Hannelie Bekker

Wrapt is made up of founder/owner Hannelie Bekker and three multi-skilled garment producers, Anna Setloboko, Felicity Mhlanga and Oupa Nhovela.


I have always loved textiles. Even though I didn't take to sewing as a child I loved going to Arthur Bales in Linden, Johannesburg with my mom and sisters looking for fabric and/or patterns for some or other outfit. It's here, as well as next to my mom's sewing machine, that I learnt the evocative language - though in Afrikaans - of selvedges and darts, gathers and pleats, bias and grain. Much more recently I left Accra after a tv market lugging a suitcase laden equally with gorgeous wax prints as with brochures for new tv shows. They joined an ever growing collection: heavy linens bought in Bangkok one time, kitenge cloths from Kenya and Zanzibar, shweshwe, Liberty prints and silks.

Even so, my husband, family and friends are all astonished about my fledgeling knitwear business - and I'm kind of surprised myself. The route from building and managing tv channels (my job for the last 27 years) to knitting is nowhere to be found on Google Maps!

This particular story starts with the rediscovery of hand knitting a few years ago, after a decades long lag. In contrast to the indifference I felt towards it as a child, this time I was instantly smitten: you don't just make things from fabric: you make the fabric itself! Also, following the relative abstraction of my working life thus far (you can't hold a tv channel or programme in your hands, no matter how good it is) the concreteness and tactility of knitting was a balm, as was the direct connection between time spent and results achieved.

One thing led to another and in August 2017 I found myself in Seattle, at the wonderful Helen Sharp's wonderful Knitting School for a Machine Knitting Intensive course. That clinched it: it turned out hand knitting had been just the gateway drug!

Despite producing merino wool, mohair and cotton, South Africa has a curious dearth of knitwear designers or suppliers. Maybe we still associate "knitting" with the bulky unfashionables of the seventies and eighties - missing the riotous colours and textures that abound on the world's runways every year, and forgetting about the possibilities of linen tank tops, and featherweight silk wraps and airy, breathable woollen layers.

So Wrapt tries to respond to a market scarcity - in the context where consumers are  more aware than ever of where their clothes come from, more willing to pay for the subtle luxury of individually produced goods, and keen to at least try to buy fewer, better clothes.

And lastly, but equally importantly, we believe that what we are doing at Wrapt plays a small part in building the South Africa that we want to live in. Textile work is labour intensive, and has low entry requirements - and yet, exposure to a textile based business opens up a multitude of careers to quick learners.

I sourced the three amazing young South Africans who work with me through Harambee, a youth employment accelerator doing stellar work in connecting job seekers with prospective employers.

We hope that the Wrapt story will help demonstrate the power of that connection.

With a Psychology degree Anna is surprised on a daily basis to find herself making garments - but her fashion-loving mom is super supportive, and gets to see pics of the day's work every evening.

As the most orderly of us all she has naturally gravitated to doing inventory management (of yarn and products) in addition to knitting and making up garments.

Felicity (or Feli) holds an HR qualification. Like Anna and Oupa she never imagined spending her days wrangling knitting machines, but enjoys the satisfaction of making beautiful things every day.

Feli's superpower is that she fits into practically any size, so she is much in demand as a fit model. The rest of us have no idea how she does it.

Oupa grew up helping out his mom, who made clothes for a living, so needles and thread hold no terror for him! Machine knitting is a new skill but one he has taken to with alacrity.

Of all of us he has the best insight into the machines' mechanical and temperamental quirks.