Best Craft Markets of Oaxaca, Mexico

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Locals at Tlacolula market selling organic cofffee from the region. Every Sunday locals gather by the thousands to trade craft, crops and other essentials. 

My fascination with Oaxaca all began when wandering through the markets of Rosarito, in the northern Baja Peninsula of Mexico. All the incredible handmade embroidery of cloth came from this area, as did art about the dead, black pottery and two of my favorite addictions coffee and chocolate. I had to go.

2 weeks later I was on a plane via Mexico City to Oaxaca City deep in the southern central tip of Mexico. What I did not realize until I arrived was that it was not just the burgeoning cultural capital city but the entire region of Oaxaca that was rich with artisan craft. Markets were not just confined to the city limits. There were different markets for everyday of the week and artisans would gather outside of churches and alongside thousand year old spiritual ruins to trade sometimes even without money but in commodities of other resources that they needed. This place was beyond my imagination and expectation.

Here is a list of my BEST MARKETS OF OAXACA

OAXACA CITY

BENITO JUAREZ MARKET 

In Oaxaca City itself you will find the wonderful bustling market of Benito Juarez, which is divided into 2 large squares of stalls right across the cobblestone street from one another. One is the craft side and the other is the food side of the market. This market is exceptional because here you will find textiles, rugs, embroidery, mescal, hats, baskets, candies, leather even crispy crickets (a Oaxaca delicacy) from all 8 regions of Oaxaca. You can generally find everything you may find in the outlaying markets but for a fractionally increased price. Benito Juarez is open everyday of the week including Sunday.

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Women from Oaxaca weave color baskets outside Benito Juarez Market in the heart of the city.

ARTISAN’S MARKET

Just a few blocks from Benito Juarez you will find the artisan market in Oaxaca city. Here is where you will find the best quality craft of mostly cloth within the city. Artisans send usually another family member to come into the city from outside regions of Oaxaca to trade their craft. You will find similar craft at Benito Juarez but a more extensive collection especially of embroidery. This market is quiet and relatively small, a few rows of stalls inside but it is packed with intricate designs from all 8 regions and certainly worth a visit if it is handmade craft you are interested in. Spend a bit of time in each stall, as there is variety and hidden gems at each trader’s spot you just may have to go through the stacks to find them.

MARKETS OUTSIDE OAXACA CITY

MITLA

Located 44 kilometers east of Oaxaca City

Mitla is a very spiritual and important site to the Zapotec culture. The name Mitla is derived from Nahuatl name Mictlan, meaning place of the dead while the Zapotecan name is Lyobaa meaning place of the rest. The ruins here are unique because of complex building of tombs and walls decorated with elaborate mosaics of fretworks dating back to 900 BC. Mitla was the main religious center for the Zapotecan people dating back to pre- Columbian time representing the beliefs of Mesoamerican s that death was the most consequential part of life after birth. They had incredibly sophisticated systems of construction, writing, calendar, agriculture and irrigation long before the Spanish arrived. It was in Mitla that the Zapotecs built this gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

On the outskirts of the ruins is the market place composed of several dozen stalls trading alongside ancient cacti. The embroidery and cloth is extensive and you will most likely meet the actual artisan or someone from their family here trading.

Tlacolula

Located 32 kilometers southeast of Oaxaca City.

Tlacolula market is the largest and oldest indigenous open-air market in Mesoamerica. For hundreds of years locals from the area have been gathering here to trade in crops and craft on market day every Sunday. The market stretches nearly 2 miles long and sellers from throughout the region come to trade their harvests here to other locals from the area. This is generally a food market; though you can find craft it will not be as extensive in quality and quantity. The trading happens outside the 17th century Dominican complex. There is amazing people watching to be done here and a real feast for the senses! Don’t miss it on a Sunday!

SANTO TOMAS JALIEZA

Located 29 kilometers south of Oaxaca City

Every Friday is market day at Santo Tomas Jalieza. The art market lies between the church and the courthouse. Not only can you meander through the market stalls of artisans displaying their work of belts, bags, rugs and anything else they weave on the loom, but you can even go into some of the local artists homes and observe how the products are made on the original looms.

TEOTITLAN DEL VALLE

Located 28 Kilometers southeast of Oaxaca City

The market area in this small town brings together many of the town artisans and vendors every Monday to trade their unique rugs of this area. Weaving in this village dates back to 500BC. Though the earliest weavings were made using cottons today they are loomed with wool. The designs here are incredible and extremely intricate and are from not only the Zapotec but also the Navajo and also more contemporary designs. Many of the dyes are made from natural products such as a small insect called conchinilla, plants and roots. The looms are all hand –operated, and weaving is done by both men and women.

