Tell us about your background. Where did you first discover your passion for illustration and design?
I am a self-taught illustrator and designer. Skinny laMinx started in 2007 when I began experimenting with hand-cut paper cutouts and simple screenprinting on fabric. I opened an online shop, started getting wholesale orders from retailers in the USA, and things took off from there. Skinny laMinx is now a thriving business; we operate from our store and studio at 201 Bree Street in Cape Town, have two online shops and supply goods to like-minded stores all over the world.
How did you expand your fabric and wallpaper knowledge? What has been a particular influence in this regard?
I grew up in the 1970s and my mom and her pals were always doing courses on batik, macramé, pottery or how to put up wallpaper. So if this is a trend, it's been around for a while!
I think people have always loved learning about how to make things themselves. It’s just that these days, with sites like Pinterest, it has perhaps become a little easier to get inspired.
How would you describe your work?
I make simple, clear designs which are screenprinted onto fabrics, printed onto stationery or licensed to other companies. My designs are influenced by the colours and style of the mid-century, by Scandinavian and Japanese simplicity, by my travels, and also by my surroundings in Cape Town.
Please share your design process with us.
Many of my designs don't really start out with the intention of becoming a final product. Often I make a sketch or a doodle, or start making a papercut or a lino block print with the intention of doing it just for fun. If that bit of fun sticks around, it might just end up as a fabric design.
A few years ago I started doing something called ‘Making Friday’, when I try to stop doing the million and one things on my ‘to do’ list and instead mess about in my studio. It's surprising how often the results of this 'not work' end up being my work.
Many businesses start as a local store and then move to an online platform. Yet Skinny laMinx was already a well-established online portal when you opened your Bree Street store in Cape Town. What prompted this decision?
Skinny laMinx grew out of a blog which I started in 2006, when I was messing around with screenprinting in my spare time. I opened an online shop on the newly-created Etsy platform and within a very short space of time I had customers all over the world, including wholesale stockists. To be honest, I didn't really intend to start a business at all.
Opening our store was a bit of an add-on to the studio space we had behind the shopfront. But, over the three years that we've been here, the store has become a major part of our revenue base and we have had to expand the studio and take over the lease of the entire top floor above the shop too.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Just about anything, really. I've made designs from drawings of my vintage tea cup collection, from an Ikea catalogue, from chopped-up bits of sticky paper, and from noticing plants peeping through gaps in a fence.
I am an enthusiastic Instagrammer and really enjoy the opportunity this platform gives me to stop and frame something that I notice, then share it with others. The discipline of taking a photo has made me become better at noticing compositions, colours and shapes. So I can say that even Instagram is inspiring!
What do you like to express through your work at Skinny laMinx?
I try to make patterns that are simple, pleasing, useful and timeless. If I were to claim to be expressing anything, it might be something along the lines of how normal things – simple shapes, colours and objects – can be compelling when arranged just right.
What are you currently working on?
As I write this I am in the throes of styling and shooting the catalogue for our annual fabric collection. It's a high-pressure time, but it's always very exciting when we start taking the brand new fabrics off their rolls and seeing the patterns coming to life as furniture, lampshades, cushions … and more.
Your products are available globally. What was your greatest achievement in this regard and has it influenced your product range at all?
Because we started out by selling internationally and it took a while to get South Africans to take note, I think our biggest achievement has been to have such a busy and popular store right here at home.
We have loads of local fans. Also, a lot of people visiting Cape Town from Colombia, Sweden, Iceland or the US have the Skinny laMinx shop on their ‘must see’ list. For me, that is a marvel!
What do you consider your single biggest learning throughout your
Skinny laMinx journey?
Because I started this thing by myself, there have been times where it has been difficult to let go of the reins. But I have realised that lovely designs are just one aspect.
Running a production-based business cannot be a one-person operation; without a dedicated and enthusiastic team, the designs are not enough. I’m very grateful for the fabulous gals at Skinny laMinx.
Exciting plans for the future?
This year is proving to be very exciting. My latest quilting collection – on organic cotton for US company Cloud9 Fabrics – has just been released. We're about to launch a collection of hand block-printed scarves that I designed in India and in May we're launching the new Skinny laMinx fabric collection. In June I'm off to visit stockists and clients in the US. Then, in October I'll be back in Jaipur in India, teaching block printing with Ritchie Ace Camps.
What would be your advice to young designer starting out?
Get a good website, learn to take and edit good photos, and make sure your press releases are well written. Oh, and take your vitamins …
How big is the team at Skinny la Minx?
I’m Heather and I started Skinny laMinx way back in 2006 in a funny little studio I shared with some painters on Long Street in Cape Town. (See some of my very early blog posts, if you’re interested in ancient history). I create all the designs around here, take most of our photographs and I’m a nut for social media.
Pearl is the business brain and joined the team in 2010. Our wholesale customers will know her well for her insanely efficient working style and on-the-ball manner. Quick of thought and action, Pearl is a fantastic strategic planner and getter-of-things-done.
Arlene is our shop manager at the Bree Street store. It’s no simple task to fit all that pattern and colour into such a small space without complete visual overload. But she’s a whizz at it, creating beautiful vignettes wherever you look. Our shop is doing better than ever, thanks to Arlene.
Melissa is my design assistant, helping with product photography, picture editing, and an ever-expanding range of design-related tasks. She started as an intern with us, fresh out of Surface Design studies at Cape Peninsula University of Technology, and her unflappability and adaptability has made her an essential member of our team.
Sonia has just returned to Skinny laMinx after having worked with us about four years ago in the role of online shop manager. Her two little ones have just started school, so she’s back in the working world and we’re so happy to have her with us again.
Belinda wowed us this time last year when she came back from her wedding, coming to work every day in spectacular traditional post-wedding outfits, befitting her new status as a mfazi (wife). B helps Maleeka with wholesale orders and handles all the packaging of our products too.
Sarah has a juggling job – and that doesn’t even include juggling the demands of her two kids! She juggles giant rolls of fabric as she plans our basecloth orders, looks into the future to plot our print runs, keeps an eye on levels in our fabric store, and sweet-talks our printers into sticking to schedule. It’s no simple task, but she’s a production whizz and remains calm under pressure.
Maleeka has been with Skinny laMinx for a long, long time. She used to work at the Silk & Cotton Co. showroom in Greenpoint in Cape Town, and when we opened our store-within-a-store there she became our shop manager too. These days, she manages our stock levels, wholesale orders and works with our cutting and seamstress crew to keep up the flow across all our sales channels. It’s a busy job and you will seldom see Maleeka pause – except, occasionally, so do one of her trademark ‘mighty mouse’ sneezes.
Get in touch
Skinny la Minx:
(021) 424 6290, firstname.lastname@example.org or