art, decor

Shoe art

We’re always meeting arty entrepreneurs whose ideas we wish we had thought of first. Kimberley-born Pamela Meyers is the founder of The Canvas Concept, the London-Cape Town art collaboration that focuses much of its energy on creating product ideas that are inspired by Africa’s plethora of cultural graphic and personality. Since we love the idea of ‘shoe art’, we got the scoop on Pamela’s second collection that has taken some time in coming to fruition after the entire stock was damaged in her factory this February.   Pamela, you’ve worked in marketing, brand communication, and fashion. How would you describe your career? My friends would jump in here and say that I’m ‘Jack’, as in a jack of all trades. I have fingers in many creative pots, but all these projects seemed to have something to do with fashion and thinking about how through a visual medium many lines of communication/ emotion can be transferred.  Right now, I’m a shoe designer and Jack for The Canvas Concept. What's the best thing about being a designer? I love collaborating with as many different people as possible. As a designer, you are both a translator and a chameleon, you speak many languages and internalise an idea into a product that somehow renders an aesthetic beauty to a certain person. There is an interesting dialogue that occurs when someone is exposed to your work. Be it distaste or taste, all contribute to a reaction within the viewer or users mind, a reaction that stirs ideas, where he and the ‘designed’ piece identify each other.   I love the interesting dialogue that gets started around design, design need not be all high brow, in Africa its a natural extension of cultural identity. After studying in London and travelling Europe, what made you decide to move to Cape Town? Cape Town was the easiest city to come to from London’s town, transport systems, check, creativity, check, diversity, check and a lot of development needed, check.  It is small, sometimes too small hence a regular travel is necessary to escape cabin fever. Nevertheless I came back to SA because I realised how much potential lay in the land, untapped and almost extinct. How largely the fear of the unknown or misunderstood restricted the bounty that could come from Africa’s diversity. A developing country is always more exciting then a developed one. Artisans are forgotten, especially locally. Specialist craftmanship and what it represents in an economy and national identity are not widely communicated to the next generation. The existing crafters are predominately on a vendor level and there craft struggles to maintain sustainability. The skill of the Artisan is labour intensive, it is an art that can be acquired by anyone, an art with a high value and function and because of this it has the potential to alleviate poverty and build national pride. Tell us about the production process? I choose an African tribe and then a European tribe and try to combine the native culture and the colonial history through a collection that meets the tastes of a wide demographic, me and beyond me. I draw on images, literature, sketches, trends, fabrics, thoughts all of these and slowly collect them into the ‘fashion’ template and on many pieces of paper. I sift and select the best with the help of friends and family. Then I approach my preferred and trusted teams dependent on the craft needed. For my first collection it was a 75 year Johanna and her daughter of 55; Christina Masiela based in Kwa Ndebele, near Pretories which was a logistical nightmare. After traveling I learned of a new style of beadwork indicative of Europe. I needed a team that was able to push the product towards this whilst combining it with a familiar African nuance. Working from home, mother and daughter Nicky and Noleen Wyngaardt represent the line where European met African. The two are incredibly talented and I trust them implicitly with articulating my ideas into reality. I’ve met many craftsmen with wonderful skills but they just don’t know how to market themselves, or  how to make their work sustainable so I also help her develop her own brand and product simultaneously while we develop mine. You’ve finished your first collection, how does your second one compare? I’m using traditional Ndebele patterns as a framework. I am, admittedly, quite obsessed with the beauty and simplicity of these patterns and have been painting Ndebele since I was 16 years old. In my first collection I asked the ladies to use their own colour palette, this was when I realised that the contemporary had a different view on colour, now I try to incorporate the pop and art and balance the colour to meet the life of the product and the relationship it will go one to have with user and environment. My second collection is slow, slow styling, I am constantly asked when the next collection is coming, truth is I don't know yet. Once it is completed, I know I will be proud of what it has become and the story it embodies so much so that I am going on a long much needed holiday!!! Are young designers still using ‘tribal’ textiles and beadwork in original ways? Some brands have used it and there’s innovation to a certain point, but there’s also a lot of formulaic repetition towards a European standard. Everywhere in the world we can find a check shirt and stripe print, largely done the same way. As South Africans the youth and population are at home with absorbing imported design and designers, their tastes are fathered by this thin line, where the next generation of designers and retailers have the responsibility to shift, direct and motivate change within the consumer or risk loosing the differentiation of a nation. Just think of how much provincial we have in relation to Africa, which is still the dark continent in many minds. Some artists want to separate European and African influences as distinct entities, but Europe is very much part of the African story. For example, they speak French in Senegal, Portuguese in Angola an English in South Africa. If we combine what is all over Africa there is more then enough innovation to go around, sustainable innovation that can contribute to interesting surprise. African design especially South African design needs to make the shift from curio to contemporary. Which new trends do you see in SA design? More collaboration and experimentation with the African aesthetic. As the west sets its eyes on new territory, Africa is next in line. We saw a surge of Africa everything last year and it continues with small pockets of design exported to the walls of museums worldwide. It is sad because only when the west and north are interested in Africa, will Africans be interested in there own palette. As information is dispersed across communities and the lack of jobs, the search for identity and expression will be lead by designers who will play a large role in contributing to change. The world is recognising the effects of importing cheap Chinese goods not just on local industries but local culture, it is only a matter of time for South Africans on a mass scale to start recognising this. Designers can continue to produce commercial products but  also high end aspirational products. Price points need to be teared into feeding the mass market and the elite. If we are going to charge what Vivienne Westwood would then our products need to rise to this stage, considering product, placement and packaging.   For more information on purchases visit her website or email info@thecanvasconcept.com. You can also read more about Pamela and some of her favourite things in the Trends Scoop section (page 20) of our July issue, on shelf now...