Lulu Kingsley, Creator and Director of Lulu K Designs, has designed just about everything and her life itself has maybe been her greatest design. Born in England but raised in South Africa, Lulu finished school and began in fashion design trading under the name Rizzo Clothing on the then, uber trendy Green Market Square. After her first child was born (Lulu is a mother of 4 beautiful creations) she moved to the UK where she designed anything from shop fittings to gardens. The landscape design led her to an Olive Farm in Spain where she and her growing family lived for 6 years before returning to Cape Town in 2008. Once she returned she began consulting in design until one day Lulu K began with a mere piece of red string. “I came across this cable, it was just a piece of red rope, and I started experimenting with different ways of using it. The look was amazing and I thought let me try to make a bag.” She had an incredible response and before she knew it she was making one-offs bags for people and the orders did not stop.
Through Lulu’s life, strewn across the hemispheres, it is clear she is willing to experiment with different mediums and environments. Sometimes being an outsider looking in really helps you to see the gaps or what is needed or even simply what really matters. Lulu says, “When I came back to this country (South Africa) I knew I needed to find a way to work with people from disadvantaged backgrounds.” She placed an ad on Gumtree choosing 4 ladies and she just gave them needles and materials. “I literally paid them to play, knitting and crocheting.” Though she was happy to be employing 4 women, she still wanted to be more involved with the townships. She found an incredible charitable organization, Ikamva Labantu, who work with pensioners in the townships. She got in touch with them and discovered that a factory had recently closed down and a lot of pensioners needed work. At the time in 2011, pensioners in South Africa only received R12,000 a year, less than $100 a month! This was not enough to survive and most of them needed another form of income. She was introduced to a small group of ladies, all in their mid-late 60s. Today Lulu employs 14 women in the townships as weavers making the bags.
Lulu chooses to go into the townships rather than asking the ladies to come into the city to alleviate transportation costs and difficulties. For the last 4 years Lulu has gone in to various townships across the N1 and N2 highway on a weekly basis to work with the ladies.”When you go in and you see their environment, they are living in corrugated shacks, and they’ve got no money, but still they have a smile on their face. They believe in God. It’s very humbling.”Lulu says, ” It really makes sense for how bad your life isn’t, and it works the same way for them. They don’t think their life is bad. Their relationship bonds are much stronger as they have to rely on each other because they have nothing else to rely on.” Lulu concludes, ” As long as I can give an income to these women then it’s an income for my soul.”
Lulu admits that in the beginning it was difficult to make ends meet with Lulu K. Although the business was growing, the materials, labor and marketing outweighed the turnover. She remembers at the Design Indaba last year, “We weren’t ready. We didn’t have enough stock.” The demand was there and Lulu K received orders from several retailers in Europe, but the production wasn’t tight enough. At the next Design Indaba coming up in a few short weeks, they are now ready! Lulu has employed a head of logistics and a head of sales, giving her more time to concentrate on design and marketing.
Lulu K can now produce 10 of each style in a week. There ware 7-8 styles, though they are always being updated, changed or fixed. All the bags are named with African names: Adia, Ixia, Emem, Iris, Boniswa, Mbali, Dahlia, Nuru. Some are named after the ladies who make them and others, like the Mbali, with a beautiful meaning translated from Xhosa as “flower”. Lulu K bags can be found locally at the Watershed, Peach, The One and Only Hotel, Africa Nova, The Mount Nelson and Peacock Blue in Franschoek.
All the materials used for the bags are locally made, and Lulu even designs her own cables. She sits with the suppliers and adds a little bit of gold or thickens an already woven rope. “We play with things until we get the right mix.” Lulu explains.
Lulu K has also started a range of outer-ware with crochet bikinis, short tops with larger crochet weaves and more recently a move into working with new materials of wool, bamboo and mohair for upcoming winter pieces.
For Lulu design seems to be an integral part of her life, always evolving and taking shape. She says she still has a dream to do shoes. Ugg sort of boots in a knitted cable. Lulu says, “It’s about finding the right people and putting the right people and materials together and creating something.” If Lulu’s entire life is anything to judge by, there is a lot more to come.