Exponential growth

While the Design Indaba Conference talks the talk, the concurrent Expo walks the walk with a host of gorgeous local products.

First Published in

Heading into its third year, Design Indaba Expo has multiplied in size, and grows from strength to strength with each new incarnation.

In 2004, the Design Indaba took a pioneering step to boost local design, and the first Design Indaba Expo was inaugurated in association with the Department of Trade and Industry. It was heralded as an industry first for its efforts to stimulate home grown, high-end design by displaying only the best of the best. In merely two years, the Expo has virtually doubled in size, and now commands the respect of the local industry. It has grown into SA's answer to overseas institutions like 100% Design, the Milan Fair and Maison&Objet.

Far exceeding the first crowds who flocked to the inaugural event, the 2005 expo attracted an unprecedented number of visitors. In excess of 12 000 members of the public, conference delegates and speakers attended. Judging by the high interest in the 2006 expo, it will be the biggest one yet in terms of the number of exhibitors who will take up stand space within the halls of the Cape Town International Conventional Centre, where the annual event is held.

The expo component of the Design Indaba runs alongside the Conference and provides a commercial platform for the finest South African designers to leverage local goods and services to the global market. It also introduces the most influential international buyers to the finest South African creative product in order to encourage export.

It also has a huge impact on the local market - and not just through direct trade with the public. The expo aims to create discerning consumers through exposure to the principles and products of good design, resulting in the demand and production of innovative, evolving and excellent

Special agent

The Design Indaba Expo indeed occupies a unique position within the local market. Several key elements distinguish it from other décor and design-oriented shows such as Decorex and Rooms on View.

Primarily, the Design Indaba Expo is a showcase of the best of South African design in all sectors.

  • It is multi-sectoral, featuring advertising, architecture, craft, decor, film, fashion, graphic design, interior, jewellery, new media, publishing, product design and visual media.
  • It showcases the best of local design - original, contemporary and innovative product that is quintessentially South African - no derivatives, and no imports
  • It is curated, not filled. Our advisory panel of 20 of the best South African designers, stylists, critics and industry experts collectively curate the Expo floor and decide who is represented there, and is representative of our positioning. When a designer is not known by the panel, a process of submission is engaged, where the designer's work is circulated for the panel's input.
  • In addition to trading directly to the South African public, the Expo brings out several international buyers to stimulate the export market.
  • The Expo environment, from the floor plan to the stands, is a custom-made design that is exclusive to Design Indaba, and supports the products on show.

Sweet success

The Design Indaba Expo puts its money where its mouth is, by bringing economic success, on a local and international level, to exhibitors. Next year's Expo promises to be a platform of even greater opportunities for exhibitors and buyers alike, based on the success of the 2005 event.

Design Indaba Expo 2005 attracted interested buyers internationally as well as locally. On the international front, Frederic Bailly from La Compagnie du Commerce Equitable in Paris shopped up a squall in the Cape of Storms.

During the Design Indaba Expo in February 2005, Bailly had several meetings with exhibitors. He ordered samples from lighting designer Heath Nash, glassware from Inini, homeware from Nicola Harris and furniture from Haldane Martin. Frederic has included some of these products in his catalogue and exhibited selected South African products at the international décor fair Maison&Objet in Paris.

In addition Trevyn McDowell from Source (UK) has also taken product orders from Heath Nash and Inini. Other successful exhibitors included Ronel Jordaan, The Bat Shop, Life, MonkeyBiz and Astrid Dahl.

Heartworks, Mila, Nicola Harris and Mielie have also found success at the Design Indaba Expo, with local products being exported to the UK, Paris, Tokyo, New York and Fukuoka.

McDowell has since relocated from the UK to South Africa and runs Source from SA's beautiful Garden Route area. Most recently, a host of local products formed part of a significant South African display at the Conran Shop in London, thanks to Source and contacts forged through Design Indaba Expo.

In 2005, five international buyers attended the Expo. These buyers were researched and identified Design Indaba and were then hosted by the Department of Trade and Industry. Thus far the Expo's efforts to gain international recognition for local design stars has exceeded industry expectations. The boost to the export economy should not be under-estimated, what with local producers just beginning to reap the benefits of the valuable contacts made - contacts that would otherwise be beyond their access.

But Expo is not merely focused on growing international trade. It has a two-pronged approach to expanding the local design industry. Its second focus is providing the opportunity for designers to trade directly with the SA public, and to create a platform where local designers are seen as stars in their own right.

Enthusiasm for the products on show, on the part of SA consumers and retailers, made sure that exhibitors turned a substantial profit from the event. Not only did exhibitors cover their costs, but some have reported making in excess of R50 000 worth of profit over the three days of Expo. The Expo offers local consumers a unique opportunity to interact with the very people responsible for making the products that interest them. The result is a very special retail environment, replete with its own creator/customer relationships, that outstrips the faceless and nameless offering currently dished up by every shopping mall nationwide.


Design Indaba's commitment to good design extends as far as commissioning a custom-made, bespoke floor layout that is exclusive to the Expo.

