Some learnings from SARCDA and AMP 2017

Wow, so at short notice, I packed my bags and headed off to Johannesburg, very excited to have been accepted for a Scholarship to attend a 4-day Access Markets for Profit course, run by The Africa Craft Trust alongside the 2017 SARCDA Christmas Trade Show.

Now this was a really big deal. Four days of working with industry experts, learning, engaging and working with updated info on everything from global economic trends, to buying trends, to colour trends, to shipping, marketing, costing, merchandising and client relationships. We got to spend some time at SARCDA, went on some store visits, and got to work with some esteemed local designers to get some fresh eyes and advice on some of our work.

Now, I could write a novel about this amazing experience, but I thought it might be most interesting to share with you my top 5 learnings / observations when it comes to product.

Some inspiration from Plascon.

Less is more. The eye needs quiet. In the handmade halls, the stands people were gravitating to were the stands with calm, muted, neutral and chalky colours. Apart from the really extraordinarily merchandised exceptions; loud, bright and blingy was being bypassed. The whole world is shouting at us right now, with news and media making us feel overwhelmed. Life itself has become a sensory overload. This itself is intensified in an exhibition hall experience, and buyers seemed to want a respite. What stood out is what stood back. Confident, well-crafted understatements, that make you look closer and find the hidden surprises in the detail. This was confirmed when I had a session with Magda van der Vloed who encouraged me to tone down the amount of colours and materials used in some of our smaller products.

Natural, tactile & repurposed materials. I think this links to the world that’s shouting at us all the time. It’s become impersonal. People are looking for an energy exchange with a product, a human story, something not mass-produced… Handmade is big. Well-made handmade is bigger. I saw a lot of natural materials being used – weaving, and textural finishes that draw you in to touch and feel. The innovation with repurposed, or upcycled materials was also amazing. My highlight was seeing some really delicate work done with the rubber from old car tyres, and sculptures made from knitted copper wire.

Design identity and authenticity. It takes a brave designer to say ‘this is my style and medium, this is my signature, and that’s what I’m presenting’ instead of taking something already successful and copying it. The great thing about a show like SARCDA and a programme like AMP is you can start to see trends in terms of colours, and product categories which can help you – but the producers who stood out were the ones that had interpreted this in their own style, bringing something different to the table. The industry is big enough for us all (yes, really!), and if you choose to complement instead of copy or compete, then you’ll find the customers you share with other ‘competitors’ will probably order from all of you, as the variety helps them build a bigger range with more variety for their own customers.

Design uncomplicated products. It’s all in the detail. A beautiful subtle surprise is what stands out, along with attention to detail. You no longer need to use all your colours, techniques and different materials in one product. Less is definitely more. Let one element be the hero – be it in the shape of the item, the technique you have used to make it, or the patterning you have used to decorate it. Keep it uncomplicated, and easy to relate to. Too much ‘going on’ in a product will just confuse your buyer.

The South African Craft industry has grown up. Most important this, and you can see it in the products and design. We’re no longer children who have to shout for attention, or teenagers that need to rebel. We’re adults, confident in quiet elegance, polished details and finishes, and timeless design. This will ensure our longevity.

Until the trends change again at least!

A mood-board I created.

Sales advice from our Sales Ninja


The craft industry is very unique in terms of the products being sold, the story being told, and the customers you get to deal with. While the actual principles of sales apply to any industry, here are a few extra tips for this special industry.


Embrace the different types of clients you will deal with:  In this industry, you will be lucky enough to deal with loads of people that appreciate handmade, want to support small business, and have a fond affinity to South Africa. These will be the types of clients that become like family, will hug you when they see you, and strike up a friendship. These clients are your gold. Make sure to treat them like that and always make them feel that they are your only client. With bespoke products, you will also deal a lot with clients organising events and sourcing for their own clients. These clients will often be under pressure and bring their own challenges with them. Be sure to always treat them like they are your only client too. Remember, they are possibly on the receiving end of a lot of stress or possibly an unpleasant client, so keep them calm, reassure them with as much info and confidence as possible, and if confronted, diffuse the situation by reassuring them that their concerns are in good, capable hands and all will be fine. You will have an ally for life if you handle this correctly.


