Innovative creativity

2008-12-02 00:00

Margaret von Klemperer

THE Echo Craft Bazaar, which opens on December 3 at 6 pm, has been saved after it began to look as if it might not happen this year. But, as reported earlier, Stella Pretorius and Julia Buss of uSisi Designs have stepped in and taken over.

Visiting them last week at their Project Gateway offices I found them busy in the usual pre-bazaar organised chaos of craft items, labels, pricing debates and the rest. They watched impatiently as I peered into boxes to find pieces to photograph and made mental notes of what to come and buy.

Pretorius and Buss have been together for three years — Pretorius describes herself as the creative one, while Buss is the administrative, organised member of the team. They met through the bazaar when Buss was running it at the Tatham Art Gallery and Pretorius was co-ordinating crafters through Gateway and uSisi.

uSisi, which was founded by Pretorius, manufactures craft by using traditional techniques such as beading or crochet, but in different, innovative ways. One example is the crocheted copper wire that, used in shawls and handbags in combination with beads and buttons, has become one of uSisi’s trademarks.

“A lot of my knowledge I got from the women I work with,” says Pretorius. “They taught me the techniques, and I have the ideas about what the market is looking for.”

The original idea for the crocheted wire came from the day when Pretorius saw her small son taking an old motor apart. When he got into the alternator, Pretorius saw the wire, and saw it as a fabric. The first items she used it for were crocheted Christmas tree decorations.

“We’ve been exporting wire pieces to the U.S. for about four years,” says Pretorius. “Now we are getting orders for panels, three metres by one-and-a-half. We make the wire work and send them over, and they lay them in resin and turn them into rigid panels. If you can crochet, you can crochet anything — wire, scoobie wire, hemp, whatever.”

They have a very accommodating local supplier for their wire, because unlike the people who make alternators, uSisi only want their wire to be a certain colour.

Pretorius trained as an occupational therapist. She used to work in resettlement areas in the former homelands, helping with the rehabilitation of disabled people. “But I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with craft,” she says.

uSisi employs between 30 and 40 women crafters — in some cases three generations of the same family. The company does not usually retail — but works to order and sells to retail outlets, getting their contacts through trade shows. “It’s important not to sit with cupboards full of stock,” Pretorius explains. She worries about the lack of status of crafters in South Africa — in other places they are admired as craftsmen and women, but here they don’t get the recognition. And, because they need to put food on the table, they often accept far too little for their work.

It is for these reasons that uSisi has stepped in to take over the craft bazaar. “Julia and I are both passionate about crafters and their products, and the way people can earn a living by creating. This year we came in late, so we have gone to the people we know can supply,” says Pretorius. But expect bigger things in the future.

• The Echo Craft Bazaar opens in the hall at Project Gateway on the corner of Langalibalele and Pine streets at 6 pm on December 3 and runs until December 6. Hours: 10 am to 4 pm daily.

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