Posted Wednesday 22 September 2010
Amongst the array of emerging and established talent at the London Design Festival this year there will be an unusual exhibitor. At Tent London, one of the festival's biggest shows, an African charity will be joining forces with Kingston University to stake its claim to cutting-edge design credentials.
Wola Nani is a South African NGO which supports people living with HIV and AIDS. The charity is working with a team from the University to develop new products that can be hand-made by HIV-positive women to generate income. As part of the partnership Kingston University's product and furniture design course leader Simon Maidment has developed a prototype pendant light shade that is made from pressed paper.
"The shade design is the outcome of a project which attempted to add value to Wola Nani products without adding cost," Mr Maidment explained. "The product is manufactured in a way that means it is both affordable and desirable."
More than 50 women are currently involved in Wola Nani's community project making papier maché bowls and other items in their homes. These are sold in South Africa and internationally, enabling the women to earn money to support their families. Working with Kingston University the charity hopes to develop the range of products they offer to help the women improve their income and increase the number of crafters benefiting from the project. Mr Maidment developed the shade design after visiting Wola Nani on a research trip. He returned to South Africa earlier this year to see if the product would be suitable for the women to make.
"I tried to address some of the issues that the women had encountered when making the bowls," Mr Maidment said. "The shade is a completely new product type which gives the crafters a new challenge, and is perhaps even easier to make than the bowls."
Kingston University began working with the charity two years ago as the latest phase of Project Kingston Africa which promotes knowledge exchange between Africa at Kingston University. "The University acts as a design consultancy to Wola Nani," Professor Catherine McDermott, who was instrumental in setting up the project, said. "Managers from Wola Nani came to the University to set us a brief - they wanted help to refine their product range and increase their sales. But as well as Kingston supporting Wola Nani, the charity also supports us."
Students from across the University have the chance to work on live projects related to different aspects of Wola Nani's work, such as developing business plans and looking at how the products can be marketed. According to Professor McDermott this offers the students a valuable insight into how the courses they are studying can have a positive impact in the wider world.
Wola Nani's business development manager Ryan Rode agrees the partnership with Kingston University has been mutually beneficial. "The students have been faced with many real life challenges working with Wola Nani and I think the lessons they have learnt will be really valuable to them," he said. "Their creative energy will make a massive contribution to our project, and I really hope that the fact they have used their skills and knowledge to make a difference to our crafters lives will be something that they will always cherish and be proud of."
The prototype shade developed by Simon Maidment will be on display at Wola Nani's stand at Tent London from Thursday 23 September until Sunday 26 September, alongside an exhibition of work by Kingston University's MA art and design students. Mr Maidment hopes the product will start lighting up the lives of people around the world next year as the Wola Nani women begin to expand their product range.
Find out more about the Project Kingston Africa scheme.