Sympathy does not sell: Important in the craft / development sector this, and something I have learnt. Sympathy does not sell. Sad photos and stories of poverty do catch the eyes of some audiences, but do you want the sadness to resonate over your clients’ buying decision, impression of your company, and into the products you make? Maybe not, if every time they look at your artworks they feel sad and heart-broken about a problem too big to fix. Tell your story with pride. You don’t need to hide the hardships and tough times, but make sure your communication reflects the success stories, the upliftment, and the happiness. This will be felt as far as in the product that a client is holding and will build a good sentiment to your organisation and story. There will be a ‘warm and fuzzy’ experience in the buying decision instead of a guilt vibe, which is far more sustainable in terms of building repeat business.

Your hard work will keep many talented hands busy and earning money.

Follow up after delivery: An extra step in a busy day, maybe – but an important step. You are showing your client that you care enough to check that their delivery arrived, and if they are happy. This step is often the opportunity to bear more fruit in terms of future orders, or up-selling more goods – and often opens the conversation to get some feedback and photos which can form a valuable portfolio of testimonials or social media material to instil confidence when prospecting new clients. Remember that in most cases, even though you have handed your goods over to a courier, your job is not done yet, as your client sees the courier’s service as an extension of yours, so make sure your couriers stick to their word and don’t hurt an otherwise hopefully flawless order process.


Be brave – ask for feedback, the good the bad AND the ugly:  Any feedback, good or bad, is better than none. How many clients are once-off because they just needed you once, or because they weren’t happy and didn’t let you know? Be brave enough to ask every client if they were happy with their order / interaction with you. As above, the good feedback makes for good marketing material (and some personal motivation). The bad feedback is actually a very valuable resource too. It’s an opportunity to find out how to do better next time. The best approach to bad feedback is four-fold:-

  1. Acknowledge their concerns, apologise and thank them for taking the time to let you know.
  2. State how you will remedy this in the future.
  3. Find out how to fix this particular situation with them and offer some solutions for them to choose from.
  4. Reinforce steps 1-3 again in conclusion by acknowledging their concerns and your commitment to improving, and wanting to engage with them to sort things out. This will make the client know that they have been heard and will in most cases turn the situation around to a more positive outcome than if you had just never asked.


Send production updates and photos: More work, I hear you groan, but this shows your customer you are as excited about their order as they are. People love to see how things are made, so some photos of the people making the work is very powerful, to show them the impact their business to you is making. It’s also lovely and fascinating to see how things are taking shape. Most importantly, it’s a very good way to catch any issues before the order is finished and delivered – which is then very expensive to fix. This way, your clients can tell you you are using the wrong beads when it is early enough to switch, instead of having to remake a whole order.


Listen to all your enquiries: With every couple of enquiries, you’ll get a request for something you can’t do. Be it a certain technique, colour, or product. If you start getting more and more enquiries of this nature, and the request is not way off your core business (ie: someone is not asking you for pottery if you do wire-art, but instead everyone is asking for purple beads), then it may do you good to start looking at diversifying to accommodate these requests. If the amount and frequency of them is increasing, it’s indicative of a trend or a changing market-place – and the only way to keep growing as a business is to find a way to service these. It is the perfect opportunity to be paid to innovate after all, and no-one can keep going by doing the same things forever.


Find ways to make your systems work: Let’s face it, in our industry, there’s very little time or resources (and often far too many financial constraints) to invest in the latest technology or systems for the admin side of your business. You’re busy hunting for business, dealing with queries, watching your quality, trying to remember to update your social media pages, getting things out on time and trying to work on new ranges, to have time to solve that freezing-computer-that-belongs-in-a-museum issue, or to get a shiny new quoting app built, or anything like that. The reality is that some things you just have to work around. Find quicker and easier ways to deal with processing admin and orders in your business so that your clients experience priority service. It may be as simple as the fact that you are better at admin in the mornings, but by the afternoon you feel you will cry if you have to look at a costing sheet again. Then, do all those tasks in the mornings and spend the afternoons on more creative things. Through it all, make sure your inventory and accounting systems are tight, and that you get info out to customers asap all the time. That’s the core to everything in your business, and if those systems are tight, then who knows, you may be able to afford that fast new office computer one day (or even an online shop, which is our dream right now!)