Topiaries From the Elgin Valley

In the heart of the Elgin Valley on Brookelands farm, men and women of the Grabouw community are gathering seeds, sticks, leaves, stems and flowers to create holiday-inspired, handmade topiaries. Andrea’s Topiary Creations employs disadvantaged men and women from the local farm community to craft and create the topiaries. My partner Grant and I made the trip out, just an hour outside Cape Town, to visit Andrea’s Topiaries and meet some of the talented crafters who make these creations by hand.

Local crafter, Franklin, uses indigenous cape fynbos to create handmade topiaries in the Elgin Valley.

Local crafter, Franklin, uses indigenous cape fynbos to create handmade topiaries in the Elgin Valley.

The farm boosts generations of bursting protea bushes and all sorts of indigenous Cape fynbos. At the moment the farm grows oranges and lemons, but is moving towards growing only blueberries in the near future. On the farm, guests can stay at the cosy, charming stone cottage for two and meander through all the botanical life with a natural stream running right under your doorstep. All of the “farm charm” can be thanks to Andrea’s elegant style and Rob, her husband’s love of the bush, farming and creating amazing spaces in nature.

A glimpse of county farm life in the main house on Brookelands Farm.

A glimpse of county farm life in the main house on Brookelands Farm.

What started as a hobby for farm owner, Andrea, and her daughter Kate fourteen years ago has developed into a thriving business supplying locally sourced and community crafted topiary creations to the hotel and interior design industries. Cape indigenous foliage is used to create works of art in the form of bunnies, reindeer, wreaths, trees, hearts, baskets and more.

 

This holiday season why not gift the ones you love with a locally- made, indigeously crafted topiary. The holiday forest scent lasts for years and each creation is treated to maintain its colour indefinitely. It’s a gift that keeps on giving year after year.

Hand- Crafted Baskets of Africa Take Time and Patience

Hand- crafted baskets from Southeast Africa take time and patience when ordering in large quantities, but the wait is certainly worth it.

In a quieter part of the world, one which is out of reach to the internet and the spinning worlds of social media and Amazon.com, where nothing is just a click away, but rather seasonal and controlled by the rains, is where villages lie under dozens of species of palm trees. It is here in Southeast Africa in Mozambique, Madagascar and South Africa where many of the world’s baskets are woven into works of art and then distributed through the world to become household items that are as common as a laundry basket.

Satrana woven baskets. A specific weave endemic to Mozambique

When ordering satrana woven baskets and pouches, one can chose either natural or colour, from this one supplier, however, one can not chose the specific color. Papyrus supplies can sometimes be limited in villages and they get what they get in terms of coloured papyrus.

Satrana is a certain kind of weave specific to Mozambique. Baskets are commonly woven with the non-threathened papyrus grass. Recently I had a customer contact me, inquiring about lead times for this specific satrana woven basket. There are a handful of suppliers in Cape Town trading in baskets made in Mozambique and Madagascar. Headaches can be many when dealing with a world that is almost off the grid, yet produces some of the most beautiful handmade craft in all the world. Suppliers in Cape Town first need to pinpoint the crafters in the villages, establish that they are using non-threathened palms and then employ entire villages to meet heavy demands and big orders from the Western World. One really needs to appreciate that beautifully crafted things take time and patience, a lot of patience. Lead times for orders of 1000 can take up to 6 months in some instances.

Basket Handbags

These satrana woven pouches have strings attached and make a beautiful summer handbag. They retail between R250- R500.

One supplier decided to try to bridge the gap between long lead times and bigger orders. The supplier imported Raffia in rolls from Madagascar, to meet orders more efficiently and produce baskets locally in Cape Town using the traditional woven method. This way a supplier can have control over the process, not needing to worry about containers being shipped over the Indian Ocean, or rains causing delays in production. The raffia also becomes a more cost-effective way to ship as the weave is more pliable and can be compressed when packed, eliminating added air space and decreasing volume and therefore freight cost.

For more information on bulk ordering these beautiful baskets: availability and supplier cost and style comparisons please contact amyonajourney@gmail.com

 

MADWA, woven crafts Madagascar to Swaziland

MADWA, based in Cape Town, South Africa, is a social upliftment project working with artisans in Madagascar, Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa. All woven crafts of Madagascar products are made using natural sustainable materials and each product is hand crafted by the traditional weavers empowering individuals and often times entire communities to use their craft skill to achieve economic stability and independence.

Madwa boasts a large range of products including baskets using papyrus, clutches and bags made of raffia and papyrus, bins, laundry baskets and large baskets made from umtsala, crocheted floor mats using grass, textiles of lambas: hand-woven, cotton throws and woolen blankets; all handmade locally using traditional craft.

My most favorite addition to the Madwa’s range are the raffia crocheted throw pillows with feather down inners. At 60 cm x 60 cm they make a perfect throw cushion, large enough to sit on and beautifully crafted for a sun-deck or porch.

