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Taunina Teddies

You may have spotted these colourful bears and wondered what the story behind their delicate threads might be. Part of a local design project that has made it to the likes of New York City and various international destinations, these soft toys tell a very important story about a group of women who are using their innate crafts to make a livelihood. We chatted to Taunina co-founder, Tracey Chiappini-Young, to find out more about the brand and its vital message about sustainable design in today's world... The company has a very interesting name. Where did it come from? The name Taunina is an anagram of the African Sotho word 'tau', meaning 'lion', and 'NINA', an acronym for 'No Income, No Assets'. Taunina gives women who were once without income and assets the power to become lions of their own destinies. Your business has redefined craft as art – tell us more about the impetus behind starting Taunina and how it has brought crafts to the forefront of design? Taunina was born out of a fundamental belief that underprivileged communities in emerging markets around the world have a wealth of  talent in various intricate handcrafts, which if appropriately nurtured, can not only provide these communities with a sustainable source of income to alleviate financial poverty, but more importantly, provide them with the platform and creative direction to create  the most exquisite, most desirable collections in the world - luxury collections that change lives. Taunina believes that age-old artistries are art forms to be preserved, revitalised and  re-positioned in the eyes of the consumer as the most sought after collectables or gifts in the world. Nothing develops self-esteem, confidence and competence, like being recognised as the creators of one-of-a-kind gifts that are cherished the world over. My partner Karen Jansen and I met while studying at the London School of Economics. Idealists and dreamers, we both shared a passion to help solve the problems of the world in whatever meaningful capacity we could, and our  crazy, creative solution was to build a company that nurtures and revitalises traditional artistries, providing women from disadvantaged communities around the world with the opportunity to gain not just financial rewards for their creativity and craft, but more importantly, personal recognition and admiration. Financial poverty constrains mobility. Poverty of dignity cripples the human spirit. By enabling our artists to create exquisite collections which are celebrated and coveted around the world, Taunina has made these talented women blossom with pride. Where do the talented ladies at Taunina come from? 50 percent of our Taunina family members are South African and 50 percent come from other parts of Africa. Embroidery and appliqué artistry is taught at secondary school in many parts of Africa. Sadly, it is not taught at school in South Africa. Taunina is a melting pot of different cultures, the common thread being women who have survived very challenging circumstances. Taunina is passionate about mentorship, encouraging its lead artists to train and mentor its less skilled South African family members. You describe Taunina as a sustainable luxury brand – how do you strike a balance between offering luxury products and still upholding your philanthropic values and nurturing the environment? While the combination of luxury and sustainable development may seem paradoxical or rather wholly incompatible at first, luxury in the noblest sense prides craftmanship, superior quality, scarcity, heritage, artistry and the ability of a product to be passed from generation to generation. These characteristics are all 100 percent consistent with the requirements for sustainable development, making sustainable luxury one of the most exciting growth opportunities in the luxury industry’s life. Sustainable luxury is a means of re-affirming fundamental values and becoming exemplary once more. Taunina's objectives are both transparent and authentic, doggedly focused on achieving measurable social impact. Sustainable social impact will only be achieved if the Taunina collections are revered and sought after by luxury consumers around the world. There is little room  for 'misguided' compromise. How are you working to create a direct relationship between the artist and the consumer? Each collection piece is sold with its own unique passport or certificate with a unique five digit registration number. The customer scans the QR code inside the passport to register on the Taunina e-commerce platform and is taken to his or her own customised interface with the artist. Taunina posts regular artist updates on the site, tracking Taunina's social impact on the artist's life. Taunina’s focus is decorative soft toys, but you’ve also branched out into lifestyle and fashion ranges which is really exciting. What kind of products can we expect to see in the future? Taunina is a lifestyle brand. Every collection produced is handcrafted and embellished by Taunina artists using a timeless artistry. We launch our home decor range during the first quarter of 2013s. This will include throws, quilts, embroidered canvasses  and cushions. Our fashion accessory range will be launched  in the 4th quarter of next year. Every Taunina collection piece will always be a one-of-a-kind work of art created and designed by a single artist. How do we know that a product is a true Taunina original? Each Taunina soft toy is completely unique, making it a highly desirable collector’s item. The following trademarks guarantee or certify a true Taunina original:

  • A woven footstamp bearing the artist’s initials on the sole of each collectable’s left foot
  • A woven Taunina trademark teddy bear label in each collectable’s left ear
  • A passport, including the collectable’s name, unique five digit registration number,  and ‘TID’ number
Where can people find these beautiful creations?  Taunina's collections are available for purchase online around the world on its commerce platform. Our signature teddy bears have been purchased  by customers as far afield as Russia, Khazakstan, the US, the UK, France and Norway. Given our focus on sustainability, Taunina is a predominantly online business, with a small physical footprint in the form of its boutique 'atelier' or 'artists' studio based in Fairweather House, Woodstock in Cape Town. Our customers regularly visit the studio to meet the artists and watch them create the collections. Our collections are also available in Manhattan's most luxurious children's boutique, Bundle NYC. Taunina is a modern day fairytale, steeped in the ideals and values of a bygone era where relationships were built on trust and respect earned over time. The prices of the bears range from R1 800 to R3 020 via their online store. For more information visit taunina.com or follow them on Twitter @Taunina for regular updates. Text: Kim Grové