Missibaba – bag lady

Thanks to a new shop on Bree Street, it's easier than ever before to bag this creative's luxury handcrafted leather accessories 

The home of Chloe Townsend’s luxury accessory label Missibaba is in Sir Lowry’s Road, Woodstock, and I’m on my way to go check it out. The young craftswoman opened a shop on Bree Street in collaboration with Kirsten Goss, the exquisite jewellry-maker, in August 2012, but I'm eager for a behind-the-scenes look at Chloe's creative prowess.

Pushing open the studio door, I immediately see Chloe with a baby in her arms. Tall and beautiful, she’s wearing a printed blue kaftan and one of her creations, a leather necklace—teardrop shapes interwoven with coloured detail.

Leather is her forte, and not just for jewellery, her most impressive skills lie with her statement bags.

Her workshop is full with woman hammering, sewing, chatting, stitching. She employs local craftswomen as well as a group of underprivileged women in the Stellenbosch township Kayamandi.

Tell me about the name?
It was my mom’s nickname for me when I was young. It means something like ‘little miss’. It’s Indian, originating from the (British) Raj era.

Where do you take your inspiration?
It’s difficult to explain…I know this going to sound esoteric, but the inspiration comes from that place between dreams and reality. You know, that moment just before you fall asleep—where these two worlds kind of link. It’s hard to pin-point where exactly the inspiration comes from, I collect bits from everywhere.

But most inspiring was definitely my friend Meg’s baby daughter, Lucy. I named the collection after her, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’.

What prompted you to do that?
Well Meg (Summs) is my best friend and we also stock her clothing range in the studio, Fabric. So Lucy has become our studio mascot, she comes in and enchants us all. She’s our first love.

Any plans for baby shoes?
Yes! As soon as she starts to walk around I want to make her little gold boots.

Plans to collaborate with any other South African designers?
I’m collaborating with Stiaan Louw. I love his stuff, it is menswear, but what we’re doing together is more unisex.

I see you have a shop at the back; can people come to the studio to purchase items?
Oh absolutely. We never used to have that space. It was a bit chaotic before! It was hard sales environment. I mean to pick something up off the floor that we’ve been working on and then sell it…Having the area at the back separates the workroom from the retail experience. But people do love to see the working studio.

I think it would be a safe assumption to say that leather is your favourite material?
I’ve always loved leather. I started working with it when I studied at the London College of Fashion (2003). I just love cutting material with a craft knife, and leather doesn’t fray—that would drive me mad. Leather works really well with my skills, there’s so much you can do with it, you can stretch it, wet it and mould it, shape it…

What did London College of Fashion students do for fun?
[Laughs] We always ended up in the pub. We didn’t do too many wildly creative things. But it was London, and there’s always something exciting going on. I mean, when we were feeling a bit flush, we could see the most amazing bands. And the fabrics, materials and labels we were exposed to...There was just so much going on.

What did you do after you studied?
It was a two year course and after I left I was quite disillusioned. There were just so many people fighting to go work at the same places. It’s not the kind of industry (fashion) where you’re encouraged to go on your own. It’s just too expensive. So, all the designers are filtered throughout the different fashion houses.

At that point I was feeling squashed soul-wise. Also being in a big city wasn’t doing it for me. I love nature. What feeds me here (SA) didn’t feed me there.

I did learn a lot though; it was a very introspective time. But somehow I knew I needed to be in South Africa.

So what happened?
I came back and fell in love with my boyfriend, which made the decision to stay even easier.

Have you always loved to draw?
Yes, always. Although when I was younger, it was just horse after horse after horse—endlessly. I moved onto people eventually, [laughs] blue woman with their arms chopped off…

I also used to go to these festivals with T-shirts I had made and give them to these musicians I had crushes on [more laughter].

So why not clothing design?
What I like about what I do is that it’s not dictated by trends. It’s lasting; I make investment pieces, rather than now, now, now.

You love nature; does that inspire your designs?
Absolutely. I just really like being outside. Like this morning I was taking a walk with a friend, and the mist and the rain came down and it was just beautiful. To feel so connected, so raw, rather than separate from the world around you. I love the wind; I love to lose my mind just a little bit—to get caught up in the energy of the moment.

And all the colours, the constant change, when it’s wet it just pops with colours and then two weeks later when it’s dry, it’s a completely different landscape.

So would you say your colour palette is inspired by nature?
Totally. I love the way the combinations can surprise me. I see combinations in nature that I never thought would have worked together.

Especially fynbos, the colour combinations are mind-blowing. And the skies lately, have you seen them? They are ridiculously beautiful.

By Malu Lambert

Missibaba Workshop

Unit 3 | Selwyn Street Studios | The Palms Centre | Capricorn Park | 145 Sir Lowry Road | Woodstock | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 461 1083

You can order items online at www.missibaba.com or visit her workshop.

For more artisan design, read about talented goldsmith Marius Koen.

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