Woven throw pillows madagascar

Raffia crocheted throw pillows

To request a catalogue and prices of Madwa’s current range please contact by email: amyonajourney@gmail.com

Exhibition of new work by Lyndi Sales: NO PLACE

Rainbows are ethereal and have represented throughout history for almost every culture some form of utopian thinking. In Cape Town artist, Lyndi Sales’ new exhibition of work at WHAT IF THE WORLD gallery entitled No Place, she seeks to observe the artistic and scientific bridge between nature and humanity in an intersection of reason and wonder focused around the ephemeral rainbow.

Sales finds rainbows everywhere and they have been a theme throughout her work as an artist exploring ideas of space, illusion and time. In this latest collection Sales uses the medium of weaving through color and reflection to investigate the rainbow in all its magic and transience and relate it to a desire for alternatives, a better way of living. Sales took a weaving course to bring this new medium through and into her work in this exhibition. So inspired by it, she plans on visiting Morocco next year for another course in the ancient craft.

Lyndi Sales’ No Place is on exhibit at WHAT IF THE WORLD GALLERY in Woodstock through until 17 October 2015.

Link

Design for Tomorrow: Open Design Festival in Cape Town

www.opendesignct.com

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.

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Brett Murray

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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

Petro Steyn aka SKEET, Designer of Abstract Street Wear

Petro Steyn is the creator of and designer for the street wear label SKEET, though these days Steyn says of her designs, ” I don’t know where I fit in? It’s not fashion. It’s not art. It’s couture. It’s avant garde.” Steyn has never really fit in, hence the name, Skeet. The direct translation of the word Skeet from Afrikaans to English is defined as: caprice, fart, hypochondria, imaginary ailment, whim. Skeet was the name her sister Antonia gave her many years ago and her longtime friend Anri du Toit, AKA: Yolandi Visser from Die Antwoord convinced her to name her new label Skeet when it first emerged. “Ninja drew up the logo for me in like less than 3 minutes with his left hand.” Steyn remembers.  In many ways, Skeet’s designs carry this whimsical, magical element of design and creation with her latest creations landing her designs on the front cover of the new local hipster magazine, The Lake.

Petro Steyn, Skeet Creator and Designer, in one of her latest neoprene designed masks.

Petro Steyn, Skeet Creator and Designer, in one of her latest neoprene designed masks.

In her earlier years Petro was part of a very prestigious Ballet School which she remembers as very degrading. She says it was like The Black Swan. She wanted to get away from it so she began studying at the Haute Couture School of Fashion Design in Cape Town. Fresh out of Haute Couture she started making hoodies that were also scarves, many one-off pieces, and she began selling her designs at Misfit, the then “It” clothing store for local street fashion in Cape Town. For years she designed under the label Misfit. I tell Petro I still have one of the incredible dresses she designed almost a decade ago. I called it the Chanel dress with a double V low back and front in marble black matte, thick satin fabric and vertically pleated from the waist to the knee. You know if a dress makes it 10 years in the wardrobe and is still there, it is a gem! After attending the Magic Show in Las Vegas to represent Misfit, she decided to start teaching pattern making in the fashion design department as the University of Technology.

Skeet: Street Couture

Skeet: Street Couture

She taught for 3 years before getting the itch to design a label again and from there White Noise was created as a street couture label. It was all black and white with cartoony eyes. She did a show at The District 6 Museum and much of her work was sold. This is when she began to really create and source out new and interesting materials to work with. She started getting off-cuts of neoprene from surf shops. She says, “It was like magic. Gluing the pieces together and suddenly I had two animal ears and birds tails and futuristic shoulder pieces.”

Skeet's neoprene designs launch at the What If The World Show in Cape Town.

Skeet’s neoprene designs launch at the What If The World Show in Cape Town in 2008.

In 2008, Steyn launched the neoprene masks and bodysuits at a What if The World Show. Though she didn’t sell a lot at that particular show, it was very well received and led to her inclusion in a Nike campaign for their new shoes “Dunks.”

Neoprene bodysuit designed by Petro Steyn for Nike "Dunks" Campaign.

Neoprene bodysuit designed by Petro Steyn for Nike’s Dunks Campaign.

Petro’s designs took another turn inwards, one could say with her dedication to her practice of Kundalini Yoga. She began designing yoga clothing for Gururamdas studio in Cape Town. She was making harem pants designed for yoga. At the same time her old friends Die Antwoord were becoming increasing popular as they shot to fame through you tube videos with their music and performance. Yolandi and Ninja approached her and asked her if she could design outfits for them to perform in. She made white tracksuits for both of them and Ninja painted on them in Roger Ballen style. The costumes became their permanent performance clothing in the beginning. Die Antwoord used all of their friends as part of their artistic circle like Sins of Style, Scar and Chommies. Although Skeet started in 2010 with a colorful range of delicious monsters and octopuses on tracksuit style clothing, Steyn admits, ” I didn’t even have a website so I missed the boat. I can’t sell. I can only make. It’s only now, yesterday, that I made an Etsy Shop Skeeeet to be ready for your blog.”

