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Celebrating Craft Heritage: Hlabisa Weavers Pop Up In Joburg

Heritage and modernity collide in the new collaboration between Houtlander, Mash T Design Studio and Hlabisa Weavers for the beautiful new Hlabisa bench.

Brett Rubin, Sinegugu Mchunu
Hlabisa Bench, Houtlander, Mash T,
The Hlabisa Bench is a collaborative project by Houtlander, Mash T Design Studio and the Hlabisa weavers, all pictured here.


The inspiring story behind Mash T Design Studio and Houtlander’s collaboration on the breathtakingly beautiful Hlabisa bench wowed European audiences recently at the Revelations Fine Craft and Creation Fair in Paris.

The project saw Mash T Design Studio come together with Houtlander and a group of rural Zulu weavers to create a curvilinear bench, a little similar in style to the Houtlander bench voted Most Beautiful Object in South Africa, but woven with a delicately patterned basketry backrest.

Hlabisa Bench, Houtlander, Mash T Design Studio, Hlabisa Weavers

ALSO READ: Houtlander: Where Tradition Meets Contemporary Design 

Following the bench’s international launch, Joburgers were invited to meet the weavers and observe their centuries-old craft during a two-week pop-up workshop.

For the workshop, the Hlabisa weavers, lead by master weaver Beauty Ngxongo, set up a makeshift weaving station in the Houtlander showroom at 99 Juta in Braamfontein. Between exquisitely dyed ilala palm leaves, embroidery needles, water bowls and the latest Houtlander designs, the three women worked to bring various Houtlander and Mash T Design Studio projects to life, including a woven tub chair and a series of basket-style pendant lampshades. 

Beauty Ngxongo, Hlabisa Bench, Weaving, Zulu
Internationally celebrated Beauty Ngxongo is a master weaver from the Hlabisa region of rural KwaZulu Natal.

Hlabisa Bench, Beauty Ngxongo, Houtlander, Mash T

Thabisa Mjo, founder of Mash T Design Studio, told House and Leisure there are very few weavers with the skill to do what the three women gathered at 99 Juta are able to do.

‘This project is so important to us because we want people to know that it is a living craft, and that we need to support the people who keep it alive,’ she says. Mjo adds that figures like Beauty Ngxongo continue the craft: Ngxongo has taught several women in the community, and her own two daughters are apprentice weavers now. ‘She wants people to know that you can live a life doing this,’ Mjo says. 

ALSO READ: 5 Creatives (including Thabisa Mjo) Each Design A Joburg-Inspired Space

‘We take this skill that we have for granted because we, as South Africans, are so familiar with it, and there are so many people doing it here,’ Ngxongo says. 

‘But when I go overseas, I stand out because they don’t have this sort of craft there, or anyone who can do it like we can. I want people, and especially women, to know that with this skill, I have supported my family. I have five children who have gone to university through weaving, some of them are teachers, and graduates, and that all became possible with this work. I want people to know that if you do it properly, you too can build a life with this work.’

Ma Ntuli, Weavers, Hlabisa, Bench, Houtlander, Mash T
Ma Ntuli is another of the talented weavers who brought the Hlabisa bench to life.


The next phase of the collaboration is under way now. Stay up to date and watch the process unfold by following Houtlander, Mash T Design Studio and Beauty Ngxongo on Instagram. 

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