The Community Engagement Office under the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Innovation and Engagement (DVC: RIE) at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) recently facilitated a collaboration that shows the University to be engaged and in touch with the community around it, in line with the university’s ENVISION2030, strategical perspective: Society.

The office has brought together Community Engagement Showcasing Award 2020 winner, Mr Keegan Naidoo, a Masters’ degree graduate from the department of Fashion and Textiles and a Co-Op of women informal beaders, called S’yaphambili, loosely translated as ‘We are moving forward’.

The collaboration will see Naidoo, designing a high-end range of clothing that will be accessorised with beadwork crafted by the women.

According to Naidoo, the fashion range is largely influenced by his late grandmother’s love for the Marigold flower, hence the use of the rich, warm shades of yellow, greens, gold, and browns with a speckle of black and white here and there. According to the Indian culture, the Marigold flower symbolises trust in the divine and the will to overcome obstacles. It can also be linked to the powerful strength of the sun and represents power, strength, and the light that lives inside of a person.

Speaking to the Community Engagement Office, Naidoo said he felt that the symbolism of the Marigold resonated with the spirit of the informal traders, the joy with which they approach their work, and the strength with which they handle the challenges they are faced with in their line of work.

“It was important to me to capture the beauty of the Marigold and use it to celebrate and highlight the work done by the women beaders and to also celebrate my grandmother’s spirit. The range is also a meeting of cultures and unites women I care about, across the colour and culture divide,” explained Naidoo.

The S’yaphambili Co-Op is made up of a group of 10 local women of which five will participate in this project, who collectively, have just over 45 years of experience in beading. The women hail from different parts of rural areas north of Durban. They meet weekly at ‘Esibayeni’ a market for beaders that is held every Friday, rain or shine at the Victoria Street market area, in the vicinity of the Umlazi Taxi Rank, off Queen Street (now Dennis Hurley Street). During the week the women sell their range of beaded accessories from their homes, at pension pay points, and in different markets. The women use glass beads which gives the accessories an overall modern look and makes them versatile, easy to incorporate into just about any fashion style one tries to achieve.

The group led by Ms Sibongile Shozi expressed that they were quite excited about the partnership with Naidoo and DUT, saying that it was both something new and an opportunity that neither of them had ever thought possible.

“We are so excited about being part of this project, we get to see the work of our hands being showcased on a different platform and being incorporated into a western look to give it an African touch! Our craft is being taken to new heights, we will get exposed to new eyes, new markets!” said an excited Shozi.

Shozi’s colleague, Ms Phumzile Mabaso, with over 45 years of beading experience, said her mother had taught her the art of beading from when she was just a little girl. She said, just like with any craft beading had evolved over the years with more vibrant colour combinations and accessories coming to the fore.

“It’s been interesting seeing the way beads are now worn as an everyday accessory, and not just being reserved for traditional events or auspicious occasions and being worn by all races, locally and everywhere else. We are pleased to see the youth being self-aware and exhibiting parts of their tradition, whether Zulu, Xhosa, or Ndebele. They are making us proud and creating a drive or demand for our goods,” she said.

The collaboration will give the women a chance to showcase their beadwork and for Naidoo, it will be an opportunity to launch his stunning clothing line.

The Community Engagement Office will support the partnership with the marketing of the range on the different social media platforms and other platforms that may arise. A workshop to upskill the women with basic business acumen is also on the cards.

DUT’s Community Engagement Practitioner, Ms Phumzile Xulu said the collaboration would ensure that the women get the exposure they need to take their beadwork to new heights, and hopefully open new trade opportunities for the women.

“We as an office hope that this collaboration will open new doors for the bead workers and that the craft will be seen for what it is, African, traditional but versatile enough to be incorporated into modern youthful, and timeless looks. Keegan’s designs are both youthful and vibrant and will appeal to both young and old. The burst of colour is synonymous with all things South African. We are a colourful country, alive with multiple cultures and opportunities. With the country coming out of hard lockdown, the women have taken a huge knock. Sales have been low, with functions and events only now gaining momentum, this might just be what the co-op, as does every informal trader, need to recover,” said Xulu.

The collaboration will be launched in time for Mother’s Day celebration, later this year, to celebrate the women behind the brand and the women who are the brand – the customers.

Pictured: Fashion Design Student, Keegan Naidoo pining a beaded flower onto a dress he designed for the Marigold range.

Khumbuzile Mbuqe

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