Nothing has quite the appeal of handmade when it comes to gifts and extraordinary products for around your home. Particularly as these days, handmade no longer means your aunt produced it in wool that she had lying around the house. Nowadays, handmade comes very closely associated with terms like ‘green’, ‘ethical’ and ‘sophisticated’, and one is surrounded by slogans that include ‘the handmade pledge!’ and ‘I buy handmade’ and indeed, there are now so many different unique gifts and products in the craft world that handmade has taken on a life of its own.
In the Cape, craft shopping for handmade is BIG. There are shops crawling out of the woodwork, many of them boutique-style, upmarket showcases of the diversity, fun and creativity of craft producers in this country, with vibey, sophisticated names that prepare you for select craft objects, rather than the sympathy products that used to pass as handmade craft. These boutiques and shops play a big role in driving job creation and placing designer goods on the market that more and more people are too happy to buy, in preference to the plastic drivel that has inundated our market from places like China.
8 Great spots to buy handmade in the Cape
Cape Town City Bowl
Head into the Cape Quarter and Bo Kaap, and there are a couple of shops that are a must-see. Monkeybiz Bead Project, is a non-profit organisation that provides self-employment for bead artists and makes sure that all profits go right back into the communities from which the crafts came. Admittedly the objects on offer are not of the same sophistication of those at Imiso Lifestyle and Streetwires, but then you’re supporting an excellent cause, and acquiring a couple of bead dolls for children’s birthdays or to decorate the Christmas tree is a real ‘feel good’ experience. They also have an online shop, which makes it even more convenient – visit them at 43 Rose Street, Bo Kaap, 021 426 0145
Imiso ceramics, (see photograph above) also in the Cape Quater in Green Point are quite plainly breathtaking in their simplicity. The collection of ceramic cups, bowls, mugs, vases, plates, and once-offs are gorgeous. And it isn’t surprising to learn that the team behind these aesthetic artefacts are already, just four years after starting out, exporting to Paris, New York, Austria and USA. Imiso, which means ‘tomorrow’, is the love child of Andile Dyalvane, Abongile Madabane, Zizipho Poswa and Mlamli Charles Mayosi – hip, trendsetters of the creative craft economy. Their brand of ceramics is at once distinctively African with a uniqueness that is refreshing, but also inspirational. I can highly recommend you acquire some of their wares before they become too expensive to afford. Visit their shop, if only to watch them making their products on the premises. Visit them at Shaft 034, The Square, Cape Quarter, Green Point 021 421 1071
Streetwires Shop and Studio is the place to find wire art and craft in Cape Town Central. They’ve been around since October 2000, introduced their signature Nguni range in 2004, and their founder, Patrick Schofield, won a ‘Social Entrepreneur Award’ for the project in 2008. Their offices are a colourful combination of workshop, design team, and shop, and it’s exciting to see how the project works, as well as a great place to pick up a fairly traded piece of local handmade wire art. Visit them at 77 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town Central, 021 426 2475
Cape Originals in Bree Street stock Avoova, and if you haven’t already discovered this range, you need to head down here, if nothing but to ooh and aah. Avoova is a range of ostrich eggshell designs where the shards of the broken eggshell, discarded by local ostrich breeders, are beautifully used in individual designs. There is a real African feel to these contemporary functional art pieces, that include picture frames, bowls, vases, mirrors, lamps, and plates. Bangles are also an option and would make gorgeous birthday gifts for girlfriends, whilst their bowls and ornamental boxes are well worth the investment for something like a wedding anniversary. At the back of your mind, bear in mind that the production of these craft items is one of the biggest employers of the formerly disadvantaged community in Prince Albert. Visit them at 97 Bree Street, cnr Shortmarket, Cape Town Central, 021 422 1620
African Home in Caledon Street, is also well worth a visit, if for nothing other than their incredible galvanised steel wire candle holders. Their range of pottery, tableware, garden furniture, textiles, wirework, décor items, accessories, jewellery, African dolls, baskets and woven items (particularly the colourful sisal baskets), goods made from recycled pastic, including some to-die-for fluffy handbags, tin can work and more is a tribute to local community crafters, fairtrade, environmentally aware and stocked with potential gifts for just about everyone. Visit them at 41 Caledon Street, Cape Town Central, 021 461 1700
Outside of the City Bowl – Head out of Cape Town and there is almost as much variety.
The Montebello Design Centre in Newlands is a wonderful collection of designers and artists, from jewellers to painters, film makers and creators of books. It’s not only a beautiful setting, located in farm buildings of historic value, but it also offers a greenhouse and nursery, a forge, over twenty arts and craft studios and workshops, and a couple of restaurants for welcome cups of tea or lunch. Jewellery studios include Sitali Jewellers, there are two ceramic studios, garden furniture is produced here, and the Mielie Shop, which stocks a serious collection of arts and crafts rounds off the picture. And all of this under a canopy of rich trees. Visit the Centre at 31 Newlands Avenue, 021 685 6445. (Photograph: © Artist Lesley Charnock – Find Lesley at Montebello)
The Kalk Bay Modern is a beautiful gallery above Olympia Café in Kalk Bay. Whilst the gallery displays exhibits of local artists, it also showcases and sells local crafts from delicate ceramics, vibrant textiles, or playful, funky jewellery – it’s all there. And whilst a little on the pricey side, you’ll always find something just ‘beautiful’ here. Visit them at 1st Floor, Olympia Building, 136 Main Rd, Kalk Bay
At Africa Silks, in Stellenbosch, you will find a wonderful collection of handmade silk products – from duvets, through scarves, to clothing. The silk is handmade in South Africa from mulberry silkworm and wild silk of the Mopani worm, both labour intensive processes. The cocoons are collected in the Vryburg area, and in Namibia, where a job creation project runs for unemployed women. And the products are gorgeous. The thought of sleeping under a silk duvet with one’s head on a silk pillow is just heaven, and so are the prices, but they’re quite understandable, given the process. Visit them at 36 Church Street, Stellenbosch, 021 882 9839
Also don’t forget:
The Gift Store, in Kenilworth Centre
The Potter’s Shop & Studio in Kalk Bay
Izibini Life Lounge in Hermanus
Philani Weaving in Khayelitsha