Light-bulb moment

The love for a warm nostalgic glow from the past inspired Hoi P'loy to import vintage lighting accessories to South Africa.

From the Series

Cape Town-based lighting brand Hoi P’loy brings a reverance for retro light fittings to their contemporary design sensibility that is perfectly in tune with current appetites for all things authentic. Founders Ploy Phiromnam and Guy van der Walt import vintage lighting accessories to South Africa and also design their own products.

"The more research we did, the more we realised that there was a market in South Africa for beautiful vintage-revival lighting products such as bulbs and fabric cables," explains Phiromnam.

"We thought worst-case scenario, we'll have light bulbs for the rest of our lives," Van der Walt laughs.

The name of their company is a play on the Ancient Greek expression “Hoi Polloi” (meaning "the many") as well as that of Phiromnam herself. Hoi P'loy now stocks the largest selection of fabric cable cords in the country and is a distributor of vintage light bulbs based on Thomas Edison's original designs. 

Bangkok-native Phiromnam initially studied textiles and then worked in buying, importing and exporting for leading fashion brands. Van der Walt is a native Capetonian with extensive experience as a 3D animator and graphic designer. Their unique combination of skills and a shared passion for quality has seen their business evolve from importer of great design to that of a design studio.

“One of the things that stuck with me from my studies was the old masters such as Mies van der Rohe's insistence that people use good quality materials. It is something that I've been quite passionate about and a principle we embrace at Hoi P'loy,” says van der Walt. "We want to distance ourselves from this very corporate culture that has developed over the past decade or two of creating everything based purely on profits and bottom lines. Our main objective is excellence in product and service.”

It has been an interesting journey, he says, to find people such as engineers with the same vision and sourcing the right materials, tooling or equipment is a constant challenge.

The pair like to explore materials that were historically used for lighting, such as porcelain, Bakelite and enamelling but many of these and the specialised skills that go with them have been lost due to cheap imports and new technologies.

“Exploring these materials and skills gives us the opportunity to collaborate with other creatives and experts," says Phiromnam.

We are currently working with Lisa Firer on the potential of using porcelain, which has a rich history of being used in lighting.

Their design process and product development is organic: “We look at what we need and then we try to make it.” Van der Walt’s background as a 3D animator gives him a fantastic skillset to draw on: “In the 3D environment we can visualise the product and we have a 3D printer that we use to prototype, which is also a really handy way to build tools or components.”

Although their production is quite limited, they find that it is a competitive advantage over mass-produced lights. "Because of the fact that we concentrate on quality and are quite small, our pricing can be a bit steep. But we've found that people who genuinely have an appreciation for the value will spend the little bit more because they feel it will last forever," says Van der Walt. 

What is their advice for other young fledgeling creative businesses? They stress the importance of looking at different creative avenues with an open mind. “For any young business, it is important to stay open to what is out there, to look at what other people are doing and to speak to all sorts of people. If you find yourself sitting next to a lawyer talk to him about intellectual property law. If you meet a plumber at a party, figure out how plumbing could be better," says Van der Walt. "It disappoints me to see a beautiful design that has not been taken to its fullest extent because the designer has skimped on materials, production or presentation. You need to have a broad skill set and surround yourself with people who are experts so that you can learn from them."

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