When did you first go to Swaziland and was this when the idea for Quazi Design first materialised?
I first went to Swaziland as a young intern in 2009 having been accepted for a years product development internship with an established craft company that is also a social enterprise called Gone Rural. http://www.goneruralswazi.com/ and I absolutely loved it! it was the perfect combination of design, empowerment, business and social impact that I was after. After the year was over I was totally inspired and knew that I wanted to do something similar…and a chance meeting with the owner of the magazine distribution in Swaziland who became a friend was the start of Quazi Design. He was looking to recycled his waste paper and I was looking for a challenge and more design work…we began very organically and with one artisan. Testing products and experimenting. We didn’t know what it would become.
Did you know from the start you wanted to work with waste magazine paper? No, this is quite an unusual material, which has its challenges! But because it is unusual its also a great material to work with, and readily available locally through our partners the magazine distributors. There is no recycling in Swaziland and we therefore have a ton of paper available. The challenge has been to make it durable and long lasting and to add value to a material that is somewhat seen as fragile and cheap.
Did the artisans you work with have previous skills in traditional craft and jewellery making? All our artisans are trained in-house and arrive with us having no previous skills in any craft. Our project started in order to create employment and we decided early on to open our doors to local women looking for work even if they have no previous craft skills. Most of our artisans pick the skills up very quickly and love working their hands but we have had a few women that prefer working in our shop or doing the admin and management. We are a small team and we try and listen to each persons skill and interests to see where we can fit them in. Artisans that show a talent for jewelery making have been trained in metal work and now make all the brass jewellery.
How many artisans do you currently employ? We employ 14 artisans full time currently.
Whats the most rewarding part of your job? Working with the artisans and having the opportunity to be creative. We have a large purpose built workshop in the suburbs of Mbabane the capital of Swaziland and even though its boiling hot in summer and cold in the winter its a wonderful place to work and creativity flourishes. I love the product development side of the business. Coming up with new ideas and experimenting. There is a wealth of local talent in Swaziland which is also inspiring.
Whats the most challenging part of your job? Making sure we have a team that feels empowered and is trained to develop the business. We are a small business and each person counts and we reply on each other. Since having children I have had to step away and this has left a gap which is hard to fill as I know the business inside out.
What came before Quazi Design, were you from a design background? I studied Theatre Design at university in Nottingham, a wonderful multi-disciplinary course and i specialised in costume design, set design, theatre for education and puppetry. I loved pattern making and always though I would work with textiles. But I was also very keen to travel and so instead worked in Greece doing youth theatre, in Barcelona doing garment construction, in Kenya with basket making, designed a café in the UK and of course spent 8 years in Swaziland! So my work has been very varied but yes I have always strived to be creative and I wouldn’t like to be doing anything else. I am lucky to have experience in various art forms and being a practical person I like to get my hands involved.
How often do you go to Swaziland? Since coming back to the UK I have only been once as having children has taken over, but I am hoping to go back soon.
Are there any exciting projects, collaborations, mile stones or collections your looking forward to in 2019? Next year we turn 10 years old! And to celebrate we will work on a very exciting collaboration of 10 new products with 10 local artisans in Swaziland, from furniture to fashion and jewellery…watch this space!