Design Indaba 2009 was not Stephen Burks’s first visit to South Africa. It all began a few years ago through an Aid to Artisans collaboration with local crafter Willard Musaruwa. The collaboration resulted in a range of wire patio furniture for Artecnica. Since then, Burks says his professional practice has been profoundly informed by craft.
Here he responds to the Design Indaba audience questions:
How do the African craftsmen benefit from the projects you sell to your European clients?
The goal is to have my clients buy products produced by artisans, so the artisans benefit financially when orders come in, as well as learning new production techniques and gaining experience in international export.
Do you ensure that the crafters are paid fairly? A table that takes a week to make must be expensive.
By associating the craft-made objects with international designer brands, we raise the profile and perceived value of the craft made object. The artisans then produce less and sell them for more.
The brightly coloured recycled plastic used in the covering of the plastic chair; is this produced for you or a commercially available product?
The plastic is recycled industrial waste and is not something commercially available. If we can develop new uses for it, then maybe it will become commercially available.
Is it feasible to use recycled plastic ribbon when the market demand for the plastic chairs increases? The ribbon looks like virgin material.
We can only sell as many as we can make. These products offer a solution for the plastic chair that cannot compete with industrial production, but for consumers that want to support the artisans, demand shouldn't be an issue. The ribbon is virgin material. Recycled doesn't always mean reused. It can also mean un-used and discarded.
How has jazz influenced your design?
Music of all kinds has always been inspirational. I find jazz particularly uplifting.
What's the plan with all the leftover brown envelopes?
The brown envelopes were collected by a young designer in the audience that is planning to use them for his studio wallpaper!