Develop products: You’ve had an amazing run over the last few years with that certain product, haven’t you? It keeps selling and being reordered over and over. Things are so easy, and it’s working beautifully, right? How long did it take you to get to that point? It took a few months / years for anyone to notice that product, you remember now, right? What happens when everyone in the world who is possibly in your target market owns one of those products? Then what? Or someone has now copied that design and sells it for cheaper. Think about it. It can happen. To design something new after that may be a little too late. If you relax now, it may be OK for now as things tick on, but it will bite you later down the line, and you will work long and hard again to get something new accepted, leaving you with a dip in revenue. Make time to develop and innovate as regularly as you can and set yourself timelines. Even if it’s once or twice a year that’s realistic for you, that’s great, but make it a habit. Keep your existing customers engaged and hungry for more, and also keep ahead of the pack in terms of those that may take inspiration and copy your ideas.


Keep communicating: Every day, I take 10 minutes to go though old emails. If someone reached out to you once, there’s an opportunity to gain their confidence and build a relationship. They asked for a catalogue and you sent it? Yes, great, but your job is not done. Check if they received it. Maybe it landed in their spam and they think you never replied. If they did get it, what did they think of your range? This should mostly open a conversation. By doing this review of old emails, it may also remind you of a talking-point that you didn’t consider while you juggle so many other things. Someone once asked for a costing on some flowers (as an example). You sent it? Yes, well great – but what has happened since? You see that email from a while back now and suddenly remember that recent order you did for a new flower design. Send that new pic to the client as a follow up. You’ve got nothing to lose, but possibly something to gain.


Ultimately, it really helps when you are passionate about what you are selling, why you are selling (to keep those talented hands busy and earning), and to be proud of where you work. Keep in mind, you are an ambassador and custodian of the brand you represent, so be sure to give it your all and give the kind of experience to your customers that you’d like to receive if the relationship was reversed.


Wishing you all much success as things start to wake up and heat up for the year-end rush!

– Catherine

Top three facts about our interns

We hope that you’ve been enjoying the blog series featuring the ‘Top Three’ things that our interns recommend each week. But who are these interns..? Here’s some info about them. Read the top three lesser-known facts about them that they have chosen to share with us!


 1 – I am a Pescetarian

About 7 years ago I decided to make a big change in my life to create a healthier lifestyle. I gave up all meat besides seafood in April of 2010 when I was only 15 years old. It was not the easiest transition, but it was what I wanted to do, so I stuck to it. Within two years, I lost over 60 pounds and have kept the weight off consistently. This is an accomplishment I strongly identify with because it has driven my passion for health advocating. One thing I love to do, is spread knowledge about how important healthy living is to each individual, and how it can affect almost everything about your existence.

2 – I am very passionate about photography.

I have always loved photography but I have not always been consistent with working on this skill until very recently. I went on a week-long photography camp, back in America, and remember winning a free ice cream for winning most pictures taken, and they didn’t tell us about the prize until after our time there. We created mini portfolio’s and I admired my work so much, but after camp I didn’t continue as heavily. I bought a Canon Rebel camera this past Christmas and have been loving every second with my camera ever since. There can be so much power behind a photograph, and my love for this art never seems to fade.

Myranda’s beautiful photos have been featuring recently on a lot of our posts and marketing material. We think she she deserves more than just an ice-cream for her talent! 🙂

3 – My favourite colour is orange.

Since I can remember, brown was always my favourite colour growing up. I always wanted to have a different favourite colour than anyone else so I would always go with brown. Then I grew up a little, and began to love the colour Maroon because it was close to brown but also close to red and slightly close to purple. I even dyed my hair a few times purple and maroon! My recent love for orange started about a year ago, I saw an orange backpack by Osprey and bought it instantly. I began to see orange more and more because I found it so attractive, and I just recently bought a beautiful orange floral scarf here in Cape Town to remind me of all the good memories here. What I find nostalgic about the colour orange is how an old friend of mine used to adore this colour, so it always reminds me of my friend Aundrea.

Also the Streetwires Corporate Colour, so a good thing Myranda came to do an internship here 🙂


1 – I from French Guiana

French Guiana is on the South America border to the North of Brazil. It’s an old colony of France. There is a big cultural mix in French Guiana and the landscape is very rich with the Amazonian forest that is a big part of our country. We have only two seasons: Sun and Rain and the temperature it’s about 30 degrees Celsius throughout the year. It’s one of the best places to live, so peaceful.

2 – I like to cook

In my country we cook a lot. We love food, and we have a lot of special dishes, so when I started to live on my own, I began to cook small things and step by step I learned how to cook very well, and now I cook almost every day.

