It all began with a tin radio.

“Think Global, Act Local” is the motto for Streetwires, a social enterprise that encompasses the industrious and ingenious spirit of many living throughout Cape Town. In 2000, Patrick Schofield first came up with the idea to establish Streetwires after he was impressed by a working wire and tin radio that a friend had purchased. From that point forward, the idea to fight poverty by selling wire and bead art now provides permanent employment and business training to over 120 artists. Artists use wire, tin, beads and metal as their medium, crafting everything from small key chains to sophisticated, high-end sculptural designs.

The origin of this traditional craft is still unknown, but is speculated to have developed out of Maputoland and Zululand in the northeast corner of South Africa. It was here where the village elders’ took notice of the childrens’ ingenuity as they were making model cars, bikes and other toys out of anything from rubbish to tin cans, bits of old fences and discarded metal hangers. Their work is impressive as they assemble fully functioning cars with independent axles, steering wheels and headlights. Their resourcefulness inspired the adults within the communities’ to create these types of crafts and sell them to tourists. Many of the Streetwire artists learned this craft when they themselves were children.

Streetwires has expanded well beyond toys by creating functional objects such as wire picture frames, compact disc stands, key rings, baskets, vases, eggcups, wine racks and much more. All artists are trained to shape, bind, spindle and plaster each piece to perfection. The test of an artist’s skill is how well he binds the wire together — neat and uniform is key! If the piece is to be beaded, it is handed over to one of the women artists who spindle the beads onto wire. They weld the larger pieces to keep the structure strong and durable.

Lauren Joy Rosenback from Streetwires says, “Our collections are reflective of our surroundings and of our local culture. ‘The Taxi’ was inspired by the fact that this is our most popular means of transportation in South Africa and is a symbol of the beginning of black entrepreneurship — the taxi industry evolved during the apartheid era when non-whites were not allowed to own businesses.”

Today, Streetwires is thriving. Their “Black is Beautiful” collection was displayed at Design Indaba’s trade show in Cape Town and is made using black wire, partly in homage to the early wire roots of this craft. The pieces were designed by Michaela Howse, a freelance designer who has worked with Streetwires for many years and who has a firm understanding of wire as a craft. This work reflects South Africa and has local and international appeal. Lauren adds, “Functionality has always been a factor, but this time we wanted the collection to be purely decorative and mindful of the increasingly smaller spaces that people are living in which people live.” As a result, they decided to create gorgeous wall art and all pieces sold out by day two!

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