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Creativity at Cape's Design Indaba

Published Mar 1, 2014


New businesses, start-ups and unique concepts are out in full force at this year’s Design Indaba, on at the Cape Town International Convention Centre until Sunday.

Awash with stands showing off a selection of the country’s design offerings, from fashion to textiles and furniture to industrial design, the Indaba also boasts the work of 40 young design businesses sponsored by the Arts and Culture department.

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This year Calvin Botha is introducing his Custom Racing Bikes business in the Emerging Creatives area.

His Mountain Air bike is made with a 3D printer, and will soon be put to the test at the Absa Cape Epic by cyclist Theresa Horn.

“I wanted to create a mountain bike out of a rider’s dream. It has a super aero-dynamic mountain bike frame,” he says.

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He believes that the 3D printer is limited only by one’s imagination.

The young designer quit his job at Trek Bicycle South Africa to start his own business this year, and was surprised he made the cut for Emerging Creatives.


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The government initiative provides a mentorship programme to designers who previously did not make the cut. This year, eight designers were offered mentorship and show space after they missed exhibiting last year.

Among them is bag designer Marlon George, a former cruise line worker who is showing his range called Libi.

He was mentored by Gerard Back, who owns the design company Mila.

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“I used to only make iPad covers, but I was being cornered into a brand,” he said. The mentoring process assisted him in making his product more universal.

His motivation to become a bag designer come from attending a previous Design Indaba, and he is now stocked at markets and The Stable in Bree Street. His two-year-old business is still a small one as, he says, he works from the “kitchen floor to the kitchen table” making his bags.

Elsewhere on the floor is the Mohair South Africa stand, recognisable by a bicycle-powered weaving machine producing a lengthy scarf. There you will find designer Laduma Ngxokolo and his knitwear range, Maxhosa.

He says his knitwear is 20 percent mohair.

“The material is shiny. They would look dull with 100 percent wool.”

In warm climates like ours, local knitwear design is rare, but this hasn’t stopped Ngxokolo.

“I grew up knitting. I started knitting at 16 years old. My late mother taught me.”

The textile lover holds a textile design degree from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, and now stocks his Xhosa beadwork-inspired knitwear at Merchants in Long Street and in online stores.

“Chunky knitwear is not suitable for the local market. We need light wear, which is better for a four-month winter.”


A schedule of fashion shows is playing out at the expo too, with start-up Goodbye Malaria making their debut on the ramp. It’s a simple concept – buy pyjama pants to end malaria.

The initiative’s director Sherwin Charles says the short and long pants are made with shweshwe material, and feature a citronella flower in the design. They are campaigning for people to wear the pants to work on World Malaria Day, on April 25.

The pants are available at their Design Indaba stall and at

The project is funding spraying houses in the Maputo province of Mozambique.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the city, another big design fair is happening.

The Guild Design Fair is a showcase of collectable design on at The Lookout at the V&A Waterfront. It is organised by Trevyn and Julian McGowan of Southern Guild, a platform that showcases South African design and international fairs.


Their talks are free with a day pass to the fair (R75). These include topics like 3D design and stone knapping (flint shaping).

International exhibitors include Jana Scholze of the Victoria and Albert Museum (UK), and puppets from the production The War Horse.

Their VIP is Spanish designer Nacho Carbonell, who is known for design-art pieces. His bronze installation Playground Closes at Dusk is showing at Guild, featuring 4m bronze pieces. Guild also features an Artisan area for smaller collectable design objects. The Origins Centre will show early human objects.

l Design Indaba ends tomorrow at 6pm. Expo tickets are R80 at the door or at Computicket. See

l Guild runs until March 9, from 11am until 8pm most days. Guided tours are at 11am at weekends and talks are at noon. Tickets are from Computicket or at the door. See


The high cost of tickets for the Design Indaba conference, which runs alongside the expo, has drawn criticism from design schools and teachers, who say the price makes the event inaccessible to the youngsters who could most benefit from the presentations.

Tickets for the talks, which ended yesterday, came in at a pricey R7 450 for three days, or an equally hefty R2 995 for a single day.

Carmen Schaefer, design and art direction lecturer at Red and Yellow school of advertising, marketing and design, said that in the 11 years she had been teaching at private design schools “if three students could afford to go, it’s been a lot”.

The school had about 200 students, and not a single one had attended this year’s conference, nor had any of the teachers attended this year.

In previous years, instead of paying for a full weekend conference ticket and sending one lecturer, the school had sent a group of teachers to a simulcast venue, which was much cheaper. This year, however, simulcast tickets were sold out so they could not attend.

Tickets for the Cape Town simulcast cost R1 750 for over-25s, and R1 150 for under-25s.

“Our students know about the simulcast tickets, but I don’t think they can afford them,” said Schaefer. While speaking to Weekend Argus she asked her class if they could afford to go. They responded with a collective “no”.

“It is a very worthwhile conference. I am so disappointed we couldn’t get tickets to go this year. I wish I could go there for three days with my students. They would learn so much.”


Schaefer added that all Red and Yellow students attended the Design Indaba Expo which, at a cost of just R80 before the student discount, they looked forward to every year.

Vega School of Brand Leadership principal Jan Horn said that, in their experience, the full Design Indaba experience was just too expensive.

“We do try the simulcast, but even that is too expensive,” he said. “We do encourage students to go because it is highly inspiring for people to attend.”

Horn said he had heard that the cost was the consequence of the high quality of international speakers who attended, and he suggested that including more local speakers might help reduce costs.

They did want to hear international speakers, though.

Speakers this year included South African fashion designer Gavin Rajah, Dutch interior design duo Stefan Scholten and Carole Baijings, New York graphic designer and typographer Stefan Sagmeister, award-winning South African author Lauren Beukes, and managing director of global brand consultancy Wolff Olins in London, Ije Nwokorie.

Allen le Roux, chief executive and academic director of Fedisa school of fashion design, said private institutions like his were rarely, if ever, offered sponsorships to attend events like the Design Indaba because “the perception exists that only the wealthy attend private institutions”.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he added.

While the cost precluded most students from hearing the speakers, he said all Fedisa students were encouraged to attend the expo, “which helps to familiarise them with what is happening in the industry”.

“At least here their student cards offer them some respite from the R80 entrance fee.”

Le Roux said several lecturers did attend parts of the conference each year, specifically to hear internationally acclaimed Dutch trend forecaster Li Edelkoort.

Weekend Argus

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