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Return to roots reveals opportunity for rural collaborations
Jacoline S. Designs co-founder Jacoline Phalane has been the darling of the interior design industry for six years. She’s been featured on Top Billing, and other design magazines to profile her talents and ambition to “grow her business, Jacoline S. Designs, into one of Africa’s largest black-owned interior design companies,” said the Mail and Guardian in June 2021.
Jacoline Phalane in one of the houses she has brought to life. Image courtesy Sarah Depina
Then Covid hit.
So, like seasoned entrepreneurs, Jacoline and her husband, co-owner Tshepo, at the time based in Johannesburg, made quick and big changes. They gave up their rental, packed up their belongings and headed back to Limpopo with their kids – and business.
What they’ve discovered is new life, says Jacoline, as they adapt to the shift to online sales, collaborate with artisans to produce their own product range under Jacoline S. Designs, and might also renovate a lodge close to Kruger (if their proposal goes through).
The founders also have a new goal: To become “interior farmers”.
The founders of Jacoline S. Designs moved their lives and business from Johannesburg to Limpopo when Covid hit. Image courtesy Sarah Depina
“When coronavirus hit we were doing really well,” says Jacoline. But the crisis forced the Phalanes to drop expenses – they had to think about the children’s future and not spend their savings, says Jacoline.
In the village, where people grow their own food in their gardens, expenses are low, says Jacoline, adding that her husband’s parents even have chickens and ducks. But this is also a village where there isn’t a library, health clinic, fire station or community hall, says Jacoline.
They are spending no time lamenting the loss of the big city things, and are rather spending more time designing and contributing towards innovative solutions in their community.
“We started this business to transform people’s lives,” says Jacoline, who as creative director helps clients create their dream living or working space, while Tshepo is project manager and oversees the sites. The company offers a full service, from concept development to procurement and installation, for residential, business or hospitality operations.
Jacoline has an excellent eye for bold colour and shapes. Image courtesy of Sarah Depina
“I believe people see that we are different,” Jacoline says, “and that we have the ‘wow’ factor – once we touch your space and transform it, you may not even be able to recognise it.”
One such space is a sustainable holiday home that needed to be accessible from anywhere in the world at the touch of a button. It meant they had to push the boundaries in terms of design, says Jacoline. The end result was a home with solar panels, a green garden, an automated irrigation system, a living wall that purified the air. The job also brought in money for a range of local subcontractors.
This home has a living wall that can be monitored from anywhere, and the owners can send instructions to have it watered when necessary. Image courtesy Alon Cohen
In Limpopo, they have slowed down and reconnected to each other, the community and the land, says Jacoline. They’ve begun to love it there, too, and to realise how pressured and disconnected life can be in the city, where people don’t even know their neighbours.
In some ways, it’s been a coming home for Jacoline, who left Limpopo as a child. “For the first seven years of my life, I grew up in a village in Limpopo. Then we came to Johannesburg, where I went to a Model C school,” says Jacoline, who has a BA degree in interior design.
She felt separated from her language and culture, she says, and what she realised from growing up in these very different places is that spaces can transform you, in the same way that the move back to Limpopo is opening them up to new opportunities right now.
Collaborating with rural artisans is one of Jacoline’s passions. Image courtesy of Tshepo Phalane
One that’s brewing, with help from the Small Enterprise Development Agency, is a proposal to renovate a run-down lodge that’s in a prime tourist position close to Kruger. The Three Rondavels and Magoebaskloof project, will also “create jobs for the youth and attract foreign and South African tourists”, says Jacoline.
And there have been other opportunities. They are developing a Jacoline S. Designs product range that can be ordered on online platforms. For this they’re partnering with rural artisans.
Their goal is to “showcase bespoke African handcrafted products that bring beauty to interiors through sustainable traditional techniques and materials”, and to financially empower local creatives, she says.
Jacoline hopes that their collaboration with rural artisans will expose them to a wider audience. Image courtesy of Tshepo Phalane
They’re using suppliers from the area around them, such as the Venda ceramicists who make the pots and vases. “These ladies create the ceramics from clay they dig up in the area. They can only get it in a particular season and so they dig it up then store it.”
They’re working with wood and stone sculptors, beaders and sisal weavers in Tzaneen.
They are also creating furniture, ornaments, art works and rugs, says Jacoline.
They have come across some very talented Limpopo artists. Image courtesy of Tshepo Phalane
“We want to invest into our product range,” says Jacoline, and to invest in a team to expose the products to a bigger market, then push that back into the products and help the artisans make more money. “We believe sustainable supplier relationships are imperative to stimulate job creation and economic growth,” says Jacoline.
They’re also exploring working with skillful beaders in the area for their new range. Image courtesy of Tshepo Phalane
Their ultimate dream, they say, is to become “interior farmers” because there's an opportunity to produce the materials for many of the products in their product range.
Call Jacoline Phalane 065 985 6633 or her partner, Tshepo Phalane, 081 769 8961
Email them: firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about their work and impact: jacolinesdesigns.com
A BUSINESS COULD WIN UP TO R100K LOAN*
Jacoline S. Designs is a featured business in the Small Business Spotlight, a CapeTownMagazine.com and Lulalend initiative to help boost small businesses.
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Why you should join our small business initiative and nominate an enterprise for an interest-free loan opportunity.CEO of SweepSouth, Michael Jordan and more founders share what to do to help your business survive the impact of Covid-19.
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