iSpy goes into the garden for new range

Knysna-based textile studio iSpy’s latest range was inspired by the plants in designer Lauren Frates’ garden and two cheeky birds that visit them.

Textile designer Lauren Frates may describe herself as a “Scandi junkie”, but she doesn’t veer far from her South African roots. “Being South African, it’s inevitable that Africa will creep into my designs, usually as an interpretation of my immediate surroundings,” she explains.

Frates started her company, iSpy, almost by accident when she and her husband left the bright city lights of Joburg for a quieter life in the small seaside town of Knysna, on the idyllic Garden Route. It’s a spectacular part of the country with no shortage of natural beauty to feed creative inspiration.

With 10 years of graphic design experience behind her, Frates started playing around with some ideas just for fun and iSpy grew from there.

Frates designs and screenprints the textiles by hand herself. Helping her with manufacturing are women from a job-creation community project called Women of Vision based in a nearby township. “I’m all about getting back to basics through handprinted products produced by the local community,” says Frates, who is passionate about creating employment and utilising local skills.

The Protea series was Frates’ first range. Fascinated by the architectural structure of South Africa’s instantly recognisable national flower, she wanted to give it a “retro-Scandi twist”.

Although the Protea series was recently included in Woolworths’ Artisan Range, at the time Frates was unaware that she was planting a seed that would eventually grow into the successful business she runs today.

“The best part of designing the Protea range was that I had no idea where I was going to take it or what I would do with the designs, so there weren’t any restrictions and limitations to consider.”

A retro kiddies range soon followed, born out her frustration at the lack of inspiring décor for children in South Africa. However, Frates realised the bright range would work just as beautifully in contemporary adult spaces and has since applied the designs to tea-towels and over-sized cushions.

“The designs are inspired by our visits to the Saturday Wild Oats Market in Sedgefield – apples, kiwis and figs – with loads of popping colour.”