A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of sharing coffee with Doron Shaltiel, the creative force behind innovative African jewellery brand, Quazi Design. You may not guess to look at these beautiful pieces, but each and every one is made from recycled paper in Swaziland. Not only is it eco-friendly, it’s fair trade too. Let’s chat more to Doron to find out why her business deserves a coveted spot on The Good List…
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A cutting edge handcraft company based in Swaziland that changes the perception of recycled paper.
How did Quazi Design start?
I started the business in partnership with the local magazine distributors, they had a ton of unwanted waste magazines and newspapers and I was approached by them with the vision of starting a social enterprise to create employment. It was a combination of income generation and recycling. We started with one design and one artisan, growing organically and slowly, testing the market and training other artisans as we grew.
What makes you different?
I like to think that we offer a product that you cannot find anywhere else! A design-led product that uses waste paper in a new and innovative way. Plus, your purchase supports an artisan in Swaziland. Our business model means that we offer permanent full time work to our artisans, paying a living wage with benefits.
Was this business your ‘plan A’ or did you do something else before?
I have always wanted to combine my design skills with a social project, my love travelling and exploring new cultures. I never thought I would be working with waste paper but I have always wanted to travel to Africa and when I came across the meaningful and inspiring combination of design, craftsmanship and empowerment I was hooked. I have always loved the idea of ethical fashion, it all makes complete sense to me – ethical manufacturing with sustainable textiles and materials that look after the planet, profit and people equally.
Can you remember the exact moment you realised your business was (or would be) a success?
When running your own business it can be hard to take a step back and see how far you have come! I always see what still needs to be done and the potential. But the most important things for me are that our artisans can take home a good salary, our products are appreciated and we have an amazing space to work from. Creativity is easier with the right ingredients and I feel that after all those years we now have that!
Who benefits from the social element of Quazi Design?
All the people we employ benefit from a sustainable income, paid training, help with school fees, monthly clinics and personal development workshops. Most of our artisans were previously unemployed and, on average, each artisan supports six dependents on their salary.
Tell us a little about the story behind your products…
Our products use 100% waste magazine paper, or newspaper, which we have combined with brass off cuts, recycled crushed glass and some local carved jacaranda. All products are handmade from start to finish, at our workshop in Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland, including the metal work. I am the designer and train the artisans in new techniques which I develop. I want to push the boundaries of paper and change the perception of recycling. Making it design-led and exciting.
Why do you think it’s important for people to invest in ethically-produced goods?
All our purchases make a difference and, if we make sure to buy ethically, we are directly supporting people in emerging economies. I believe that craftsmanship and ethical production could prove to be a vital economic sector for Africa. This new way of doing business should be normal, not alternative, as it’s a way of respecting people and the planet equally.
What challenges have you had doing business in a developing country, like Swaziland?
One of our main challenges is shipping products; we have customers all over the world and the cost of shipping can sometimes put a customer off from ordering. The postal service is reasonably priced but not always reliable. Apart from that the infrastructure can be challenging, like the slow internet, but there is also a great freedom and resourcefulness that comes from working in developing countries. A feeling that everything is possible!
Share something you’ve learned that you wish you knew before you started out?
I look back at some of our products that we started with and wish that someone had told me that less is more! We had so many different designs, but actually only needed half of them. A well curated collection is much better than too many different designs that constantly change. If something is working don’t change it too quickly.
Where do you call home?
After almost 7 years in Swaziland I am back in the UK for a year, so home has changed drastically in the past few weeks. I miss the great weather, the peaceful mountains, the fresh air and delicious fruit markets of Africa but I am also keen to re-connect to the design world in the UK and tap into what I believe could be great opportunities for Quazi. I feel that the UK is leading in the design world and its great to be inspired by other designers and share my experiences.
What do you think your home says about you?
Our home in Swaziland was on a farm, the style was very rustic and relaxed. We love the outdoors and spent a lot of time in our garden, cooking and eating outside and inviting friends over for pizza nights and sunset drinks.
What are you looking forward to?
I am looking forward to designing our 2016 collection, adding to our one of a kind collection of jewellery as well as some new homeware pieces. We will also be exhibiting our products and sharing our story at the PAPER gallery in Bristol from the 13th till the 26th October. Everyone is welcome. Sign up for our newsletter or follow us on social media for a reminder. Finally, also been brainstorming about working in other African countries so watch this space!
To learn more about the inspirational story visit the Quazi Design website where you can view the complete collection and meet the artisans who craft this beautiful range. For a limited time only while Doron is in the UK, you can also get free UK and European delivery on the whole range, so do head over to the shop to support this wonderful social business and treat yourself. This amazing ‘Crystal’ necklace made from paper pulp and layered paper is firmly on my wish list and I think this paper pulp ‘Petal’ necklace is beautiful.
[Photographs: all courtesy of Quazi Design]