TheUrbanative is a contemporary African furniture and product design company in South Africa whose products are defined and differentiated by the juxtaposition of abstracted ethnic cultural graphics and motifs with the functionality and look and feel of classical European mid-century and Bauhaus furniture silhouettes. Africanism chatted to founder and creative director, Mpho Vackier about the brand
Can you tell us about your background?
I am a metallurgical engineer turned interior designer. I had always felt that I was a designer at heart and seven years ago I made the leap of faith to quit my job as a metallurgist and study interior design. After working as an interior designer for a really amazing company and getting the opportunity to exhibit some of my designs at Decorex in 2015, I decided to start working on a furniture range, inspired by Ndebele graphics, which I launched late 2016 at Hello Ambassador and thereafter at Design Indaba as one of the emerging creatives of the class of 2017. It’s been an incredible trip; we just launched our second collection a week ago at Design Joburg, which received super positive reviews and feedback.
How did you get into furniture design?
Whilst studying interior design at Inscape I knew that I wanted to end up doing furniture and product design. I was obsessed and still am with Marcel Wanders, Karim Rashid and Philipe Starck to mention a few. Their approach to product and furniture design was so fresh and I was hooked. After working for an amazing interior design company for a while, I decided it was time to go out on my own; that’s when i started working on the Afro-centric Ndebele range, which took about a year, designing and prototyping to the launch at the 2017 Design Joburg show.
What influences your designs?
I am inspired by African culture, be it graphics and motifs, the ways people lived, cultural stories and communication forms, as well as classical mid-century furniture silhouettes and Bauhaus philosophies of functionality and multi-functionality.
I love the visual tension created by contrasting elements/materials/ideas and the result thereof. I am also inspired by patterns in everything and I love translating those patterns into functional 3D products that are not just functional but tell a story. TheUrbanative is more than just furniture, it is a way to celebrate and tell cultural stories via furniture and products.
Can you tell us more about some of your collections?
We launched our Afrocentric: Ndebele-inspired collection last year, and just recently launched our African Crowns collection last week. The range takes cues from the lines, forms and textures seen in African hairstyles, putting the relationship between African hair and identity front and centre while challenging and exploring beauty standards and how they are represented. Hair has always played a significant role in the culture of ancient African civilisations. It has been a symbol and disseminator of family background, social status, spirituality, fertility, differing tribes and marital status.
Which interesting projects have you been involved with?
We were part of the Nandos Portal to Africa exhibition which happened in May, where we exhibited our Nomazo cabinet, and we continue to work with amazing interior designers to create custom or inspired new pieces based on some of our existing pieces or completely new products.
Another venture that I am part of is a new wood powder coating company, which is a first in South Africa. The company is called Sigma Powdercoaters and will change how we as designers approach our manufacturing processes with MDF timber. It will also make a great impact in leveraging technology to manufacture intelligently.
And finally we just moved into a shared showroom room space in the amazing 99 Juta building in Braamfontein. Our neighbours include established designers such as Dokter and Misses, Joe Paine and Houtlander and amazing emerging talents like MashT Design and Monique Vee. We are so excited to be part of a supportive community of designers who understand the design landscape in SA.
What inspires you about African design?
I love how we are taking our varied inspirations, cultures and backgrounds to tell amazing stories about ourselves and where we come from through design. I love the stories and energy behind locally designed products – there is vibrancy and authenticity in the way that African designers approach the creative process – there’s also a culture of community/village wherein designers come together and feed off each other’s energy which results in original products that have a unique global appeal.
What are your plans for the next 12 months?
To continue to share African stories through products and furniture to the world. I want to create pieces that are timeless whilst solving social problems today. I want to continue growing TheUrbanative’s base here at home and to start making tracks into other international markets.