December 2018 | Business

I was just so inspired by what is achievable if you put your creativity to work, that I decided to rather work towards my own goals. Schalk Steenkamp, owner

Yolanda Nel - After years of hard work and pop-up shops, one artist recently opened a brand new studio in the capital.

Bark Design Studio has been on the block for some time, but says owner Schalk Steenkamp, they moved into their new studio about two months ago. “Now we can finally host events and have clients view our showroom,” he says.

During the official launch that took place last Friday, guests got a glimpse into the 2019 range. This includes some new homeware products where they explored combining different materials with leather.

The idea to open Bark Studio came after Schalk finished an internship at European designer Piet Hein in 2015. “I was just so inspired by what is achievable if you put your creativity to work, that I decided to rather work towards my own goals than sitting in an office working towards someone else's,” he says. He was doing some freelance work when he returned to Namibia, designing exhibition spaces and furniture and finally decided to register the studio in January 2016.



Three-person team

Two ladies are part of the team. Johanna used to work as the head seamstress at Schalk's parents clothing factory in the late 80s. “She is known by the majority of Windhoek as the lady who can repair and make any clothing item,” he laughs.

According to him, Johanna is an incredible seamstress and since they make all their designs by hand, she often prototypes bags out of offcut material to speed up the process. When Schalk approached her the first time, she was busy with a large project and referred him to Otilli.

Otilli worked at Leather Connection, one of the biggest leather shops at the time, for over 15 years and has a large knowledge about finishes, dyes and stitching methods. “She also advises me on pattern making and ensures that the bags will have the strongest possible stitches and reinforcings.”

One of the biggest challenges was not to give up. “I wanted to give up so many times because of Namibia's small population. We have a limited amount of clients and getting our foot into the international market has been our main focus over the last year. This requires funding as you need to attend international events and expos in order to get exposure for the brand.”



Value add

According to Schalk, because Namibia is one of the largest exporters of meat in Africa, the small scale farmers often forget about the value of the skins. Nakara has established a strong relationship with local farmers and suppliers, yet not all skins were being tanned, as the supply was larger than the demand. “We approached them with the initial idea of using skins that were rejected due to imperfections but realised that this will affect the quality of our end product. Nakara has since been exporting to South Africa, the US and Europe. After two years of supplying us, we have reached a point where we can get custom colours and finishes on a small scale,” he says.

This enables them to do once-off designs. None of this would have been possible if Nakara didn't change the way they source their raw skins, focusing more on small scale farmers than large commercial.

Throughout their journey, moving into their first studio in 2016 was quite a milestone. “I see the studio as the spaceship that will take us where we need to be but it is important that we have fun while on the journey.”



Highlights

Getting chosen to represent Bark Design at the Red Bull Amaphiko Connect in Johannesburg was definitely one of the highlights of the year so far. “I got to experience people's reactions to seeing our products outside of Namibia which was very humbling.”

Their bags even featured on a runway at the Windhoek Fashion Week, “which was incredible to see in a collaboration with lnls apparel”.

Schalk gets most of his inspiration by being in nature. “In Namibia you can't help but feel inspired by the textures and colours of the landscapes around you. I'd say what keeps me motivated is the unknown, to keep pushing my designs,” he says.

Because he's been working towards this dream for almost three years without giving up, with every design they make, their skills are increasing and he can't wait to see what his products will look like in five years' time.

By then, he hopes to become the leading design studio in Namibia, having a space where creatives can explore and learn new skills while pushing the boundaries of a material such as leather to create new and innovative designs. With the main core of the business being the bags, Schalk hopes that by then they will start to branch out more into furniture and lighting design.

Bark Design products can be bought in the studio or through their social media platforms. Visit their website at www.barkdesignstudio.co.za.

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