Furniture Designer Siyanda Mbele.
TAP throws a spotlight on Furniture designer, Siyanda Mbele
Where furniture is concerned, Africa is making great strides. Siyanda Mbele, a South African furniture designer, can attest to this. He is trail blazing in his quest for African ‘relatable’ furniture design; furniture that doesn’t mirror a European piece but tells its own story rooted in culture. TAP reached out to Siyanda whose Mvuli desk got nominated as most beautiful product in South Africa 2018. He let us in on his love for drawing cars, Kwaito and Pinda furniture.
I was born and raised in Umlazi Township. From a very young age I have always known that I will be in the creative industry. My cousin Nkululeko taught me how to draw. I cannot remember the exact age but I was probably 7 or 8 years. At first I thought graphic design, and then I fell in love with drawing cars and designing them, so I was convinced that I will become a car designer, maybe study in Germany blah blah. Fueled by my love for drawing, I sketched daily. I consider my school days to be the raw self-learning times.
In high school I majored in mechanical technology. I did well in the beginning then realized it was not for me. I low key wanted to switch to the art class but could not. Then upon entering university, I applied for interior design, architecture, marketing and graphic design. I got accepted in interior design. I am glad the chips fell as they did for it is while studying my Interior design course at Durban University of Technology that the furniture craze began for me.
Siyanda Mbele has hit upon a novel approach with his furniture designs, proving that there can be something new under the sun.
The meaning of Pinda…I do get this question more often than you think. Unless you are South African, the meaning of is not obvious. PHINDA is a Zulu word for again. I removed the H (Pinda) because my surname Mbele is pronounced with ‘H’ but does not have it. The name came about when I was part of a design incubation program at the South African Bureau of Standards -SABS. During the brainstorming session I was asked what the recurring theme in my life was since started my business. I realized that I was constantly learning new things again and again. Making mistakes and archiving new things. Overall, it’s a constant motion of development. This was a light bulb moment for me and that is how Pinda came to be.
Is South Africa or Africa in general appreciative of designer furniture? My answer is yes. Times are changing so fast. We do have lot customers in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Europe. We have been in talks to have products in some parts of Africa but logistics became a nightmare at that particular time. There’s still more collaborative opportunities coming up in the works and more so now that I am a speaker covering topics like the creative industry, African, entrepreneurship, motivational etc. I took up Public speaking and I have done about 5 events so far. Coincidentally, I am also a lecturer at DUT. I have been lecturing for five years now. You see the thing with me is I don’t limit myself to what I can do.
My inspiration comes from the African Culture’s symbolism and its meaning. For quite some time I had been designing Ndebele inspired pieces then I designed the Mvelo Desk, inspired by the Zulu culture. So far, it is my favorite.
I started my business at the height of my insecurities. You asked me what I felt held me back? I did. I was my own enemy of progress. I didn’t think I could pull it off. Self-doubt led to a lot of things going wrong and bridges being burned. I knew a 9 to 5 was never an option so I soldiered on. I tried cutting corners thinking cheaper production was the answer but that resulted in cheaper quality. Also being half in and not fully committing to responsibilities causes a lot of problems.
One way to not cut corners is get skilled labor which is unfortunately difficult to find. Carpenters have to be shown how it’s done and the desired look and feel has to be well articulated. I used to think they knew everything so I would naively leave them to their own devices –Big mistake! I realized results are better when you focus on getting production to flow seamlessly and also designing according to what they can execute really well.
When it comes to the technical schools that teach skilled labor, there is still massive room for improvement. It is necessary to incorporate African techniques back into mainstream education because machines are taking people out. Hand crafted products are being brought in from other continents. There needs to be a huge revival of hand craft ancient techniques. Personally I aim to do more handmade products.
Many youth in Africa tend to run to office jobs and neglect artistry work that has evolved
I know the feeling. It’s safer (emotionally and financially) than starting your own business. Also we are brought up in a shame culture so the thought of the business failing and being broke and the uncertainty pushes people away. Finding your footing in business takes time but once you have the flow it's all systems go! Recently I was one of the creatives selected to be part of a music video in collaboration with Ford South Africa. I was definitely out of my comfort zone but it was an insightful experience. I got to interact with creatives from different industries and further expand my brand and reach customers who wouldn’t have known about Pinda. Great relationships were built through this experience and the future is looking exciting! My hope for the continent where product design is concerned is more collaboration. We can get to a point of being authentic without having to be too western to earn a living.
Quick fire questions:
What music do you listen to?
On my laptop I have old school kwaito and house. On music streaming apps I have more RnB soulful music.
Current album obsession
If not in furniture design, what would Siyanda Mbele be doing?
Marketing and advertising is a very interesting field or go back to mechanical engineering