A design trek from SA to the USA

New York's design goods e-tailer Fab.com has debuted its first South Africa focussed pop-up shop

With its launch at the South African consulate in New York City, two-year-old e-commerce startup Fab.com’s mission “to bring the modern, colourful, and quirky to customers worldwide” is now doing that with Design Trek, its month-long pop-up sale of more than 150 jewellery, homeware and fashion items printed with designs ubiquitous to South Africans.

The idea stemmed from a business trip Fab.com co-founder, chief design officer and Design Trek curator Bradford Shellhammer made to SA last year. There he spent the day with Ben-Carl Havemann, the communications director for the implementation company of World Design Capital Cape Town 2014.

According to Shellhammer:

I spent a balmy African day meeting designers. Eating local food. Talking to editors. And soaking up the inspiration of the giant mountain, the grilled foods, the penguins and zebras I saw (AMAZING!), and, most familiar and inspiring: the dreams of the designers I met who longed to get their products to other parts of the world (Fab.com blog)

After that he filled a container with an assortment of items from Shine Shine trays to Pichulik Ndebele necklaces and bracelets (both now sold out). He writes that for a quarter of the designers whose goods were bought for Fab.com, he discovered those orders were the biggest single purchase those designers had ever received.

"Anna Richerby, who runs Beloved Beadwork, was able to hire additional help (and keep them on staff!) and the whole experience taught her more about business and how to work with her suppliers,” he writes. Beloved Beadwork necklaces, he adds, take one beader 22 hours to create by hand. These pieces, on Fab.com, have also sold out.

Cape Town-based ceramicist Clementina van der Walt, one of 25 local designers and artists to be featured in the sale, said Havemann called her to ask for images of some of her work which he had seen on her website. Her Fab.com order wound up consisting of one type of vase – the “zig zag” vase – in four colours. The vase sells for about R800 in South Africa and $99 (almost R1000) on Fab.com.

Van der Walt reports:

It was a small quantity and it seems that as soon as the product went live on the site it was sold out almost immediately which is most encouraging. It's the first time I have had my work sold on an online website and the experience was exciting.

Rob Spira of New York-based fashion business-consulting firm Launch Collective said Fab.com has grown greatly and he is aware that Bradford searches for new product all the time. “I don't think (the pop-up shop) is on anyone's radar here but that's probably because no agency is doing anything to increase exposure to SA design," he said from Korea where he was attending Seoul Fashion Week.

Spira’s father is South African so he has visited the country on family holidays many times. "Fab.com has been really successful and it speaks well of South Africa that it's on Bradford's radar,” he added.