Nelson Geri Nyasha Jonasi making a statement with his mats. Image: Supplied.
Nelson Geri Nyasha Jonasi making a statement with his mats. Image: Supplied.
Chains: A designer mat with inner feeling. Image: Supplied.
Chains: A designer mat with inner feeling. Image: Supplied.
Matsmall: There's a growing demand for attractive branded mats. Image: Supplied.
Matsmall: There's a growing demand for attractive branded mats. Image: Supplied.
Zandile is a part of the rug making team Zandile Hadebe looks after the admin. Image: Supplied.
Zandile is a part of the rug making team Zandile Hadebe looks after the admin. Image: Supplied.
JOHANNESBURG -  Artistry comes in many forms but not usually at floor level.

That's why meeting and chatting to 37-year-old Geri Nyasha Jonasi is always such an eye opener .

He will tell you that for him and his small team of master carpet and mat makers, inspiration, ideas that nobody has thought about and contemporary thinking are all part of what makes their business unique in creative terms.

"Every morning we workshop new ideas, focusing on what we believe will have a wide appeal, in a business and artistic sense"

A small shop in Durban's Umbilo Road is the home of Jonasi's new carpet workshop. You can't miss it. As you walk down the street you will suddenly see a white carpet with the black outlined face of Nelson Mandela watching the passers by - ironically from behind the bars that guard the shop.

"It was a special mat for me, creating his face from wool, because I don't think it has been done before. I wanted to create something iconic for my business, so people would stop and look."

Chains: A designer mat with inner feeling. Image: Supplied.
But that is very much Jonasi's style - coming up with the unexpected. That's why you will see a Cubism painting next to a Zulu warrior's shield, a kneeling woman next to a branded doormat.

"It's like that with art " he says with knowing smile. "Nothing too routine."

Jonasi's love of carpets, he says, goes back to his early childhood when he often accompanied his father on business trips.

"He was a professional carpet fitter for a big company and when he had finished laying the carpet he would give me the off-cuts to play with. I soon learnt you had to be careful with sharp scissors, but it was a good lesson. I spent hours making my own designs and never got bored waiting for him to finish."

The young Jonasi had always loved drawing and painting, especially portraits.

"But paints and good paper were expensive, so I used to stick to carpets."

Matsmall: There's a growing demand for attractive branded mats. Image: Supplied.
Turning a passion for carpet design, with their distinctive template driven marbling and mosaic technique, into a sustainable business wasn't easy he admits.

"I had plenty of ideas, but how was I going to tell people what our small team could do? We certainly had no money for advertising so we had to visit businesses and speak to people door to door."

Even with his partner Zandile Hadebe doing the admin, making enough money to pay for our first premises in Flower Road, paying wages and buying food - it was a very difficult time. Often we felt like giving up. We were also a long way from Durban's business hub, so it meant taxis and taxi fares."

For months nobody took much notice of the traveling doormat company but then one day during their walkabout a company asked them to make a branded mat. That was the lucky break they were hoping for.

From the making of one mat Jonasi and his small team, were asked to make a number of branded carpets and wIthin a few months they had enough small carpets to show them off at a local decor exhibition.

Since then, says Jonasi, his carpet business has steadily grown.

"Companies like Sun International and KFC have given us work and that means so much to small businesses like ours. It's about trust and good service."

While his individually styled branded carpets are the bread and butter lines, he wants to make sure that the creative side is not lost.

Zandile is a part of the rug making team Zandile Hadebe looks after the admin. Image: Supplied.
"Just like a painting you want the inner messages to come through in the carpets we create. If it's a horse you must feel the spirit of the horse, or if it's about renewal then you must see the chains being broken."

Going forward, Jonasi wants to include recycled items like bottle tops, old vinyl records, even bits of discarded tyres into his next generation of carpets.

"I am looking at art and decor exhibitions, where we could take our ideas further afield to Joburg and Cape Town. Our knees get sore but we won't stop dreaming that's for sure."

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