Before making his way to Our Workshop in the morning, Luvuyo Mpoza has already been up since 3am cleaning rubbish bins in Langa, a Cape Town township. When he started his small business almost eight years ago, the 32-year-old couldn’t have imagined that he’d one day be making and selling wallets, bags and blankets upcycled from the post-consumer Tetra Paks he collects on the job. Nor could he have imagined that he’d be a member of an award-winning design team.

Luvuyo is one of 20 or so members of Our Workshop, which was awarded the Design with Purpose award at the sixth annual Design Foundation Awards on Saturday night. The Design Foundation is an independent, professional-led body that nurtures and awards new and established talent in the South African design industry.

Artist and designer Heath Nash founded Our Workshop in 2016 to create a free, shared space where people can get together, spend time sharing knowledge and making stuff. Heath first started the space in the centre of Cape Town then moved to Langa a year later to be closer to where his collaborators live. He recognises that for people to explore their creative potential they need the space to play and to learn, the tools with which to freely experiment, a supportive community and access to opportunities for personal and professional growth. Through the upcycling work they do, the workshop addresses the plastic and waste crisis of our time and social issues like unemployment.

Heath says, “It’s really exciting that the South African design industry is willing to see social design as a category. It’s exciting to be validated by both the Design Foundation and the sponsor of the award, V&A Waterfront, for work that is being done for social good.”

Luvuyo met Heath in 2018. “I saw Heath buying plastic bottles from some lady. I asked him what he was going to do with those bottles. He told me about Our Workshop and about upcycling.” Luvuyo says Our workshop has shown him how to put an idea in to practice. “It has helped me to stop being scared. I’ve also learnt so much about upcycling and design from meeting people and networking.”  Luvuyo believes Our Workshop won the award because, “We work as a team to show people how to solve simple and hard issues affecting us everyday.”

Ivy Nhlapo, another member of Our Workshop, is proud that, “the work we do finding solutions for social and environment problems has been recognized.” For her, winning the award means “we must work harder and smarter now”. The Langa workshop is equipped with tools and materials that are donated or sourced from recycling depots. Members share work tables and busy themselves with their craft or fine art. Some use traditional skills like weaving and beading to create items. Others paint, transform plastic into new items or sew. Ivy crochets, using recycled plastic bags and tin can tops.

Two weeks ago Chulumanco Feni made himself a suit using Skinny laMinx fabric offcuts. It was the first time he had used the newly donated sewing machine. Chulu believes that the spirit of working together and sharing space contributes to the members learning and creating design products. He says, “We have strong energy which we put together at Our Workshop.”

Members have the opportunity to make some money by selling their goods in a shop in the Guga S’thebe Arts and Culture Centre, where the studio is based, or through commissioned design projects. “We turn other people’s trash into money,” says Heath who has exhibited and sold his work internationally.

“Most places in Africa have this problem with litter, but it’s money on the ground. If trash is used correctly, it can be turned into income. You can make something and sell it; make something useful for your neighbour; see it for something different to what it is.”

Sizwe Shumane, who uses recycled plastic and wire to create the big five animals, believes it’s Our Workshop’s use of waste materials that swayed the judges of the Design Foundation. “Thanks to this award opening doors,” says Heath, “Expect to see Our Workshop members winning awards in the years to come.”

  • Follow @OurWorkshopCT on Facebook and on Instagram for news about upcoming workshops you can participate in
  • Images: The Design Foundation and Our Workshop
  • See full list of Design Foundation Awards 2018 below

Design Foundation Award 2018 Winners

Design With Purpose Award
Winner: Our Workshop
Sponsor: V&A Waterfront
Recognising socially responsible work done by a company, within the South African landscape, with a focus on design aspects, that makes a difference in the lives of communities.

Icon Award
Winner: Porky Hefer
Sponsor: BMW
Awarded in recognition of work produced in the last 12 months, acknowledging outstanding achievement, innovation and career advancement.

Object That Moves Award
Winner: Imbizo stool by Chuma Maweni
Sponsored: 100% Design South Africa
Celebrates the designer of an original product that has experienced great commercial success – aspirational and top-end, yet commercially viable to sell in multiples.

Maker to Market Award
Winner: Sealand Gear
Sponsor: M&C Saatchi Abel
Awarding a design company that understands the value of marketing, consumer interaction, packaging and delivery.

Manufacture Award
Winner: Hot Wired Design
Sponsor: VISI
Recognising a manufacturer who has gone beyond expectation to aid designers in realising their products.

Future Found Award
Winner: Lulasclan
Sponsor: Krone
Celebrating a young designer who has already achieved excellence with limited resources.

Apprentice Award
Winner: Lwazi Mshibe (Durban University of Technology)
Sponsor: Mr Price Home
Places an outstanding graduate showing maturity, originality and true potential, in a 6- to 12-month apprenticeship.