Editing this at lunchtime makes me think I need to test some of Alex’s dishes (hint-hint).

3 – I love fishing

Fishing is a family story; I’ve been fishing since I was five years old. My father used to have a boat, so during the good period we would go fishing every weekend.

So there you have it! Three things about the people behind our ‘Three Things’ Blog Series.

Interns’ top 3 things to do in Cape Town

For this next instalment in our popular ‘Interns’ Top Three’ series (which we kicked off chatting to them about their favourite Streetwires products), we were keen to hear what they rate as their top three things to do in Cape Town. Apart from some retail therapy in our own shop, read about their top recommendations of things to do while visiting Cape Town:-


#1 – Cape Point Tour

I went on a tour of the corner of the Cape Peninsula and I absolutely loved everything I saw. From 9am-5pm we explored the Cape of Good Hope, the most southern (Cape) point of South Africa, Boulder’s beach, and a delicious fish and chips restaurant. At Boulder’s Beach I witnessed hundreds of African Penguins and enjoyed some pistachio and peach gelato. At Cape point I saw around 30 baboons! This was very enjoyable because they seemed very timid around my group – probably because none of us had food. I captured some really amazing pictures of the baboons that I will cherish forever.

#2 – Game Lodge Game Reserve Safari

About a week after I arrived in Cape Town I was already off to my first Safari EVER, which was about a 4-hour drive away. On the way there I saw very beautiful sights including sheep herds, ostrich farms, snow on nearby mountains, and endless mountain ranges. It was luckily great weather considering it’s winter here in South Africa. Once we arrived we immediately had lunch – which was very filling and tasty. At lunch, I sat next to our bus driver who told us about the numerous trips he had driven. He has been driving for 27-years accident-free! After lunch, we unloaded the bus and headed to our single room hotel huts that had all sorts of amenities – including heating! Then we headed to the evening tour of the Reserve where we first saw Hippo’s (my absolute favourite), and they were surprisingly out of the water feeding on grass because the sun was hiding behind many clouds that night. We then saw oryx, lions, zebra, springbok, many antelopes, and lastly a momma cheetah with her three cubs. After this excursion we went back for dinner – where I had a small bite of red meat for the first time in 7 years.. It was honestly so good but I couldn’t finish it due to the fear of an upset stomach. The next morning, we had breakfast and then went out for a second tour of the Game Reserve where we witnessed the lions again, the Wildebeest, the giraffes, and the elephants! What was especially cool about the second tour was how close we got to seeing a cheetah attack a baby Gemsbok. Unfortunately the adults had spotted her and she wasn’t able to take the opportunity.

#3 – Lion’s Head Afternoon Hike

In a group of about 8, we decided to take a quick hike up Lion’s Head which is one of the well-known mountains in Cape Town. It was a pretty windy day but the sun was shining bright, so we definitely had to undress a bit while going up, but once 5pm rolled around it definitely began to feel a bit chilly. We took some great pictures of each other at the top and then headed back down soon after. The views from Lion’s head were so beautiful – especially the view of Table Mountain which you can see in the background in the photo above! It was definitely worth the challenging hike up AND down. This mountain is known to be more challenging than Table Mountain in terms of danger, because it is quite steep. We all plan to hike this mountain a few times more before we have to leave wonderful Cape Town.



It’s a very beautiful place near to where I live. I like how you can find different kinds of restaurants inside or outside, and most of them are very good. The Waterfront is not only about shopping in Victoria & Alfred Mall, because around you have the aquarium, a museum and activities like Robben Island trips. You can go to Robben Island from the Waterfront. The Waterfront is definitely the place I have visited the most since I’ve arrived in Cape Town. I go to the cinema and eat there most of the time, and went to Robben Island from there.



It’s just in front of our shop, and it’s a nice place with artistic shops inside like a Chocolate maker and a wine shop. The neighbourhood is kind of artistic too. During the week it’s quiet but on Saturday it’s amazingly full of people because The Old Biscuit Mill transforms into a food market and everything is so delicious. You have all kinds of food. It’s unbelievable! I’m just in love with that place.


When I arrived in Cape Town, I was amazed by this big mountain and wanted to go to the top, even if it’s a long hike. But firstly I hiked Lions Head, which is quite incredible too. Last week I went to Robben Island, and the view of Table Mountain was amazing, and now I don’t want to leave Cape Town until I go on the top of this mountain.


