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Lupane Women’s Centre Zimbabwe Modern African Baskets

Looking like they have been swirled with delicate watercolours, this gorgeous range of traditionally handcrafted modern African baskets is the result of a partnership between the Lupane Women’s Centre in Zimbabwe and the Kingston University Design School in the UK, bringing a contemporary edge to traditional African design. The initiative entitled, Kingston Project Africa was created to facilitate the exchange and support of knowledge between both regions, and led by Professor Catherine McDermott utilises the expertise of academics, industry practitioners and curators across various projects and collaborations.

This particular project saw the head of the design school, Simon Maidment sharing his expertise, running a series of workshops in Zimbabwe over a period of two-weeks. The partnership saw the exploration of ways to make, transport and market the baskets, which are mainly sold to tourists visiting the country, but have also made their way into international retailers stores such as the Conran shop and Anthropologie. In recognition of the skill and creativity in production the baskets have been exhibited at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, as well as the London Design Festival and Design Indaba in Cape Town. Drawn from the disciplines of graphic to product design; students from the business and design schools of the University were also involved in the project, challenged to come up with effective solutions to help solve the problems faced by the women in producing and marketing the products. The ideas generated by the students were presented to the women producing the baskets during the workshops.
Located in Matabeleland a region lying two-hours outside Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, the Lupane Women’s Centre is a not-for-profit rural-based membership organisation that was founded in 1997 ‘for women by women’ in a bid to help members generate sustainable incomes through the provision of a range of skills, business and leadership training and support. The Lupane Women’s Centre currently has a 3200 strong membership, of which 2667 are women; the Centre also assists those who are marginalised, regardless of gender. In addition to basketry members are also involved in programmes including, gardening, candle and soap making, and bee keeping. A restaurant and conference facility for public hire helps generate an income to keep the Centre running. As a boost to the Centre the success of this project has meant continued funding from the British Council.
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  • Eight years ago I started a blog as a place to document the interesting things I was discovering with regards to the design and creativity emerging from Africa. From the moment I created my first blog post little did I know where the journey would take me. Fast-forward to present day I have not only been privileged to witness the development of an industry, but to also have an active role in creating awareness about it.

On this journey, I have seen Africa’s design industry grow from a handful of names from a handful countries to a continent wide-reach. Some names that were just starting out have become internationally respected leaders in their field, whilst behind them, a new generation of names are coming up and claiming their place in the industry.

To say that it is an exciting time for African design and creativity would be a gross understatement! We are in a time of rapid advancement and unbridled creative expression, that is setting the foundations and standards for future generations to build on. And like many other emerging industries in Africa, creativity is opening up opportunities to those who are willing to seize them. And seizing them designers are!

And as Atelier Fifty Five begins a new chapter it is an opportunity for me to renew my commitment to supporting the development of the African design industry and helping those I work with and write about, and work with to fulfill their potential for creating world-class brands. 
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Tapiwa, Founder Atelier Fifty Five
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