South African Essence: The Power of Creativity

As South Africans we know that this beautiful place that we call home, and its people, are truly unique. South Africa has a distinctive aesthetic, rich history, cultural diversity and, of course, an unique sense of humour. This is evident through the design work that is produced locally, and our creativity is an abundance that it is considered one of the country’s greatest exports.

This theme, South African Essence, was recently discussed during the fifth episode of a webinar series, hosted by the V&A Waterfront, as an extension of their 100 Beautiful Things campaign. Thought leaders of local industries discussed the power of South African creativity and the role that it plays on the world stage, as well as the impact it has on our local industries, including tourism.

“Our aim was to look at things that were designed with a uniquely South Africa flavour, something that you can only get locally and that is created from a design process that speaks about who we are as a nation,” said Cathy O’Clery, Creative Director at Platform Creative and one of the lead curators on the project. “South African Essence is about collaboration, our culture, our heritage and creating something that we can show off to the world.”

Maxhosa Africa is a brand that is known for its strong South African influence and is easily recognisable by its bold, colourful Xhosa-inspired statement knitwear. Laduma Ngxokolo, designer and founder of Maxhosa Africa, started his brand through the exploration of his heritage. He wanted his creations to celebrate traditional Xhosa aesthetics. “When I started the brand as a thesis project I was interested in exploring more about my own identity as a young Xhosa man, I wanted to create something that  would relate in this modern age. I felt like it was important that I teach the world about South Africa through my designs; our culture, where we come from and where we want to go as young South Africans,” said Laduma Ngxokolo.

Trevyn McGowan, Co-founder of Business of Design and the Guild Group, who was also a member on the panel explained, “South Africans work from the heart and the gut, they are always following on from some sort of format that has been before. We feel who we are, you experience our art with your emotions not your head. Artists need to leverage on their heritage as a primary influence to come back to.”

South Africa is one of the biggest holiday destinations in the world and people often don’t realise that design goes hand-in-hand with tourism industry. From hotels and food experiences, to tourist attractions and transport, our design industry has a hand in every aspect of our culture, not only for aesthetic purposes but also for functionality and problem solving. “In order to be a great destination a country needs to be a great place to live first,” said Enver Duminy, Chief Executive Officer at Cape Town Tourism.

The tourism industry has been largely affected by the global pandemic, with borders being closed and people not being able to travel as a result of major job losses around the country.

“We need to re-think local tourism experiences, this is where design and creativity comes in. It is about how we adapt the products and services that we have to make it relevant for the consumer whose needs are changing. In the next couple of months the tourism industry will be dependent on local travel. It is crucial that we adapt to stay relevant. The domestic market will allow us to get through this changing climate,” added Duminy.

We belong to a digital generation, we absorb everything we see online, therefore it is important that we don’t lose sight of our South African essence. Design is an opportunity to keep our heritage alive. We need to focus on creating opportunities for collaboration that will see local small businesses succeed and create social value in the process.

The next 100 Beautiful Things episode, Simply Beautiful, will be taking place on 27 August.

To register to attend, please sign up here.