Light inspired by Tsonga 'tutu' crowned SA's Most Beautiful Object

28 February 2018 - 13:46 By Roberta Thatcher
Thabiso Mjo of Mash.T Design Studio and her Tutu 2.0 Pendant Light.
Thabiso Mjo of Mash.T Design Studio and her Tutu 2.0 Pendant Light.
Image: Supplied

Every year, the Design Indaba Festival asks the country to vote for the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa. Ten items are nominated and the public decides which one will take the coveted top place. The 2018 winner is the Tutu 2.0 Pendant Light by Mash.T Design Studio.

We steal a moment with the in-demand creator of the pendant, Thabiso Mjo, to find out more about her work as a designer, and what this award means for her.

What led you to pursue a career in design?

I majored in Production Design at AFDA and after working in the industry for a few years, I decided I wanted to create spaces in the real world that people could interact with. So, I went back to school, Inscape Design School, and did a course in Interior Decorating and Architectural Drawing.

How did Mash.T Design Studio come about?

I decided to start my own business, and in my quest to build a brand presence and gain legitimacy, I entered the Nando's Hot Young Designer competition in 2016. The brief was to design a pendant light. I’d never designed anything before, but I thought that getting onto Nando’s radar would be good for my business, so I went for it. Much to my surprise and delight, I was named co-winner for my design of the Tutu 2.0. pendant! 

Having never designed a product, how did you come up with the idea for this light?

I've always loved tutus, in fact I wore a tutu to my graduation at AFDA. When I saw the xibelani skirt, worn by Tsonga women, it reminded me of a ballerina’s tutu, an African tutu; regal and super cool. I immediately thought it would make an impressive pendant.

The Tutu 2.0 Pendant Light was inspired by xibelani skirts worn by Tsonga women.
The Tutu 2.0 Pendant Light was inspired by xibelani skirts worn by Tsonga women.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Maxakadzi

What's the story behind the light's name?

As mentioned, it's African version of the tutu, hence the Tutu 2.0. 

What does it being named Most Beautiful Object mean to you?

It's surreal. A full circle moment for me. Two years ago, I was announced co-winner of the Nando's competition at Design Indaba and two years later, on that same stage, that same product is now named Most Beautiful Object in South Africa. It's so cool. 

What are you currently working on?

I’m moving into a showroom, 99 Juta in Braamfontein, Joburg. This is exciting because it will give people an opportunity to touch and feel the products and to experience the Mash.T brand firsthand. I'm also working on a range of smalls specifically for the domestic market. 

How would you describe your design aesthetic?

The juxtaposition between the straight, sleek lines synonymous with Western design and the bold, bright colours of Africa. 

A piece you'd love to design one day?

A chair! An iconic South African dining chair that will be exported around the world. 

Umbaco Wall Lamp by Mash.T Design Studio.
Umbaco Wall Lamp by Mash.T Design Studio.
Image: Supplied
Mojo Chair by Mash.T Design Studio.
Mojo Chair by Mash.T Design Studio.
Image: Supplied

The best thing about being a designer in South Africa?

The possibilities are endless. We have so much to draw from, so much inspiration, we're so diverse and generally, South Africans are creative because we are really forced to make things work. 

Who would you love to own your products?

Every South African, especially those whose cultures and heritage I draw from, regardless of their socio-economic circumstances. I think everyone deserves good design and deserve to see themselves represented at this level on this scale.  


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