Not sure about you, but this all makes me want to start exploring our beautiful city all over again!




Interns’ top products

We have two new interns with us at the moment – we’ll introduce you to them soon. They’re doing some amazing work with us, and we’re really glad to have them here! We asked them to give some ‘first impression’ type feedback, and we thought we’d share with you what their top three favourite products are so far.

First up is Myranda Castanon

#1 The Elephant Head (“The Elephant in the Room”)

The first piece that struck my eye was the Elephant head mostly because of its size but also because of how it glistens so beautifully! When you get closer to it, it becomes even more enormous and the details in the piece start to stand out as well. It has such a presence because the colours are just right and the neatness is impeccable – it really is such a flawless piece. It truly gives off a quiet and peaceful energy just like a real Elephant would.

#2 Mini Hippo

This was my second favourite item in the shop because the Hippopotamus is one of my favourite animals and I was able to see a wild Hippo for the first time just a few weeks ago. What I like about this piece as well is the colours that are used – shades of purple, black and silver/grey. The purple beads make this item stand out and sparkle, while the silver wire used for the nostrils also stands out against the colour of beads used. It is one of the cutest animal pieces in the shop, in my opinion ☺.

#3 Custom made colourful tree

After a few weeks in the shop, I finally noticed this small tree with curvy branches and colourful leaf petals. It reminds me a lot of a flower and a tree combined. The branches look very unique up close and I loved the matte look to the wire that was used. It is a very dynamic yet simple piece that would fit perfectly in any room of your house, office, bathroom.. really anywhere!

Next we ask Alexandre Karam what caught his eye

The Lion Head is one of the beautiful pieces in the shop for me because of the details, and it’s incredible how he looks like a real one. Once you put him on a white wall you cannot stop looking at him. His name reminds me of one of the three mountains of Cape Town.

These Trees are amazing! Each of them is different and when they all are on the wall together it’s incredible. You imagine that you’re in the wild and the trees are surrounding you.

Now, this white Lion… I saw this one for the first time this morning and I love his kingliness. He reminds me why the lion is the king of the jungle, and his mane in white is so classy.

What do you think? I tend to agree with these choices! Want to find out more about Myranda & Alex, who they are, what their advertures at Streetwires and Cape Town include? Watch this space for some more blogs from them.

Appreciating Quality

With any handmade product comes a touch of the hand of the person who created and designed it. There is always a certain energy and rawness to a handcrafted product which gives it it’s appeal. With that energy and rawness also comes the elements that define the level of quality of the work and the value of the piece.

The level of quality, or the definition thereof (and how easily it can be recognised) does vary from person to person and medium to medium, but here are some ways we distinguish this in the Streetwires context.

Before we dive into that, you may be curious to know how we monitor or control the quality of our work in order to continuously improve?

Samples – Absolutely every product in our catalogue has a sample. This is so we always have a reference for the artists to work from, and to compare when we do a quality check.

Quality control process – The original sample is used as a reference when work is handed in by the artists. Some (but not all) of the checks done, are to check that size is consistent, weight is consistent (for raw material usage), shapes are consistent, colours are correct, and beading is neat, and details and embellishments are all included.

Customer feedback – Another important criteria to consider is customer feedback. Any questions or concerns about the appearance of any products is carefully noted so that any improvements can be made where necessary. It must be said that we work with some very creative and helpful customers who very often engage with us with ideas for new product development too. This all ensures a constant evolution and growth of our quality.

Now, when it comes to our handmade bead and wire art-pieces and crafted smalls there are some things that our artists are fanatical about (and specially trained around). You may already have started to notice the difference after holding one of our products in your hands. Keep an eye out, and consider these factors when you shop around for pieces – be it at a gallery shop, a seller on the street, a market, or directly from an organisation such as ours:-

Originality – A good artist develops new designs without copying. Are the items you are seeing for sale all over the place, and the same things you have seen for years, or have you found something totally unique? In the craft space, copying is unfortunately rife. While it is a compliment when people feel inspired by your work, it is not deal to copy. Original work is probably one of the most important factors in determining the quality of a piece. By buying a knock-off, you are not uplifting anybody. Look for those hidden gems, even if they end up costing you more.

