More than R1.5 million worth of craft from 13 Western Cape producers was ordered during three international lifestyle shows this year.
"There is a significant trend towards high quality, unique handmade items that are ethically-sourced, support communities, preserve culture, are sustainable and tell a story," said Ryan Rode, market support coordinator for exports for the Cape Craft & Design Institute (CCDI).
At the Ambiente show in Frankfurt in February, five craft producers received total orders worth more than R1 million and quoted on additional orders worth nearly R915 000. They are Indigi Designs, TW Ceramics, Cowgirlblues, Sithabe African Craft and Recreate.
At the New York International Gift Fair in August, the sales and pending orders of nine producers totalled nearly R360 000. They are Sithabe, Brass Images, Veldt, Carrol Boyes, Chimpel, Love Milo, Beloved Beadwork, Chic Fusion and Indigi Designs.
At Maison et Object in Paris in September, sales and pending orders for six participants are still being assessed but should total at least R136 800. They are Recreate, Cowgirlblues, Casamento, Chimpel, Chic Fusion and Love Milo.
European business, including the U.K., has slowed down because of the recession, said Rode. However, U.S. markets for South African craft are buoyant and growing rapidly.
For the past month, U.S. online design store Fab.com has run an inaugural South African sale. "We've had strong response from shoppers across the entire collection," said Fab.com's Kimberly Oliver. "Standouts have been the jewellery and other wearables (Babatunde's hats, ties, and clutches – with their graphic prints and bold colors – are completely on trend), as well as the Shnu blankets and Pederson and Lennard's playful, multifunctional, items for the home."
If more administrative support becomes available, the CCDI plans to take part annually in two more major shows – in the U.K. and Australia. "The goal is to build a strong brand in five markets, while also taking part in national South African pavilions at shows in developing countries," Rode said.
He added that South Africa’s distance from international markets adds to costs, and those costs, such as freight, are two significant factors that hamper serious growth for a lot of craft producers. Their challenge, he said, was to retain their "authenticity and creative integrity" while remaining commercial and competitive.
The Cape Craft & Design Institute was set up in 2001 to promote and grow the economic sustainability of the craft and design sector in the Western Cape.