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Wrap Yourself in Silken Art

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We love it when beautiful design and philanthropic efforts come together. Such is the case with non-profit organisation Lalela ("listen" in Zulu), which offers art education to at-risk youth in an attempt to foster creative thinking, develop problem-solving skills and build confidence. The venture's latest project is a range of limited edition scarves printed with artworks created by the programme's learners. Made of soft modal, cashmere or a cotton/silk blend, these gorgeous fashion accessories serve to generate funds for Lalela's efforts.

Because we're so taken with the beauty of these scarves, we caught up with Sandy Tabatznik, co-founder of the organisation, to find out more about the thinking behind this project.

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Why did you choose scarves as the canvas of choice for learners’ artworks?

Our learners have made such incredible art and we wanted to create one product that would both showcase their work and help to make our programmes sustainable. I worked as a fashion designer before, so it was only natural that we did something related to fashion. We came up with the scarf idea so that buyers have the choice of either framing them or, of course, wearing them.

Each scarf tells a story – in fact, the tags on them describe the student behind them and their dreams for the future – and by wearing the scarves, you too become part of that story. It also means a lot to the Lalela learners to know that their artwork is being worn all over the world.

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Tell us about the artworks that were chosen for the range. What criteria did you use when selecting designs?

There was no criteria – I just have a sense for what will work and what won't. Sometimes I used an artwork as it was; sometimes I used aspects of different artworks in one scarf; and other times I pulled just one piece out of a work or used an aspect as a border. Once I came across a collaborative piece of art that featured the map of South Africa and a pair of eyes. I remembered reading a poem by one of our learners that had something to do with eyes, so that became a scarf. It all really depended on when inspiration struck.

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How old are the artists? Could you tell us a bit about who they are?

The artists in our programmes range in age from seven-years-old to matric students. Though, we do have some learners who stay on to do a year-long internship with us before going on to tertiary education. Some even stay and become art facilitators as they find the work creative and fulfilling. They all come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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How has your background in fashion design assisted you in building this project and driving it forward?

I was in the fashion industry for about 15 years and I thought I would never return to it. But I'm so passionate about design in any form so when I saw the art created by our students I was re-inspired to give a voice to their beautiful work through this realm. The fashion industry taught me to take risks and helped me to develop an eye for what works – this in turn helped me to decide which pieces of art would work on a scarf. That said, I had been out of the industry for many years, so it's also been a huge learning curve for me.

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Could you tell us a bit about the teachers who guided the artists behind this range of scarves?

At Lalela, we have facilitators rather than teachers because we want to avoid the old English system of "do as I do" and punishing instead of rewarding. We have found that it’s often better to train artists in facilitation techniques and allow students to experience pure creativity and explore their own solutions through the arts. The word “lalela”, which means "to listen" in Zulu, is at the heart of a Lalela facilitator’s role – rather than telling learners what to do, we listen to young artists through their artwork and music. In this way, we learn about their challenges and dreams, so we can in turn provide critical messaging and creative solutions to help them reach their true potential.

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Can you share a Lalela success story with us?

Erin is currently one of our Grade 7 Lalela learners at Sentinel Primary School in the Western Cape and has been part of our programmes since she was in Grade 2. She is one of our most dedicated learners and never misses a workshop or event. At the end of Grade 6, Erin was the top academic achiever in her grade and was chosen as one of the youth leaders in her school. Despite her difficult home circumstances, she is always dependable and ready to help whenever it is needed. She is determined to become a doctor when she grows up.

Due to her mother’s drug addiction, both Erin and her older sister Adrienne, also a Lalela learner at Hout Bay High School, live with their grandmother, who is very frail and at times unable to care for them. During these times, the girls have to take care of themselves without any outside support. Erin’s father has no interest in being part of her life and this has had a huge impact on her self-esteem. Lalela has contributed immensely to improving her sense of self-worth, and we have seen Erin grow from a shy, insecure little girl to an empowered young lady who is determined to show that she is worthy.

You can buy Lalela scarves from Opulent Living on Kloof Street, Sharon J. Fashion, Philosophy, Love Balance Yoga and The Boutique Gallery. There are only 30 of each scarf, and all of the profits go back to the Lalela programmes.

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