Winning Women: Designer’s sculpting prowess creates jobs

2013-07-07 14:00

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This year marks a quarter of a century since Carrol Boyes first began selling the distinctively designed pewter items that have turned her into a globally recognised designer, writes Sue Grant-Marshall

Carrol Boyes’ functional sculpture, the passion that has defined her life, is in evidence throughout her office. Her desk is adorned with paper trays, pen holders, a vase and a tape dispenser – all products of her highly creative mind.

It’s been 25 years since the art and English teacher to fishermen’s children in Hout Bay began to realise her dream of “making sculpture less daunting” by making practical items such as cutlery and candleholders.

“Most people find big sculptures intimidating and are far less likely to buy them in a gallery than paintings,” says Boyes.

But she has always loved sculpture’s three-dimensional impact. It was while she was at the University of Pretoria, completing her fine arts degree, that she became fascinated by the human form and realised she could transform a hammer, for instance, into a human form.

But after graduating, she knew she had to get a job. So, until she was 35, she taught by day and sculpted in her basement by night.

Gradually, some of those items began to sell in her ceramicist partner’s studio in Green Point, Cape Town, and then interior designers and antiques store owners caught on.

People loved her salad servers, coffee spoons and sugar bowls, and regarded them as “trendy”, “cool”, fun and beautiful.

Boyes then took the plunge, resigned from her teaching job and gave herself six months to break even.

“I had no idea that it takes most small businesses at least two years to get to that point, but I did it,” says the softly spoken Boyes, chuckling as

she recalls her early naivety.

Back in the late 1980s, she had no money for factory premises in Cape Town, where she had grown up.

Her father, a medical doctor and owner of a citrus farm in Tzaneen, Limpopo, suggested she open one there.

Today, her factory still stands there, providing jobs for many people in the area who would otherwise be impoverished.

She also has a small factory in Paarden Eiland, Cape Town.

Many of Boyes’ employees are women and she derives much pleasure from seeing how their lives have changed.

“Now they can have houses and send their children to school. They develop such confidence,” she says.

Boyes thoroughly enjoys “wheeling and dealing, and the business side of things”, but is still the creative pulse of her business.

She makes a prototype cast, which goes to the Limpopo factory where it is finished off.

“It’s rough when it comes off the mould and my workers, who are artists in their own right, put their soul and aesthetic sense into the pieces.

There’s a bit of them in each one,” she says.

This comes through strongly in the organic and flowing designs “from our everyday environment”.

It’s this that sees South Africans living across world taking a bit of Carrol Boyes with them to remind them of their roots.

Her catalogue today exceeds one thousand items, ranging from bathroom and kitchenware to photograph holders and teapots.

Half her sales come from her ever-popular cutlery range.

She has 28 stores in this country and others in London, New York, Perth, Cyprus and Singapore.

She has been farsighted in giving 20% ownership to her employees in her retail division by establishing the Carrol Boyes Employees’ Trust.

In addition, she has revived the art of beadwork with her sponsorship of the MonkeyBiz Bead Project, which has provided jobs for 450 disadvantaged women in Cape Town townships, meaning?“they can work from home and take care of their children”, she says.

She also sponsors the MonkeyBiz Wellness Clinic that provides HIV/Aids counselling and treatment, as well as nutritional information.

If Boyes’ serene exterior seems incapable of being ruffled, you need only raise the spectre of copycat designs. When they began to emerge, she was “devastated at first”.

“I felt violated, it was eating me up, and then I realised I could turn it into something positive. It has forced me to always keep one step ahead of copiers, and to be continually innovative.”

That is no problem for this passionate designer, who turns 60 next year but has no plans to close her studio.

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