Kids Rock


Design for Tomorrow: Open Design Festival in Cape Town

Can design change the world? According to The Open Design Festival, who opens their neon green programme with a quote from possibly the greatest thinker of all time, Albert Einstein, it can and it is. Einstein said, We cannot solve the complex challenges of the future by doing what we’ve done in the past. We need to think and act differently.” How do we get everyone to think outside the box when we’ve predominantly been taught to stay within the lines?

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The Open Design Festival is being held in 4 locations across Cape Town: Woodstock, V&A Waterfront, City Hall and Langa from 13-23 August 2015. It aims to inspire new ways of thinking with a host of mediums to activate our minds from workshops on architecture for children to expos of vintage toys to rails of nouveau African chic to talks on career, education, and socio-economic development not much is left to the wayside. And much if not most of the festival is free of charge thanks to The City of Cape Town and an array of creative sponsors.

As anything vintage always peaks my interest, I began the Open Design Festival at the charming and historical location of Cape Town’s City Hall. On the 2nd floor of the City Hall in a room all to its great own, were hundreds of decade-old toys arranged as art around the room. I have always loved toys: plastic, tin, wood, anything with a bright demeanor to bring a child’s face to life. For some people, toys are seen as clutter not to be included in the decor throughout one’s home of design and modern satisfaction. I have never seen toys that way, and it was inspiring to see an entire exhibited celebrating toys as art.

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For fashion, there were many exciting new designers to peak my interest, including AYA, who uses African textiles combined with tailored cuts to give the African chic a powerful lift. I found an incredible vintage coat, that at first sight looked more like a couch on a hanger but once on it was a 70s retro-piece of note with linear quilted genuine leather panels and big green coat buttons. Belted, she was a complete score! This find was found on The Godmother’s rails whose collections can be viewed regularly along with other collectors at The Threads Project at 349 Albert Road in Woodstock.

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Down the passage past the collections of ART books on tattoos and raw food cooking for kids, was an interesting stop at a Maker’s Station where one could watch art in its process at the Exhibit: Lessons in Transformation by artists Katherine Bull and Warren Editions collaborating in print, engraving and performance about none other than the great Nelson Mandela’s famous speech within those very walls at the Cape Town City Hall. Next door were two more giant rooms filled with some of South Africa’s most celebrated artists making their customary provocative statements. Works by Brett Murray, William Kentridge and Christo Basson were just some of the thought provoking art on exhibit in an initiative called HOST.


Brett Murray


If what you see at the Open Design Festival isn’t enough to get you thinking outside the box, then perhaps it will awaken your heart. To quote one of William Kentridge’s pieces now on exhibit at the City Hall, “If you have no eye then use your heart.

Dassies by Christo Basson

Dassies by Christo Basson

Where in the World is Sylvia Benoist?

When Sitting down with Sylvia Benoist, Design Director of her latest children’s clothing label, WK (short for Where the Wild Kids Are) it is clear she has been all around this world. You can’t quite place her accent? Is it French? Is she from a neighborhood in London I haven’t heard of? Or she could be South African? Her accent is a conglomeration of many years spent living around the globe with her South African husband, photographer Justin and their 11 -year -old son, Noah. Sylvia was born and raised in Normandy, France, though she hasn’t looked back since she left home.  Always the rebel, she headed for London where she met Justin who was there working. She lived in London for 9 years until she became pregnant with Noah, and they decided to set sail back to South Africa. She remembers her London days fondly. “We shopped like mad. Portobello market of course. Everything was very music oriented. Very rock n’ roll.” It was a combination of being pregnant and a love of fashion that led her to her first label Petit Pois in 2003 which began with her first designs on baby grows “Make Love Not War” and prints of Elvis Presley.

For years at Journey Lifestyle, while I was the buyer, we couldn’t get enough Petit Pois on the rails and onto the shelves. Though we catered to young adults we had a smaller children’s section of kitsch toys, baby grows and blankets from Petit Pois with sayings on them like “It’s OK I’m with the band.” White on black. I never ordered pink for girls. And of course Petit Pois’s legendary baby blankets Louis Vutton inspired print with Nelson Mandela faces in between. Though inspired by Sylvia’s London days, she added in her own dashes of local Africa that truly made her label her own. At the time, no one in South Africa was making what Petit Pois was designing. Petit Pois’s children’s clothing range was fresh, hip and cheeky. It was a perfect fit at Journey. Though like all clever best selling designs, South Africa soon caught on and there were many copies of the design to follow saturating the already niche market.

"Hipster Cats" Illustrations by Marista for WK.

“Hipster Cats” by illustrator by Maritsa Odendaal for WK.

From the very beginning in 2004 Petit Pois had always traded at the Biscuit Mill market, back when it was uber hip, but like all things in Cape Town the hip crowd shifted away from the Biscuit Mill once it became commercial. As the hip customer shifted out Sylvia noticed her customer changed significantly. Sylvia found that the new mainstream customer did not want to spend money on children’s clothes. “In South Africa,” she says, “children’s fashion is a much harder selling point. It’s not a money thing. It’s a cultural thing. You go to French schools and kids are so well dressed. It’s the one thing I really miss about France.” Though Sylvia was a rebel even in those days. She remembers she had to beg her mother for her first pair of denims who preferred her in a paddington coat and dresses.

2 arms full of drawings. Illustration is the major theme for Sylvia's latest children's clothing range, WK

Sylvia’s 2 arms filling up with drawings. Illustrations are the central focus for Sylvia’s latest children’s clothing range, WK.

The advent of Sylvia’s kids fashion blog, “where the wild kids are” began as a way to inspire the South African market about children’s fashion. What she found from the blog was that her biggest market was American. Justin even ended up getting work as a photographer from the blog from US clients. Sylvia’s latest children’s label, WK, was developed as a way to grow her brand internationally and focus more specifically on the marrying of illustration with functionality in children’s fashion.  Her brand is now going to focus on export to the UK, US and Japan, though the manufacturing, design and materials will all be sourced locally. The children clothing labels that Sylvia admires most are all in Europe, particularly Mini Rodini. “It’s all about art work. They are a big inspiration. The reason why her brand is so good is because she is such a strong illustrator.”

WK children's clothing range for ages 0-12 years is due to launch with its S/S 16 collection.

WK children’s clothing range for ages 0-12 years is due to launch with its S/S 16 collection.

With WK, “It’s all about the graphic prints and illustrations. The styles are very simple.” Sylvia believes in the athestic less is more. WK will continue with baby grows, harem pants, baby blankets, hoodies, bibs and tote bags, but she is teaming up with her lead illustrator South African Maritsa Odendaal. Sylvia says that she herself is very involved in the illustration process. She has an idea and she asks Maritsa to draw it. “We are all cat crazy, Marista and I. I asked her to do some hipster cats. Even with the cat’s heads I asked her to turn them a specific way.”

Sylvia has always been inspired by graphics, just look at all the tattoos on her arm. It is a natural progression for her to go in this direction and in time after maybe an illustrator course she may be drawing the very designs we see on the WK 100% cotton 100% fresh children’s clothes. WK’s first collection will launch S/S 2016.