Woven Livelihoods


n the Township of DuNoon, just north of Cape Town, Binky Newman is passionately working on one of her new projects, setting up a basket-making workshop. Binky is a successful entrepreneur already. Her export business Design Afrika sells African baskets to the world.

I have joined Binky for a trip to DuNoon, where she will be working on new products with the basket makers. A group of 24 women from the township have learned how to weave baskets using natural material that grows in the area. Half a year ago, one of the women came forward and asked to be taught how to make basketry. Binky Newman and The Cape Town City Council stepped in and the project started.

Binky Newman and her colleague Mara Fleischer trained the women not just in weaving baskets, but also in making baskets that sell. With over 20 years of experience in the commercial export business, Binky is well aware of what consumers want. Her booth at the Design Indaba Expo 2014 was one of the most attractive displays of commercial craft with its clever mix of baskets made in DuNoon with baskets from Zimbabwe and Swaziland.

The basket makers greet us with smiles and songs, and proudly pose with the products they have made. It is great to see each maker’s personality reflected in her products; a focused, neatly dresses lady who is weaving detailed pattern in black and white. An expressive woman with traditional Xhosa painting on her face is happily experimenting with recycled plastic.

Binky explains she has discussed some of the products with her European clients in the last week, and is happy some small orders have been placed. She is going to train the women in production; til now they have only made samples. Step by step, she goes through the production process with the artisans, pointing out how to cut the material, and how to control size and shape to stick to the original design.

I wave goodbye to the remarkable women of DuNoon, hoping to see their beautiful baskets soon on display at trade fairs and department stores in Europe.

For more information, please visit http://www.designafrika.co.za.

Irene is founder of craftscurator.com and is specialized in handmade design. She is based in Amsterdam, but travels the globe to spot the latest trends in handmade and sustainable design. With crafts exporters as well as importers, brands and retailers, she works on developing new products for the interior. The Craftscurator Trend Guide on handmade design is published every year. Irene regularly gives presentations on design and sustainability, and guides co-creation workshops.