In a research study completed in early 2009, Creative Cape Town found that of 1000 creative entities mapped in the central city, half are design oriented. These businesses are creating buildings, fashion, jewelery, furniture, advertising and ICT innovations, among other things. It can be argued that the large film and publishing sectors also make use of, showcase and influence design.
Designers are drawn to Cape Town as a creative place to live and work: beautiful people in a beautiful city making beautiful (and useful) things. As Alistair King, Director of the King James advertising and communication group, says: “My creativity went through the roof when I landed in this city. There have always been phenomenal creative people in Cape Town to live up to. And you do your best work when you’re working with the best people.” The fact that key design calendar events like Design Indaba, the Loeries and the country’s leading fashion week happen here is testimony to the fact that the country considers Cape Town a design hub.
“Why should Cape Town Fashion Week be the definitive South African fashion week?” asks Stefanie Viera, Manager of the Cape Town Fashion Council, rhetorically. “People often say that Joburg is where the spending power is, but a fashion hub is not where the money is, it’s got more to do with consumers and context. Cape Town has the model agencies, the manufacturing companies, 250 fashion brands… The Cape Town Fashion Council is the first established industry body in South Africa, and we’ve managed to do this because we’re based in Cape Town.”
Arguably, the event that lead the way in starting to give Cape Town a sense of itself as a design hub, is the long running Design Indaba. This international design conference entices the greatest design minds from around the country and the world. The concurrent Design Indaba Expo gives a snapshot of where South African design is at and international buyers are increasingly using the showcase as a chance to snap up unique new design work. In 2009, Design Indaba, which was considered a “quirky idea” when it launched according to Director Ravi Naidoo, generated R200-million for Cape Town.
Building on the momentum, and looking to the sustainable future of design, means developing education institutions. As well as training young designers, schools and departments also contribute to much-needed research and generate fresh ideas, even innovation. The Cape Peninsula University of Technology houses one of the largest design faculties in the country, including one of the only two industrial design programmes. Disciplines include fashion, surface design, interior design, multimedia and architectural technology. The Design and Informatics Departments here are merged recognising the synergies: for example, software programmes need interfaces designed, designers need software programmes. Other design-oriented schools in the City include the College of Cape Town, Red & Yellow, Vega Brand Communication, the Advertising College of Southern Africa, Inscape and City Varsity.
On a more informal basis, the facilities at the Fab Lab at the Cape Craft and Design Institute helps developing designers problem-solve, allowing them to create 3D prototypes of their ideas. It offers software packages, a laser cutter, milling machines and more, and is the most design-oriented of the country’s six Fab Labs, which are usually used by engineering and electronics innovators.
There are challenges, but with some building blocks in place, Cape Town can start to grow to its full potential as a leading centre of knowledge and innovation in the South, and an internationally recognised design hub.