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21 FEBRUARY 2010


African design goes beyond craft and curios

FANCY A CUPPA? . . . These dancing teapots were featured at last year’s Design Indaba Pictures: Courtesy of Design Indaba

In 1996 Ravi Naidoo, an advertising executive and marketer, launched the Design Indaba and irrevocably altered perceptions of African design, writes GAIL SMITH


A Daimler Brand

OURTEEN years ago a visionary advertising executive at the southernmost tip of Africa created a commercial platform for African design which has become one of the world’s leading design events and proven that creativity can fuel an economic revolution. When most tourists visiting Africa board their planes heading back home they take back with them memories of the blazing sun, unending horizons, the Big Five, digital cameras bursting with images and invariably luggage loaded with beaded dolls, wooden salad servers with elephant heads, carved hippopotamuses and faux burial masks. In 1996 Ravi Naidoo, an advertising executive and marketer, launched the Design Indaba and irrevocably altered perceptions of African design. He saw the economic potential of multisectoral design originating in Africa and named his biannual design convention using the Zulu word “indaba”, which means “gathering”. “The impetus for Design Indaba came from a strategic place,” says Naidoo. “It came from the realisation that the ‘X factor’ that would transform the economy would be creativity. That innovation and design could infect the country and get business to understand that to become competitive in the global world we would have to make products that were unique, marketable and desirable. “We chose design because it’s the golden thread that straddles all genres of creativity: film, dance, advertising, architecture, craft and graphic design. We created a broad church that celebrated design.” Design Indaba rapidly became one of the leading design conferences in the world,

FOUNDING FATHER . . . Ravi Naidoo

PASSING TIME . . . Creativity was in abundance at last year’s show and included timeless timepieces like these colourful wall clocks

WALL ART . . . A definite stunner

attracting the great and the good of international design and décor to the southernmost tip of Africa. Sir Terence Conran, Ross Lovegrove, Stefan Sagmeister and Di Fujiwara, creative director of Issey Miyake, are just some of the luminaries who have spoken at the conference, which attracts design practitioners such as architects, graphic designers, fashion designers, artists, writers and

jewellery designers. This year’s line-up includes domestic diva Martha Stewart, trend forecaster Li Edelkoort and a host of global design innovators. South African creatives include cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, The Handspring Puppet Company and celebrated architect Mokena Makeka. But the Design Indaba is more than just a talk shop: it’s about business. In 2004 the

mans and ABC Home and Carpets. Imiso, a Xhosa word which means “many tomorrows”, is the brainchild of Andile Dyalvane, Lulama Sihluku and Zizopho Pofwa, three young designers from Eastern Cape who now export up to 75% of their products abroad. “Design Indaba set us on the right track,” says Dyalvane. “We now know that our products can hold their own in a global marketplace and meet the highest standards. Sales to Anthropologie and Bergdorf have meant that we are able to expand our business and that we are getting more exposure in high-end stores.” Fourteen years after it first opened its doors, Design Indaba has proved that creativity can indeed fuel an economic revolution. Innovative African designs, beyond the kitsch curios hauled home by weary travellers, have caught the eye of global consumers. Retailers in the developed world have heeded the call for Africa’s unique designs and African creatives have played their part in solving South Africa’s crisis du jour, job creation. Design Indaba has contributed R183 million to the GDP of South Africa, been sold out for five years running, enticed buyers from Australia, France, Germany, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates and won a slew of international awards. “We are finally comfortable in our own skins and speaking in a voice that has not been heard before, telling a fabulous new narrative that the world is celebrating,” says Naidoo. “We are not trying to out-London London – we are presenting our own unique design aesthetic and mining our distinctive heritage. South African designers have proved that creativity and design are not simply about entertainment value; that creatives are not just minstrels. That they can transform an economy.” Design Indaba 2010 takes place at the Cape Town Convention Centre from February 24 to 28.

Let’s talk.

Design Indaba Expo was launched, adding a trade show element where buyers could meet producers. “Design Indaba, the conference, is global in scope, but the expo is fiercely local in content. There are no imports on display. It’s a showcase solely for South African creativity. We leveraged the halogen spotlight that follows the international guests and gave our creative locals an opportuni-

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ty to bask in the glow and benefit from the magnet that Design Indaba had become for buyers and media from across the globe. “South African exhibitors do not benefit from a quota system; they have to qualify to exhibit. “If you think of it as a creative Olympic Games, they have to run the qualifying times to make it there,” says Naidoo. Design Indaba Expo is where major retailers in the United States and Britain come to source innovative, contemporary and original designs. Among the 362 buyers attending this year’s Design Indaba were representatives from Anthropologie, Gap, the Conran Shop, Walmart and Galeries Lafayette. Business deals worth R200 million were concluded in one week at Design Indaba last year. Handmade crafts, fabrics, fashion accessories and ceramics were the biggest sellers. Globus, a leading Swiss retail store, signed a deal with Darkie, the streetwear design label of fashion designer Themba Mngomezulu, estimated at R1.5 million. The Swiss retail giant, inspired by the cornucopia of design delights discovered in Cape Town, also plans to base its first few months of retail this year entirely on a South African theme based on designs originating at Design Indaba. Craig Native, another standout South African designer, secured a major deal with a retail store in Hamburg. Imiso Ceramics, which first exhibited at Design Indaba in 2006, supplies ranges of its pinched-bowl ceramics to Anthropologie, Bergdorf Good-

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STEEL BEAUTY . . . This adorable piece was among the creative work featured last year

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