Design Indaba Day 2: Laduma Ngxokolo, Kiran Bir Sethi and Alberto Alessi

Day 2 of the Design Indaba and I am a believer. All critical distance (well most of it) has been removed and I feel myself edging closer to groupie-dom. If I was to be a groupie on this day these are three people I would groupie around:

Knitwear designed by Laduma Ngxokolo

Eastern Cape designer Laduma Ngxokolo, a graduate of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, who, among a global group of emerging young talent, made that Pecha Kucha format his own. Following that quick format here’s my cut-to-the-chase version.
As part of the ritual of becoming a man young Xhosa circumcision initiates have to kit themselves out in a new wardrobe (all clothing worn before this stage is destroyed – I think, or removed at least, I hope)
After they return their parents like to buy them “high quality men’s knitwear” from international brands like Pringle as even circumcision initiates are highly influenced by global urban style.
Ngxokolo saw the gap.
Inspired by traditional Xhosa beadwork and the geometric structure that is so replicable in knitting he designed a range of knitwear to celebrate Xhosa identity. He also used authentic Xhosa colours inspired by divers aspects of Xhosa life. High-quality. Made from natural fibres sourced from the Eastern Cape where much of the world’s mohair is produced but until now it has mostly all gone straight out for export with the end product created elsewhere.
Laduma Ngxokolo + knitwear + beadwork + local natural fibres = local manufacturing + impact on community farmers + preserving Xhosa culture for a new generation + fashion statement + proudly South African.
Plus the 23-year-old “scooped top place at the Bradford-based Society of Dyers and Colourists’ (SDC) Annual International Design Competition in London” for his work. You can see a review of the full Pecha Kucha presentation on Special mention must be made of “experience” and “interaction” designer” Nelly Ben Hayoun, who dressed as an astronaut, introduced her rocket ship La-Z-boy armchair that recreates the experience Mark Shuttleworth paid so much for, right in your own living room.

Kiran Bir Sethi
Kiran Bir Sethi pioneered the “I Can” movement – using design for change.
Inspired by her young son it all started with the idea that children are denied choice for much of their young lives – the schooling system is built around this – and yet when they are young adults we expect them to make responsible choices about how to live in the world. Spot the very big mistake.
To create a desirable future we need to create a society where children are enabled to make choices and to be active citizens believes Kiran Bir Sethi. This is all about design, about demystifying the process. “Our responsibility as adults is to make children believe they will make the world a better place” Sold!
She introduced a global campaign that has touched more than 250 000 children’s lives and created the Riverside School in Ahmedabad that embodies these educational ideals.
“From the life-altering choices we make to the mundane – our choices are what we become yet we take choices away from children and then wonder why they don’t become responsible citizens.” From local campaigns about issues that affect children’s lives – like saying no to packaged food because of its impact on the environment and on children’s health to Children’s Days where a city centre is closed off from traffic and opened up to welcome its children and make them feel safe, to taking kids to their first movie at a fancy multiplex – the I Can movement is inspired.
Feel Imagine Do Share is their battle cry.
See her profile on Ted.

And for the piece de resistance: Alberto Alessi
I was a fan before he stood up to talk – and then went home to hug my cakeplate.
Alberto Alessi’s misadventures in design were a Design Indaba highlight. Alessi is the Italian company started nearly 100 years ago by Alberto’s grandfather [he comes from a family steeped in the artisanal tradition] renowned for showing the world “that domestic items are worthy of great design thinking”.
They collaborate with artists and produce, among other things, “poetic” and “multi-sensorial” kettles. Alessi held the audience rapt as he told tales of design and designing, of mishaps, fiascos, mistakes and miscalculations all in the warmest of Italian accents and with an incredible sense of humor. Among them was a collaboration with Salvador Dali in the 70s – “My father stopped me but not before I bought 50 000 metal hooks”. “We still keep them and even today no one has found a brilliant idea to reuse them.” Surreal domestic objects still haven’t found there niche it seems. It might have been those melting clocks…
Then there was his idea to put designers together with master cooks to create a range of pots. That lasted from 1979 to 1986. “It was not a good idea”. He said he spent most of that time obliged to mediate between designers who knew nothing about cooking and cooks who knew nothing about design. There was the cubic pot, a perfect shape to cook with if you can find square tomatoes and the “famous not working” Phillipe Starck kettle, still much in demand in Japan despite Alessi’s refusal to continue its production. It’s not that it doesn’t work, he said, it’s just that “it is too complicated for a kettle.” He also mentioned Phlllipe Starcke’s talent for naming his own design objects – like the Mister MeuMeu parmesan cheese grater.

Mister Meu Meu - Philippe Starck parmesan grater for Alessi

And then showed an early photo of Starck and followed it with a more recent one saying: “Design is a good profession for your health. Time is passing but not for everyone in the same way. Lucky him!” With the audience all totally softened up Alessi got down to his design philosophy – his theory of the borderline, of mediating endlessly between the best possible expressions of creativity and the market, or the final customer’s dreams. As beautiful as their products.

2 thoughts on “Design Indaba Day 2: Laduma Ngxokolo, Kiran Bir Sethi and Alberto Alessi

  1. Good day! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that
    would be ok. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

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