Sketchings of Skeet designed costumes for Yolandi Visser of Die Antwoord.

Skeet designed the X X costume that Yolandi wore to perform in her early days during Die Antwoord’s rise to fame.

Steyn AKA Skeet says of the masks she is creating today, ” I looked back at my portfolio and looked at what was unique and what worked. I wanted to create a product that’s not clothing. No one has done neoprene, it’s more sculptural and it had been well received at the WITW Show where they launched. I was inspired by these David Choe dolls to make masks which were actually a gift from Yolandi. I made a cat, a mouse and a fox. I posted them on Facebook and instantly someone wanted to buy one.”

Skeet designed masks and bodysuits are returning to center stage and are not available to purchase.

Skeet designed masks and bodysuits are returning to center stage and are not available to purchase.

I say to Petro, “It’s quite amazing to land on the first issue cover of The Lake. It’s so hipster, the magazine.”

Spoken like a true artist she replies, ” I hate hipster because it’s the next cool thing and this is not. This is not made to be cool or hip. It’s made to be fresh and original, something that no one can copy or make.”

Petro Steyn’s masks are selling for R1800 ($150) and can be purchased on Etsy or by enquiry on Skeet’s Facebook page.

The Other Form of Design in Cape Town: FILM

Design and craft are not the only art forms being produced at a world-class level in Cape Town, as all Cape Townians know, the film industry thrives in our magical little seaside city. Cape Town has been a hot spot for International film makers and television commercials for decades, though it is recently on the rise with dozens of International TV series and feature films expected to shoot on our shores, in our studios and with the growing respected local crews of South Africa this winter.

While working in wardrobe on a US commercial just a few weeks back, I sat down with the International art director brought over from Los Angeles (he had a South African counter part art directing as well). We chatted for awhile about Los Angeles and his love/hate relationship with the city of angels. He admitted he is away a lot and hardly anything gets filmed in LA anymore. Though it was a pity he said, as it is the birthplace of film and tv with hundreds of incredible prop shops from years past, it is just too expensive to film in LA anymore. He named Cape Town, Buenos Aries, Prague and Toronto the top cities to film in these days. Atalanta and Detroit (recently bankrupt) were US cities that producers were choosing to film in to keep the budget costs down. While many of us here in Cape Town worry about the ailing Rand, overseas film producers and agencies see the gap and the work is pouring into our beautiful and creative hub of a city.

As a creative and stylist, it has been a natural progression for me to enter into the industry this season, (let’s be honest it has sucked me in) and since I have, the work has been flowing. The great thing about the growing industry is that there are so many projects being shot here that there is room for many stylists to pick and choose who they work with and what they work on. Beware though, it is an industry, especially for commercials, that feeds on your adreniline with high pressure to meet deadlines and notorious long hours, though for many it is an opportunity to create and work with like-minded creatives on your own terms as an independent contractor. It is not for the faint hearted, but it is for the those who enjoy being part of a team working to produce and create something magical on camera whether it be a vignette from a product commercial or creating a character on a second season of a TV series.

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.

Lulu Kingsley, Designer Extraordinaire

Lulu uses a mirage of materials to design and crochet her bags including ropes, cables, fringe, African textiles, silks and tassels.

Lulu Kingsley uses a mirage of materials to design and crochet her bags including ropes, cables, fringe, African textiles, silks and tassels.

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.

The Ixia, Crochet weaved cable over traditional African cotton fabric. As you wear it the item loosens to create a chic shape.

The Ixia, Crochet weaved cable over traditional African cotton fabric. As you wear it the item loosens to create a chic shape.

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 and the Ladies who Weave for Lulu K. Each bag comes complete with a "Passport of Authentication" telling the buyer the name of the bag the person who assembled it and the date which is was made.

Lulu and the Ladies who Weave for Lulu K. Each bag comes complete with a “Passport of Authentication” telling the buyer the name of the bag, the person who assembled it and the date which  it is was made.

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.”

A model from Lulu K's latest look book, holds a Dahlia.

A model from Lulu K’s latest look book, holds a Dahlia with fringe.

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.

Lulu holds one of her newest designs not yet in stores, an oversized crochet woven clutch available in neon yellow, pink and orange lined in African fabrics.

Lulu holds one of her newest designs not yet in stores, an oversized crochet woven clutch available in neon yellow, pink and orange lined in African fabrics.

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.

Involved in even the making of the material, Lulu works with rope suppliers to custom design her own rope.

Involved in even the making of the material, Lulu works with rope suppliers to custom design her own rope.

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.