Giving Back

Published on

My favourite activity besides creating, is giving back...

We (hubby and I) started Ethno Bongo, a unique craft store 20 years ago in Hout Bay, a picturesque fishing village outside Cape Town.

The vast availability of organic materials in South Africa provides boundless creative ideas and we have been stocking our store with innovative products for all these years. 

I noticed that African jewellery was a little too traditional for the European tourist market and I started the ‘Dolce & Banana’ brand….(with its own funny story!) creating jewellery using shells and local gemstones in more muted tones but keeping the African flair.

Appreciation of the handmade in our over industrialised world is welcome in a country where unemployment is so high. Imizamo Yethu is an informal settlement in Hout Bay where most residents with basic education and no formal skills struggle to find work. I soon had a team of ladies eager to learn and it was the start of a successful partnership still going strong today with a team of three ladies with enough practice to work on their own from their homes. They visit the workshop once a week during the busy season to bring their work and get materials for new orders.

During these 20 years I have trained a great number of young ladies. Some went on to other things and often visit, which makes me think proudly that they value their time with me and have learnt a few things they will hopefully also pass on. 

Hand Eye Magazine published a lovely article on our story.

I recently created other products using off cuts of local textiles. Inspired by the re-cycle movement and in particular by Romuald Hazoume we are making contemporary African masks from Jerrycans. This was picked up by a famous French Gallery As’Art Maison et Objet and a Hotel design consultancy in Paris.

Still using  fabric remnants and  palm fronds found in Hout Bay, we are now making ‘no-hunting trophies’ of wild African animals and we just fulfilled our last order going to As’ART in Paris.

From traditional to trendy the South African craft has become a lucrative export trade. My next ambition would be to offer skill development in needing areas through workshops providing employment whilst growing the &Banana brand.