Unique style / signature – Like any good original artwork, even wire-art retains the signature of the artists’ hand. Train your eye to start seeing unique use of techniques, quirky attention to detail, distinctive shapes, styles and design. The originality and creativity is astounding when you can start to recognise it. Try and find those rare pieces when you decide to invest in some craft items. By doing this, you are encouraging innovation, and therefore truly uplifting this art form.

Consistency in shaping and size – Have a look to see if two items of the same design are consistent in size, and that their shaping is also pretty much the same as each-other. While a little bit of irregularity is quirky and part of the appeal, items should always be as alike as possible. This is especially important when selecting gifts for an event, or products for retail. Everything should look consistent and good on shelf. If one beaded animal looks like it still needs to grow into it’s head, is missing an eye, or is 5cm taller than it’s brother, then it may not be the best example of the work out there.

Uniformity in beading – Beading requires a very high level of skill, and many years to master. A good indicator of quality in beadwork is to check for uniformity – no gaps, or skew lines. The beads should also be tightly plastered on the product, with no movement or looseness. Keep an eye out that all the beads themselves are the same size.

Loose ends – Like anything in life, it’s important to tie up any loose ends. A good wire-artist will always finish off his or her work with no loose ends, and pokey pieces of wire sticking out. Everything should be neatly wrapped and finished off for as smooth a finish as possible.

Bead size – Recognising what size beads works best on what size piece takes a discerning eye and a bit of practice to recognise, but this is super important too. Beads that are too big for a small frame will make the piece look a bit lumpy, and will make for gaps in places where the areas are too small for the beads to be wrapped or plastered smoothly. An experienced artist will always use smaller beads. Keep in mind that the smaller the beads, the more work involved, so you will end up paying more – but it’s an investment after all!

With all things made by hand, there will always be small imperfections or variations, and that is part of the charm of buying a handmade product vs a mass-produced item. It all boils down to learning how to spot a quality piece, which will be an investment, rather than opting for a cheap and cheerful item just because price is dictating your decision. When it comes to craft, it’s best to budget a little higher because you do get what you pay for.


How different materials and techniques affect pricing

When we work on new samples, there are two important components that go into working out the costing. One of them (and the most important) is the length of time it takes to make the item. This translates into the earnings that will be paid to the artists when they start producing the product on order, and is one part of the costing where we can’t really budge. In a mechanised environment, production is costed in ‘economies of scale’ as it will work out cheaper per piece to make a huge run vs a small run when setting up expensive machinery / moulds / screens. When items are made by hand, it takes the same amount of time to make one unit once-off, or the same item a thousand times over. The other item to consider when working out a costing is the raw materials used. The beads, wire and additional components all have a cost attached and these need to be considered.

Some materials may be more expensive than others, but they can be used in ways that make the product quicker (and cheaper to make), while other materials may be as cheap as chips, but are used for highly intricate and detailed work only.

Here we discuss some techniques and styles to give you an idea of what makes for a very pricey piece, and what makes for a more economical way to achieve a similar look or feel.

Wire outline

This is the perfect way to embrace the original form of this craft, and go for a full wire product. There’s a lot that can be done using just wire on a practical and artistic level. The shape can be manipulated to look like a line-drawing, or can de very detailed and decorative. If the plain wire colour is not speaking to you, bear in mind that effects such as rusting, or epoxy-coating can be done to add an aged look, or some colour,.


Copper wire

Copper wire is a great way to add a nice warm highlight of colour without using beads. Copper wire is more costly than galvanised wire, and is also much softer, so it is best suited for small products, or as a touch of detail on larger products. It is too soft to be used for the actual frame (or shaping) of the products, and only comes in fairly thin gauges, so it’s best to use it sparingly in a design.

Scooby or random wire wrap

Similar to copper in cost, softness and gauge, Scooby wire (telephone wire) is a great way to add colour to a product if you prefer not to go with beads. The actual wire comes in cords enclosing a mixture of colours. There is a bit of labour involved in opening the cords and separating the colours, so the most efficient use of this material is to allow for a mixture of colours for the items you order so that there is no wastage. While we don’t specialise in the intricate weaving of this Scooby wire, which is endemic to Kwazulu-Natal (like the baskets one finds), we do use this material for detailing smaller products, and often in a ‘random wrap’ style.

When it comes to adding beadwork to your product, the sky is literally the limit with techniques available. Here’s a run-down on some of them.

