It’s Saturday afternoon and we’re sitting in a bustling restaurant on Oxford Street, Bulimba. The past week has been wet and dreary, which is unusual for Brisbane. As we’re settling in, I commented on the weather and said I miss the sunshine. Sharka, the designer I’m about to interview, looks up at me warmly and her response immediately puts everything into perspective.
I knew in advance that I would be discussing her recent trip to Madagascar where she witnessed the aftermath of a treacherous cyclone Enawo. I’d soon find out that the details were quite confronting. Homes were destroyed and destruction was everywhere yet, the community united and was rebuilding what was broken.
Let me introduce you to Sharka Bosakova, the designer behind her self-titled label. Her aesthetic is best described as, “simplicity that is functional and elegant.” She studied in Europe in the Czech Republic and came to Brisbane on a student visa to study the Creative Industries.
She was fascinated with Australia’s untapped potential. For her, it was a blank canvass of endless opportunities to discover, create and establish.
Sharka’s aesthetic is cutting edge compared to what Brisbane is used to but that hasn’t stopped her from plunging into the market. “It has been challenging, but at the same time, when I go back to Europe I can see that I am ahead. I’m looking at merging those two worlds into one label.”
“I have a background in theatre, fashion design, jewellery making, silver smithing and blacksmithing. These [experiences] have given me a mindset about how I approach building a garment,” she says enthusiastically.
As she tells me about her humble beginnings of being accepted into the QUT Fashion Incubator program through to meeting and mingling with fellow designers, I can see a certain fire shining through.
There is a moment in-between her latte sips that Sharka goes silent, then looks at me and says, “I have a need to create, I basically cannot exist without creating.”
From that point on, the entire interview felt like a rollercoaster of emotions. It was refreshing and empowering to look beyond the stereotypical fashion industry and see and feel such a depth of passion from a designer.
Since starting her label, Sharka has been establishing her brand in Australia and in Europe. She’s presented her collections at fashion shows, gallery installations and more. Recently, she was asked to showcase in Slovakia for a runway event called Fashion Live, organised by Creative Director Olo Krizova the head of the Czech Fashion Council. Little did she know this would lead her to a much bigger opportunity.
While she was sewing and preparing for the event in Europe a final week before the show, Sharka was accommodated at Pressburg a ‘botel’ (a hotel on a boat) on the Danube River in Bratislava. Here, she befriended the crew that would lead her to Madagascar on a trip that she would never forget. Despite not having a clear strategy of what she wanted to achieve during the time there, Sharka bravely decided to see where this adventure would take her.
Thanks to her few connections, she was introduced to the past Mayor of Antalaha and his family. She admired the strength of the community and their resilience in overcoming the harsh conditions. “I think oh my goodness, it’s impressive. I admire them for what they achieve every day and for what they do.”
Sharka stayed in Madagascar for 3 months. For her, this was not a relaxing getaway; this was an experience. “I wasn’t there for a holiday, I’m used to always working.”
After about a month of becoming familiar with the culture, she decided she was ready to do something that would have a positive affect on the community. By working closely with her connections, she started running classes in one of the villages that taught women how to embroider.
The very first class started with 5-6 women and by the end she finished with 3 graduates who she proudly calls her ‘stars’. “They understood the opportunity and worked really hard because they knew it could change their lives.”
“We would sit in a circle [while working] and we would understand each other even though we didn’t speak the same language. There is this powerful connection among women,” says Sharka.
“I was very proud of them and I told them to be proud. I said, ‘Look, you made this with your hands. I will put this in a nice boutique in Europe and Australia, it will be hanging on a hanger and people will be looking at it. Every stitch you make, make it your profession. You are not nameless, I will always mention your names. So be proud, because this is your work.”
Creating garments in Madagascar doesn’t replicate the fast fashion turnaround that we’re used it. Instead, it is a sustainable and detailed process that can take up to several days for cutting, sewing and embroidering. Each piece is handmade and special. This model has the capacity to positively affect these women’s lives and create change within their community.
Now, Sharka is selling these samples in Brisbane and sending the money back to Madagascar for the women so they can keep producing the garments. “This is the first step,” she says.
“I have also set up a GoFundMe page, and I am trying to raise money with a goal of $5000 for the Madagascar people. This money will build a house that will also be a school for the children.”
“I love the craft of the traditional cultures. It’s so important to keep it alive, particularly in our industry. We also have the opportunity to change people’s lives,” she says. Maybe for us it’s not much, but for these people, even if it’s a little change – it means a lot.”