Review: Designs of Life


With a houseful of dusty bits of junk and mismatched furniture and a wardrobe that includes my old school skirt (yup – still going strong after nearly two decades) I am not necessarily the best person to judge what is groovy and cool and This Season’s Must-Buy.  But believe me – if you weren’t at the Design Indaba last week, you should have been.

It has been running 11 years now, and in 2005 was voted Best Conference in the World by EIBTM (European Incentive Business Travel and Meetings).  That‘s a hell of an accolade. Each year flocks of international buyers jostle elbows at the expo while experts from across the world flood in to speak at the Design Conference. This year they included industrial designer Shunji Yamanaka showing off his experimental robot HallucII outside Japan for the first time. Then there are the normal punters like me – a lethal mix of curiosity and a genetic impulse to buy stuff.

I’d read that exhibitors are hand-picked to a stringent formula: each product must be original, innovative and, above all, quintessentially South African – no derivatives, and certainly no imports. But I was still surprised at the distinct ‘Africanness’ to many of the show pieces. A world away from the bongos and skins and carved giraffes of the market place, an essence of Africa was still tangible in the colour palette or the form or the simple recycling of everyday African products.

A common theme throughout was that many of the workforces behind the products were and are individuals from disadvantaged communities.  Perhaps the most successful of these is Monkeybiz – check out the trailer for the documentary Bigger than Barbie on .   It’ll put a smile on your face – guaranteed.

It’s true that South Africa has taken a bit of a bad rap in the international press recently.  What with the various power shenanigans (both those in power and those supposed to be supplying it) confidence in South Africa seems to have slipped a bit.

But cast your eyes a little lower down the scale and you’ll see the knitters, the beaders, the wirebenders and weavers, painters and tailors, engineers and architects… people who inspire with their entrepreneurial spirit and drive, ideas and creativity.  This is the dream behind the Indaba: a platform for economic and social renewal.  And given the evident international interest, this is a dream well on its way to coming true.



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