Veronica Elgin and Hester Cilliers debuted their new company, The Botany Project, at the March 2012 Design Indaba in Cape Town. I know because I followed the crowd into their booth to see what was going on.
Their first collection, called Upcycle Flower Lamp, was the center of attention. It’s a collection of oil lamps that combine ceramic flowers based on indigenous South African species, upcycled glass vessels, a wick and olive oil from the pantry. The combination results in gorgeous decorative objects by day and romantic, glowing flames by night.
Part of the genius here is the eclectic use of upcycled wine bottles and all manner of glass jars. Usually discarded as waste or recyclable material, the vessels are collected in a system devised by Elgin and Cilliers to create jobs for semi or unskilled people in South Africa.
Each vessel is topped by a cast ceramic flower. Here, Elgin and Cilliers worked with botanist Wendy Hitchcock to visit community ceramic workshops, some of them in the townships around Cape Town, to create and produce all the components for the first five flower lamps, based on the South African species: Crassula fascicularis, Roella campanulaceae, Geranium incanum, Vernonia natalensis, and Leucospermum cordifolium.
When the flower lamp comes home, the customer fills the upcycled vessel with olive oil, and lights the wick … just like the ancient Greeks. “The surprise for us was the willingness and the openness of people to get involved with using sustainable materials and to participate by filling their own bottles, and picking and art-directing their own still lives at home—all creative acts …,” says Veronica about the enthusiastic response to the new collection.
There’s a series of serious intentions behind these fanciful lamps. As Veronica explains, “The Botany Project was created as a platform to communicate issues around bio-diversity and the part it plays in environmental renewal; up cycling or recycling; green energy or local materials usage; and employment creation. The production model incorporates the idea that hand skills and local materials can be used to create well-designed products that by their very nature are layered with meaning—something that you want to keep.”
This idea is perhaps not new, but the combination of social, environmental and cultural interests into a meaningful collection of versatile, functional home products with compelling branding does feel fresh. “If you think about sustainability as a concept, it is sensitive, inclusive, collaborative, visionary and multi-dimensional. We have had many years of products being created for consumption without thought on how that impacts eco-systems and the human psyche,” comments Veronica. As duo behind The Botany Project plan for future introductions, they’ll be looking to educate and satisfy customers, even as they take a little pressure off of the environment.
To learn more about the Botany Project please visit http://thebotanyproject.com/index.html.