Celebrating diversity and challenging the ideal: Jacques Bam's vision for The BAM Collective
By Lindelwa Masuku
In this week's edition of Threads of Inspiration, we sat down with Jacques Bam, the Creative Director of The BAM Collective, a luxury South African fashion brand.
Jacques Bam completed his BA in Fashion Design and BA Honours in Fashion, both summa cum laude, at LISOF, where he won the SA Fashion Week student competition.
He interned with ERRE and Isabel de Villiers and launched his brand in 2019 as a finalist at the SA Fashion Week New Talent Search.
In this interview, Jacques Bam talks about his background and journey as a fashion designer. He also shares the inspiration behind his latest collection, MORPHISM, and the emotional connection we have with clothing.
Jacques Bam discusses a memorable moment in his journey as a designer and highlights the success his brand achieved in 2022.
1. Can you tell us about your background and how you got into fashion design?
I have always wanted to be a fashion designer. I used to be that kid in primary school that would carry a file with all my designs into class, sit and sketch, come back home and sketch some more. My parents saw this quite early on and enrolled me in art classes and later on in some theatre classes.
As soon as I was done with school I headed straight to fashion college, during which I also worked as an assistant stylist. After finishing my degree I went on to do my honours degree and that is really when things started falling into place.
During that time I won the SA Fashion Week student competition, which gave me the opportunity to intern with South African houses ERRE and Isabel De Villiers. Here I learnt everything I needed to know around the business of fashion. At the same time I also got invited to collaborate with MRP on a capsule collection called BAM x MRP.
This process taught me some great commercial skills and gave me the opportunity to acquire enough finances to start my brand. Fast forward almost four years and a few collections later and here we are today!
2. What inspires your designs and creative process? Particularly MORPHISM, your
I am inspired by two main things, the first being the liveliness of South Africans. I find that as South Africans we tend to be incredibly joyous, we love to have fun, make jokes and not take life too seriously, yet many of us do not always dress that way.
The brand aims to provide clothing that can be a visual representation of this, a way of dressing that speaks to the South African personality. I am also inspired by the complicated emotional connection we as humans have with the clothing we wear.
It is no secret that clothing has an immense impact on the way we feel about ourselves, as well as the way we communicate and move through the world. I want that connection to be one of joy and confidence. I want to create clothing that simply just makes us feel great and happy. Sartorial joy that transports us away from the sadness of banality that everyday life can bring, or that just simply adds a kick in your step on days where you might feel down.
In terms of the design process, I am fascinated with garment construction and patternmaking. While studying towards my honours I wrote a dissertation investigating the relationship between conceptual and commercial clothing, which is something I found incredibly interesting.
I love taking avant-gardist or conceptual ideas and finding ways of commercialising them in a way that makes the product understandable and wearable for the everyday consumer, constantly recontextualising where we draw the line between art and commerce.
MORPHISM 22/23 specifically was a really important collection for me, because we had the opportunity to showcase our own brand internationally for the first time. This meant that we really wanted to focus on designing a collection that cohesively spoke about everything The BAM Collective is about. We really wanted to focus on, and elevate, all the signifiers we are known for.
Strong silhouettes, bold colours, graphic prints and interesting architectural details. When I design and name a collection, I tend to take a very conceptual thought or feeling I have and contextualise it within the world of our brand. I usually tend to think about the emotional connection we have with clothing, but this time around I was thinking a lot about the physical connection we have with clothing as well.
In particular how we use clothing to conceal parts of our body we are unhappy with. I wanted to reverse this and use details within the collection to emphasise these parts of our bodies, placing details and accents on unconventional parts of garments.
The goal is to compel us to reconsider our ingrained ideas around beauty and the ideal, inspiring us to celebrate all parts of our bodies.
3. Can you share a memorable moment from your journey as a designer so far?
This is a very difficult question. Each moment or achievement has been so important to me as one often leads to another and they all have been vital in building the brand to where it is today. If I had to pick, although still quite wide in scope, I would have to say the whole of 2022.
The year has been so incredible for us! We had the opportunity to showcase two collections at SA Fashion Week that I was really proud of. We collaborated with some great companies. We had the opportunity to showcase in Paris as part of the Africa Fashion UP showcase.
We had our first pieces acquired by some major art collectors and ended our year by winning the FIASA emerging talent award, as well as the trans seasonal awards at the TWYG Sustainability Awards. All in all a lovely year for us!