The Design Indaba Expo is distinct from any other exhibition in South Africa in that the event itself embodies good design. The floor plan receives an original, bespoke treatment in terms of its design and construction. The resulting environment supports the products on display, offering an added inducement to a design-oriented public. The majority of the 2006 Expo floor is designed and created by Paul Hugo of Scan Display Solutions, together with a minor perimeter design by Felix Holm of Kagiso.

Scan is a multiple award-winning company and a leader in its market. The company's design takes its inspiration from the idea of a walled city whose interior is structured around a series of inner courtyards. The highlights of this design include ever-changing light shows, easy navigability and stand constructions that have never been seen before.

Curated not filled

How do you measure excellence? By measuring it, of course! Making evaluations according to strict criteria, the Design Indaba Curator Panel ensures that each and every exhibitor is up to scratch.

Anyone who exhibits at DI Expo has been pre-approved by our curator panel comprising 20 industry experts, stylists, publishers, leading designers and critics whose opinions and achievements are well respected.

Past exhibitors do not need to undergo the curatorial process once again. Any new exhibitors must have their work evaluated by the panel.

How does this happen?

Potential exhibitors need to submit jpegs of their work, either via email or on CD, to the Design Indaba Expo content manager.

These images will be initially evaluated by the content manager and then passed on to the curators in the relevant sector for approval.

Once an exhibitor has been approved, they qualify to take up space on the expo floor.

If an exhibitor's work does not meet the necessary criteria, they will receive written feedback and suggestions as to how they can meet the criteria for the following year's expo.

What are the criteria?

The expo features the finest in home-grown, high-end design. The curators are thus looking for work of this calibre.

Products on display must:

  • Be of a high, export-quality standard in terms of production and design, so as to attract our international buyers and excite the local market.
  • Be designed by a South African or Southern African designer. They needn't be wholly manufactured in South Africa, but this is certainly preferable.
  • Not be generic, copycat versions of international work.
  • Not be generic, copycat versions of other local work.
  • Be original and offer something unique that differentiates them from the rest of the market.
  • Adhere to the principles of good design, whether they are contemporary or classic in nature ie. appropriate form and finish, innovative ideas, creative input, etc).

Unbeaten panel

Meet the prestigious Design Indaba Expo Curator Panel for 2006

We are very proud to announce the official curator panel for Design Indaba Expo 2006. The panel comprises 20 of South Africa's finest designers, critics and industry experts. Based nationwide, the curators are tasked with evaluating every potential exhibitor to make sure that all the products on display meet with our exacting standards of home grown, high-end design. Curators evaluate the sectors that are relevant to their fields of expertise. Here they are, representing their respective sectors:

Working in conjunction with this panel, Expo also enjoys the benefit of a series of "ambassadors" who make recommendations to the curators. These ambassadors are committed to the discipline of design and Design Indaba would like to thank them for their time and input.

The growing list of ambassadors for Design Indaba Expo 2006 includes players like Luyanda Mpahlwa (MMA), Peet Pienaar (Daddy Buy Me a Pony), Karen Roos (Elle Decoration), Nicholas Dawes (Mail & Guardian), Keith Struthers (Natural Architecture), Justin Cook (Architecture Co-op), Suzette Bell-Roberts (Bell-Roberts Gallery), Eugenie Drakes (Piece), Felix Holm (Kagiso) and Hedwig Barry (Barry & Bester).

Forthcoming attractions

Want to know what Expo 2006 has in store?

The Expo drawcards include:

  • All-day fashion shows boasting quintessentially SA design, as chosen by Jackie Burger, the fashion editor of Elle magazine and Jan Malan Umzingeli, catwalk producer of SA Fashion Week. Expect names like Maya Prass, Stoned Cherrie, Craig Native etc.
  • All-day film screenings of the best SA films produced in the last year, selected by Mike Auret, Festival Director of the Cape Town World Cinema Festival as well as CEO of the Sithengi Film and TV Market.
  • All-day origami workshops, where you can learn how to fold a bunny, courtesy of Renee Holleman of the Pink Bunny Project
  • Performers/entertainers walking the aisles.
  • A beautiful, evocative environment custom-designed by Scan Display Solutions, and exclusive to the Design Indaba Expo, involving constantly changing light shows and displays.
  • An exhibition of the finest in SA design, and the opportunity to do drop-dead-gorgeous shopping with instant access to the actual designers themselves.
  • Live demonstrations by designers showing the art of their craft, with open QnA sessions.
  • One of the biggest contemporary jewellery exhibitions ever held in South Africa, featuring the crème of designers from across the country.
  • A hands-on educational opportunity for learners/scholars/tertiary students.
  • A chance to witness this country's upcoming talent at the Emerging Creatives stand.
  • A chance to witness the "Most Beautiful Object in SA". Each of the 20 expo curators will select one object that is their absolute favourite. All 20 objects will be on display in the central bar area of the Design Indaba Expo floor.

Watch the Talk with Heath Nash