 Random wrap with beads

This is a great technique for adding some beadwork to open areas in a subtle way. Random wrap is a fairly quick technique to do, so is more cost-effective than fully-beading the same area, and can be quite pleasing on the eye.


This is a great beading technique that wraps around wire shapes and provides a soft, textured finish and also bulks up a product substantially. While it takes considerably more beads than a flat beaded technique, the labour involved is often a little less than more close-knit beading, and is a cost-effective way to incorporate a lot of colour and splash to a 3D product.


This has become the ‘Grande Dame’ of beading, as this technique offers the greatest coverage, smoothness of detail, and ability to mix and blend colours for very realistic finishes. Not surprisingly, this technique is one of the most costly options, but is well worth it for items such as décor pieces and logos.

Outline beading

This is a good option for those on a tight budget, for more stylized designs, or even to add lettering to a logo or small item. I can be quite strikingly beautiful and is often used to add detail.

Wooden beads

Wooden beads have not always been available, and we have mostly worked with glass beads for all our products. Recently, we found a source of wooden beads and created a beautiful range of homeware using these beads. While wooden beads are far more costly than glass beads, they are generally bigger in size, so less are used to cover the product. There is a little extra labour involved in beading them, as these beads have to be fed onto the wire one-by-one instead of via our famous ‘spindling’ technique the ladies use for glass beads. These beads are also much lighter than glass beads, making shipping weight (and cost) less for products made with wooden beads. Shipping products made from, or using wood do require fumigation and certification, but with a finish and look being right on trend, our new range has been well adopted by our export customers.


2D vs 3D

When it comes to smalls, (such as keyrings), there is the option to make a full 3D version of your design, or a flat 2D version. The 3D option makes for a very impressive piece for those with a bigger budget. For a more conservative budget, the 2D (flat) version is recommended, and can be just as nice (trust us!)

We hope this helps to inspire you as to how versatile you can be with your ideas when briefing us on product ranges for retail, or for bespoke pieces. There are many amazing techniques and materials we can use. Feel free to chat to us about which ones you would like used on your products.


Nowhere to go










We hope not…

Big development, broken promises and agreements that have fallen through leaves our job-creation social enterprise with nowhere to go, currently.

Not so long ago, we wrote in our blog about the possibility of moving due to a development in the area. At the time, it seemed that everything was in order for a smooth transition, and that we were in the good hands of our landlady who had our best interests at heart:

After turning down an earlier offer from a neighbour to take over their building rent free for as long as we needed on the promises from our landlady that she would provide us with suitable space across the road, we have been let down very badly.

Established in 2000, Streetwires employs over 40 previously unskilled and unemployed artists who produce the finest wire and bead craft and art pieces for the local and export market. After over a decade, we have established ourselves as the only working artists studio in the city. One of our key revenue streams currently are the guided tours we offer to tour groups, where they can meet the artists, learn about the craft, and support our artists by purchasing gifts and souvenirs in our gallery store on the same premises. With the downscaling of certain design exhibitions in the city, our gallery and studio also serves as a showroom and meeting place for our local and export clients. We have become a designated itinerary stop for all the walking tours of the city, as well as shore tours for all the cruise liners that dock in Cape Town.

Going on the promises of our landlady, Cecily Blumberg, and feeling a mutual loyalty that made us decline the offer of the rent-free spot next door initially, we were positive for our move across the road as mentioned in our blog.

Unfortunately, this is now not to be. Speedy, the current tenant occupying the space we were promised (also owned by our landlady Ms Blumberg) has refused to move out, or even share the space with us, as we were previously led to believe would happen. This coupled with the recent decision to either sell the building we currently occupy, or renovate it and increase the rent to more than double what it is now once the development is complete, means that instead of our social enterprise having a place to continue operating, a tyre storage facility will be lucky enough to have business as usual – and continue to occupy prime city space while we struggle to find a new home for our business. While the original offer and the final outcome has dragged on for so long, we have lost precious time in securing a suitable alternative…

With the few available options of space which we have seen not being viable for us, we now face the strong possibility of losing over a decade worth of business relationships while we try and find a space we can afford, possibly far outside the city now – meaning a major reshuffle of our business and sales strategy, as it is highly probable that we will no longer be able to have our office, studio, showroom, welding workshop and a store trading all under one roof. The bigger impact of this also ultimately impacts our artists, who this business is built around. A move may not only mean no shop for them to sell their pieces, and the loss of our tour revenue – but could also mean a cut in our sales, and their (piece-meal) earning, along with potentially higher transport costs if we cannot find an affordable solution near a major transport hub.

