The Creative Life of…Zakee Shariff

I met London-based artist and designer Zakee Shariff about ten years ago through a mutual friend who was wearing one of her designs.

Zakee’s worked on a variety of collaborations across music, fashion and books. Whether on ethical clothing brand People Tree, the much-loved book ‘Fashion A To Z, An Illustrated Dictionary’, art directing with Sam Hardaker of band Zero Seven for their album ‘Record’ , to creating a piece for women for International Women’s Day, 2012 for The W Project, it’s clear that Zakee’s career is based on her interests and where her instincts have taken her.

Taking inspiration from her signature artworks, Zakee has created limited edition clothing, interior, design and art pieces that are exclusively available online. Where possible, all designs are made using products and materials from the UK/Europe (each Limited Zakee piece is named & numbered & with a certificate of authentication) and printed by hand.

As I was writing out Zakee’s bio for this post, I realised the value of Zakee’s story, how unconventional ubringings, mixed heritage, travel, and a sense of curiosity can-in combination with nurturing and self awareness- lead to earning a living whist being creatively fulfilled.

‘Otherness’ can be such a gift.
I was born in Stamford Brook, West London. Then as a baby and a toddler, moved to the heart of London’s West End where my parents had their offices. My Indian Mother (born and raised in East Africa) was a textile/fashion designer and my American, Caucasian Stepfather was a business man, working on the manufacturing of shoes and bags. though my natural father is Indian-born and like my Mum, also raised in East Africa.

We left the UK in 1972 and went to live in Pakistan but left in 1977 because of a military coup, returning to London where we lived In Holloway until I left School.

My InspirationZak and Jubilee Pakistan
My first inspiration is my mother Jubilee. She is a shining light of strength, fortitude and talent who always taught me to go for what I believed in and work for myself. To this day she is my champion. Aside from that, compassionate women and men are my inspiration, empowered women of all heritage, people who really wanna give something back to the world and empower, heal and support others.

Ever since I was tiny I knew that I had to draw. Without it I couldn’t survive.
As a child, I found it hard to express my self with the spoken and written word because I’m dyslexic, so my mum gave me a bag of pens and some paper and told me to draw what I felt, and what I wanted to say.

That has stayed with me ever since. Drawing is something I HAVE to do, if I couldn’t draw I think I’d go out of my mind.

Clearly my mum always knew I was going to a creative of some sort, so she encouraged me to go to art school. My Stepdad wanted me to study law, but he soon came round to it, and now celebrates what I do.

They both always loved and supported young artists and I was very blessed to grow up in houses full of art all around me, which definitely influenced me greatly so my love of music really was born in my childhood too. Growing up with my folks taught me a lot about clothing manufacturing, so I think I have a pretty good business mindset too.

Being a Londoner, my love for the music I heard growing up (my mum and older brother were big music lovers) helped to further instil in me a very creative mind. At 13 I started my own market stall in Camden that gave me an amazing grounding in street culture and those 3 years-every week-was such a huge influence on me regarding my relationship to fashion.

Having mixed parents-in terms of cuture and religion, who both loved travel, literally opened up a whole world to me so naturally, travel has also became a huge inspiration to my work.

My spirituality, also something my mother encouraged me to explore, is something which has evolved through time and age. I started to meditate about 7 years ago and that brought a whole new level of inspiration to my work. I think that side of me has always been there, as I have trained as a healer, life coach and a masseuse which has influenced how I draw and create.

The most common thing people have told me about my work is that they feel an emotional connection with my drawings, so I unconsciously I think my aim is to empower-whatever empowered means to them, to give love and a sense of healing to those who look at my drawings or wear my prints. I never want to dictate, I simply enjoy watching people really feel enlivened by a creativity.

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aving studied Printed Textiles BA at Uni, my work was very ‘fine art’ based, and I always thought that when I left college I’d use my fashion contacts to earn a living while I made my art. But when I graduated, Sue Timney (of Timney and Fowler who was my external assessor) told me that I was a fine artist, not a designer, that I’d never make anything of myself in fashion, and that I should just follow my heart as an artist.

But things kinda evolved differently to her prediction, and I danced between art and design.

Now I know that I’m someone who needs to work in both fields.
I’m a creative, so rather then boxing myself into either art or design I choose to have them co-exist. I couldn’t do one without the other.

My degree was very rooted in drawing and painting, then abstracting from that into design. It was a course that I felt totally alive in. I became obsessed with screen printing and all of what I learnt on that course has stayed with me to this day-I am very lucky and grateful to have my own print room and art studio now that is totally my sanctuary. My sacred space.

I now want to work directly with my customer/client for a while in an organic way for now that means making limited editions in clothing, art and interiors, collaborating with various friends around the world from different fields. When the idea or concept comes up, I make my drawings using mark-making and colour-the idea is to replicate an emotional response and translate experience. A more traditional, forward order/retail concept is set to be available next year. This is where I’ll mix my business head (from having had a clothing collection in the past) and my design/textile ability.