Belle's Journal No.1 Sjoukje Bierma

Sjoukje invited us into her studio with high ceilings, enormous windows and plenty of light, located in an old school in Amsterdam Oud- West. Sjoukje illustrates for media, fashion designers and fashion brands.

Tell us about your background and your earliest experiences with fashion.
I grew up in Friesland, the Northern part of the Netherlands, and my grandmother – beppe – was a true style icon. I always admired her for that. Everywhere she went the heads turned, especially in Friesland. She always wore lady suits and fur coats. She really looked fabulous. And at the same time my mother always sewed my clothes and she taught me to make my own. That’s how I became related to fashion.

How did you become a fashion illustrator?

I always spend a lot of time drawing during my childhood and as a child I always dreamt of going to an art academy. When I turned 18 I actually went to an art academy: ArtEZ, in Arnhem, to study fashion design, where we had many drawing lessons like model drawing and fashion illustration. After graduation I worked in the fashion industry in many different creative functions. I worked as a fashion designer, concept developer and accessories designer but also as an illustrator. 10 years ago I decided to focus on what I love most and do best, illustrating and painting. I started with dogs actually, because I was done with fashion for a while. But after a certain period of time I turned back to fashion and started with a big exhibition of my work during fashion week in Amsterdam.

What distinguishes your work?
I think you can always find a mix of elegance and strength in my illustrations and portraits. And they always tell a story, or at least it seems that way. And it’s true craftsmanship; I don’t draw on the computer.

Who or what inspires you?
I really enjoy watching art of extraordinary and extremely talented colleague artists: people that are really good in craft and understand proportions. I miss that a lot in illustrations I see. And then I always wonder: how can you design fashion when you don’t understand that an elbow is located on waist length instead of hip length. And I still get swept away by the elegance of the 40’s and 50’s, the art nouveau movement, the Pre-Raphaelites and the collections from various past and present couturiers.

How would you describe your relationship to fashion?
It’s a relationship of love and hatred. No really, I love it and I hate at the same time. My love for fashion is the creativity that comes with it. And god, I really love well-made clothes. But I don’t like the disrupting fashion industry, the mass consumption, everybody looking the same on the streets, the trends and of course the negative impact of the fashion industry on our planet.

What is your opinion about the fashion industry nowadays?
A lot of fashion is very poorly made, that’s my biggest irritation I guess. There’s no soul in a lot of designs, or in the way it is made. A lot of fashion nowadays is simply hideous. And when I look at street style, I see a lot of copy paste. What about personal style people? Last thing I want to add: I don’t like that everything is made of 100% polyester or other synthetic fabrics nowadays. I understand that in order to make a sustainable piece of clothing you need to blend cotton with polyester, or else the cotton shirt doesn’t last that long. But so many brands use more then 60% polyester because it’s cheap.

What can regular people like you and me do to improve it?
First of all: buy less. Second: by small brands, because that’s not mass consumption and smaller brands overall have a more humane production chain then the bigger brands, a much better quality and it is made with so much more love. Third: think about your own personal style. Ask yourself questions like what’s your style and does this item fit your body. I do already see and expect even more consciousness in the approach of fashion. More and more people are becoming aware and that makes them think about their fashion choices and about their style. That makes people more creative and that’s a development I really like.