4. Can you tell us about a project or collection you are particularly proud of?
My goal is always to make sure that the most recent collection I make is always the one I am proudest of. I think that is a good way for me to measure my growth. So definitely the whole season around Morphism is my proudest moment.
As mentioned, we had the opportunity to showcase the collection in Paris, France as part of the Africa Fashion UP showcase. I have always dreamed of showing in Paris, a major capital in the fashion industry. I was the South African laureate, and it was an incredible feeling to know that I was there representing South African design talent.
We had the honour of winning the competition and we will now be receiving mentoring and business training from some major French design houses and colleges. It is truly a dream come true.
5. How do you stay current with fashion trends and incorporate them into your
To be honest I don't really. I always try to design from within myself and try not to look too much at fashion. I aim to design clothes that are not trendy and fleeting, but rather something more permanent.
Something that is timeless, not in the sense that it is a basic, but rather in the sense that it will forever exist in its own space as a statement piece, something free from trends which can become outdated with time. The last thing we want is for our items to be disposable.
6. How do you approach sustainability in your designs and production process?
There are many ways really. I think most people tend to think of sustainability as revolving around which fabric you use, which is true, but not the only factor. We use predominantly natural fibres in our commercial offering, although this is something quite difficult to do with the limited resources we have available in South Africa.
Bigger than this we try to focus on something that is easier for us to control - the well being of people, waste within the production process itself and the longevity of our products.
People are the first and most important thing to us, we source and produce everything locally, with almost all production happening in-house where we can ensure a safe and happy workplace for our team, offering above average wages.
I am nothing without my team. I named the brand The BAM Collective especially because of this, with the BAM being from my surname, while 'The Collective' refers to everyone apart from me that helps build the brand and make it a success.
I wanted everyone to be visible within the brand name, as transparency and sustainability go hand-in-hand.
You can even find the name of each person who made a garment printed on the care label inside of the garment. We also aim to reduce waste as far as possible, keeping large fabric off-cuts and end of roll fabric to sample up or experiment on instead of discarding them. We also most importantly produce per order, ensuring that we stray away from overproduction which has become a major problem within our industry.
This also aids in the longevity of our items, not only are we keenly focussed on quality, but because we produce each garment per order we can tailor it specifically to each customer.
When we receive an online order we assist the customer in taking measurements so that we can make the garment specific to their body. This minimises returns and discarding of garments. We also offer free repairs and alterations to any of our garments purchased online.
7. Can you share your plans for the future of your brand and career as a designer?
Right now we are planning on expanding a bit internationally. We have always and will always be a local brand, but are ready to grow the company a bit further with the aim of expanding and creating more jobs.
Our online store will open up internationally soon this year and we are currently working with some mentors towards participating in our first international wholesale showroom at the end of the year.
8. How do you plan to make an impact and stand out in the industry?
That's really difficult to answer actually. I don't know if I will be able to make the impact I would like, I don't even know if that should be my primary goal to be honest. For me the goal has always been to do something that I love and to do it well, to become a master at my craft.
I want to inspire, uplift and create a living for many while doing so.
I will always design from within myself and stay true to what I do. In that way I think our designs will always stay unique to us, something which has an essence that will be really hard for someone else to reproduce. I guess I hope that that will be enough to make an impact, just doing something that is ours.
9. What advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers?
I always say that I think the most important thing is to take your time and learn. Most of us are so eager to put ourselves out there and start a brand that we forget to strategize. I think I started the brand too early and I have heard many many other designers say this too. In many ways I feel like I am still catching up.
I think it is important to recognize that there are so many incredible designers who have come before us, especially locally, and they have paved the way for us. It is an important honour to learn from them and their years of experience.
Fashion like most things in the world is also just a business, a fun and creative business, but a business nonetheless. In South Africa it will take a long long time to become simply just the person giving creative direction.
You have to be a marketer, a strategist, a financial manager, a production manager and so much more first. Really the best way to acquire those specific skills for our industry is to try and learn from designers within our industry who have already done it. I think this is something so many people underestimate until it is too late.
Aspiring designers should take their time, learn, strategize and when they enter the industry with their own brand should do so with a foolproof business strategy and market.
Jacques Bam's passion for fashion started at an early age, and his dedication to his craft and business acumen led him to create his own brand, The BAM Collective. Through his designs, Jacques aims to celebrate the South African personality and create clothing that brings joy and confidence to the wearer.
His latest collection, MORPHISM, challenges ingrained ideas around beauty and inspires us to celebrate all parts of our bodies. Jacques Bam's accomplishments and success with The BAM Collective showcase his talent, hard work, and determination as a fashion designer.