We are therefore appealing to all readers to come forward and try and assist us in finding a space that suits the needs of our organisation in it’s current form. We’d really appreciate as many eyes and ears on the ground as we can get.

It simply has to work out. It can’t not.

Please contact Riaan Hanekom for further details – 021 426 2475 /

Product Spotlight – Bowls



We have had a beautiful range of bowls in our shop for quite some time. They literally fly out faster than we can make them, so we realised that it was time to give them their own range and catalogue.

Therefore, we are proud to Introduce Thetha Kakhulu.

Thetha Kakhulu is Xhosa for ‘talks very much’.
These beautiful bowls are beaded by our ladies who sit in groups and
chat while they work. With the happy sounds of their chatter,
and the cheerful colours of the bowls, the name Thetha Kakhulu seemed
fitting for this range.

One of the beautiful things about this range is that no two bowls are the same. We have given the ladies free reign to decide which colours, patterns and bead-mixes they would like to bead. This uniqueness is what has added to their appeal with our retail shoppers.

That being said, if you have specific requests in terms of the colours, patterns, etc that you would like, then we’d be happy to oblige. Want plain cream beads, and all 20 bowls the same? Not a problem.

This catalogue should be available with our download pack on our website very soon. For now, just give us a shout via email and we will send it to you.

Bead & wire art – where did it all start?

Welcome to a little history lesson. Before you start groaning and thinking of dusty old bent artifacts, or sad, slow websites that don’t load properly with very wordy information last updated at least a decade ago… We thought we’d give you some insight into what is actually a fascinating story of how wire-art started, and how it became such a valued, innovative and sought-after contemporary art form. This may still be a wordy post – but if nothing else, it makes one appreciate the value of the items, and how the art form has evolved. Quite an eye-opener really!

Let’s start with the nuts and bolts locally:-

Wire-art is said to have begun in the townships and rural areas, with children (and sometimes their parents) making toys from discarded materials they were able to recover, such as old fence wire, tin cans, bottle tops, etc. Over time, the saleable value of these items was noticed, and people started to make items not only for themselves, but to sell to others.

Bicycles and cars made out of wire were the most popular items to make.

Wire art is now a thriving business and a sophisticated art form, with many producers of wire sculptures supporting families by selling their creations on street corners, at markets, in shops, high-end boutiques and selected art galleries.

So how did these wire sculptures become beaded?

Hard to say exactly, but in Southern Africa, beads have been found in important historical sites across Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The uses of beads differ widely across the continent and the world, and include:

Relaxation: worry beads are used in many cultures for relaxation, and as amulets to guard against bad luck.

Currency: One of the uses of Aggry beads from Ghana was for exchange and as a way of payment during early trade in Africa. Europeans first collected aggry beads from the West Coast of Africa in the 15th Century.

Games and hobbies: some games were played using beads.

Adornment: historically, beadwork was the insignia of tribal royalty. In contemporary Southern Africa, beads have experienced a revival in popularity and are easily visible in contemporary fashion design, which incorporate cultural as well as individual expression.

Used for souvenirs and to raise awareness: contemporary uses now include beaded souvenirs, such as wild animals, décor items and art pieces. The list continues to grow as the art form evolves.

The use of beads added an additional decorative and colourful touch to the wire pieces.

With the various uses of beads, especially the last two, and with wire being a relatively cost-effective and strong structure for beadwork, it is only suffice to say that this mixing of mediums was a logical next step in the development of this art-form.

Rewind to a decade or so ago, when independent artists had seen the commercial value of handmade wire and bead products and had started selling these informally… As time passed, the craft started evolving as artists started seeing that new products needed to be developed constantly to stay ahead of the growing competitive pack. This coupled with formal organisations opening within the craft industry (Yay, Streetwires!) innovating and refining the quality of the art through skills-training – this once haphazard collection of styles became a respected art-form in it’s own right. And now, even more so as people try and identify with something tactile, familiar, and unique in a fast-paced and sometimes impersonal shopping experience. (a new appreciation for handmade shows as the trends shift away from mass-produced and ‘faceless’ products to those made by hand, accompanied with a story and a certain energy that they carry.)

Taking it to a whole new level

So there you have it…!