This Year at Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair
Cassandra Twala is a lifestyle curator, management consultant and design enthusiast. She is a member of the BlackBase collective, where she shares content on lifestyle, design and travel. Twala is also the producer of the Sanlam Homemade Contemporary Fair. In this interview, she discusses this year’s edition and expectations.
Congratulations on the forth coming edition of the Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair. How has the design scene in South Africa developed in the last decade and what impact do you think your fair has played on global perceptions of African design, given its exponential growth in the last few years?
A true and telling indicator of the rapidly growing design scene in South Africa is shown through the trajectory of Sanlam HmC. The fair started as the first of its kind in 2010 with 50 exhibitors retailing food, wine and design. In the founding years, the fair catered to a very niche market that was interested in discovering homegrown talent. Over the years, Sanlam HmC has grown exponentially as South Africans have gradually developed an insatiable interest in bespoke products and experiences. Through the fair, larger audiences are exposed to a new type of luxury that is rich in craftsmanship and authenticity, a world of mass consumerism.
What can you attribute to the increasing global interest in African design, as well as the rising phenomenon of design fairs all over the world and how do you think Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair fits into the burgeoning design scene in Africa?
The current focus on ‘African Design’ should not be treated as a trend that is fleeting. I think Africans have always had very rich craft heritages and artistry and ‘making by hand’ has always been so strongly embedded in the cultures of different countries on the continent. It is only now that the Western world has increasingly taken notice of it, mostly because Africans are starting to own it and bring these rich traditions into a modern context.
The rising phenomenon of design fairs particularly in Africa is most important in order to expose Africans to African design. Sanlam HmC is one such platform that exposes people to what is happening in the African food, wine and design landscapes.
The Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair has grown massively since its inception. What are the specific things you want to implement or change about this year’s edition?
As this is my first year with the fair, I’ve concentrated more on learning from and about the exhibitors, the fair, partners and sponsors as opposed to making huge shifts in a model that has worked very well for many years.
There are a few improvements that I have focused on, such as diversifying the demographic makeup of the exhibitors who are included in the fair.
Introducing a new thought leadership angle through a Creative Mornings talk is only the start of becoming thought leaders in the artisanal landscape through the sharing of knowledge. I hope this will eventually propel us to create initiatives that foster skills transfer to those who may not be as fortunate.
How successful has the fair been in responding and adapting to changes in the market?
From 2014, the fair has aimed to attract at least 50% new exhibitors each year, in order for its content to remain relevant. The inclusion of new designers each year keeps the event cutting edge and responsive to the most current content. We incorporate special projects, which are trend setters in their own right. The incorporation of five designers from around the continent in 2016, shifted the fair to having more of a Pan-African perspective rather than only focusing on South African designers, which echoes the greater macro-economic need, for our continent to look inwards.
Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair is known for its exceptional high standards. How do you plan on sustaining this legacy?
I plan on remaining curious in order to stay on the pulse of what is happening on the continent and learning more each year from our exhibitors, visitors and guests. In addition, through nurturing the relationships between all the stakeholders involved in making this event the success that it is. On a more practical note, it is important to keep numbers ‘contained’, to uphold the curatorial integrity of the event. Sanlam HmC, does not work on a ‘first come first serve’ basis, unlike many other fairs/markets/ exhibitions in the country.
What advice would you give to visitors attending design fairs for the first time, looking to start their own collections?
To use the opportunity at fairs to engage and talk to the designer and understand the products better. It truly enhances the buying experience and further one’s experience of the products. Forming a relationship with the artisans, who for the most part are open and willing to share, will truly enrich one’s experience of design, food and wine.
What can we expect from Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair in coming years and how does it plan to continue to remain relevant?
The future of Sanlam HmC looks very bright, with the early stages of a few new projects slowly getting into motion such as; an online pop up store, pop-ups in other African countries and growing the talks programme. These projects will supplement the annual event, which is expected to be an unforgettable experience year after year.
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