Stylish local fabric range has a real feel-good factor
Model Zwelisha Giampietri swings her little mustard and red protea skirt for the camera, a trendy cape thrown over her shoulders. Her clothes were created by designer Zamo Nsele; the textiles are examples of the newly launched Ufafa Valley Fabrics range.
The attractive contemporary material is as interesting as the story behind it. The images on the fabrics have been digitally produced from hand-embroidered work created by crafters at the community-based NGO Woza Moya in the rural Ufafa valley near Ixopo in southern KwaZulu-Natal.
Woza Moya, established in 2,000 to provide home-based healthcare, was a response to the devastating effect of HIV/Aids in the region and the fact that women could not get to local clinics and hospitals because they didn't have the money to do so.
Aside from child care, water and sanitation, early childhood development and a host of other programmes, the NGO started a craft enterprise as part of its sustainable livelihood project. This income-generation project directly supports almost 2,000 people.
For years the organisation has trained groups of crafters to either embroider, knit or sew a range of products. When Woza Moya was given a Rotary Global Grant last year, the decision was taken to overhaul the range.
For this they turned to Angela Shaw, the director of the Durban-based KZNSA (KwaZulu-Natal Society of the Arts). She took a long hard look at the range of products being produced - fabric bags, cushions, soft toys - and gave them a contemporary look.
"The work was exquisite," she said, "but we moved away from little flowers in a square, pared down the range, tidied up finishes, changed the shape of the work and introduced more fashionable colour combinations."
It's not cheap having fabric printed, but there is a market out there, especially among interior decoratorsAngela Shaw, director of KZNSA
Part of her idea was to stock the KZNSA craft and design shop with Woza Moya products and to track sales.
"It's the KZNSA's mandate to grow the creative economy in KwaZulu-Natal and to bring the talent of the province to market. We jumped at the opportunity."
It's only been four months but Shaw is happy with the commission-based sales.
One of the most exciting developments was scanning some of the crafters' hand-embroidered works and converting them into repeat prints on heavy fabric. The fabric has many uses, including clothing, curtains, upholstery, bed throws and cushion covers.
"It's not cheap having fabric printed, but there is a market out there, especially among interior decorators," says Shaw.
The hope is that this will create a healthy, sustainable stream of income for the crafters. The prints are also available in a range of stationery.
In a unique twist the crafters will add freestyle embroidery to the textiles' designs. This will add texture and depth and give the crafters a chance to enhance their own creations, says Shaw.
The Ufafa range of textiles went on exhibition on Tuesday with enormous, dramatic fabric drapes fronted with beautiful portrait photographs by Angela Buckland of the embroiderers, knitters and crafters.
The organisation is looking for potential stockists around the country.
• This article was originally published in The Times.