Michael Rowlinson, a social entrepreneur from Cape Town and a 2016 Design Indaba Emerging Creative, has created a range of baby blankets that are not only beautiful and distinctly African but also aim to assist the less fortunate. For every Umbala blanket sold, Rowlinson and his team donate a blanket to an underprivileged child in Southern Africa.
Based in Cape Town, Rowlinson describes himself as “self-taught designer with a background in art and photography”. Working closely with Francois Rey from Monday Design, Rowlinson developed the range of baby blankets known as the Umbala Blankets. With a unifying colour palette, they created a range of comfortable blankets inspired by the majesty of Africa.
Rowlinson says Umbala, which means colour in Zulu and Xhosa, is a celebration of the colour of Africa. “The bright, bold, and contrasting colours of Africa inspire the design of the blankets,” he says. “While the patterns are a celebration of the warmth and eclectic personality of our country. The geometric patterns are strongly influenced by the Ndebele culture.”
Umbala was created for two reasons, says Rowlinson. Firstly, to fulfil a “desire to create a designer product that is ethically manufactured in South Africa, that could be displayed around the world and be seen as a “beautiful African-inspired item” and secondly, to give back through the “buy-one-give-one incentive”.
Rowlinson says he faced some challenges while creating the range. “Being a small manufacturer, I was not taken seriously by the textile manufacturing industry”.
“I really found it a difficult to contact manufacturers and get a response from the factory owners”. I tried most factories in Cape Town,” he adds.
The Umbala blankets were exhibited at the Design Indaba Emerging Creatives exhibition at the V&A Waterfront in February 2016.