Limited edition Bearbricks, couture from Off-White + body ink at Rare Gallery
KIN Online Boutique: Telling Stories With Handmade Designs
Just a click away – an exclusive range of exquisitely crafted, South African-made jewellery, ceramics and artwork from this Cape Town-born shop
There are arguably few people as qualified to effectively bridge the gap between contemporary South African design and retail as Chantal Louw. She’s worked as a gallery manager, curator, art teacher and mentor, shop owner and entrepreneur since completing her honours degree in art history in the mid-2000s. During this time, she also added to her skills by attending business school part time. Chantal was a member of the committee that conceptualised Cape Town’s Watershed art and craft market at the V&A Waterfront. Her shop, KIN, was included in the Beautiful Spaces, Beautiful Things category of the World Design Capital 2014 programme.
Silver and brass pendant measuring 49mm x 46mm 45cm sterling silver chain.
Most recently, after providing a retail platform for more than 100 local jewellers, ceramicists, illustrators and other designers at KIN’s outlets in Kloof Street and at the V&A Waterfront as well as online for more than five years, Chantal decided it was time “to move beyond just her bricks –and- mortar existence”. She closed the stores and relaunched KIN as an online entity only.
Original book sculpture by Keri Muller made from books destined for the recycling pile.
“It was time to integrate everything I’d learned before and embark on the next stage of my journey,” she says. “Thessa [Bos, her former business partner] and I had felt we had shown how successful beautifully crafted South African design could be in retail environments. We’d done what we’d set out to do by filling the space between gallery and retail. We weren’t required anymore. I could pull back and ask myself where I’d go next and what I’d do.”
Today, KIN’s online store presents the magnificent work of 25 top local designers and artists who make exquisite jewellery, illustrations and ceramic pieces in Chantal’s favourite materials – paper, metal and clay.
Silver 'Heart and Wreath' ring.
But while some things have changed at KIN, much has stayed the same – including the criteria for selecting stock: “Three primary rules remain: pieces must be locally made, I must love each of them – I can only sell things I absolutely adore and believe in – and each piece must be well made,” she explains, which is why she’s adopted the first letters of the words “paper”, “metal” and “clay” to also define KIN’s focus: “place, meaning and craftsmanship”.
Indeed, everything KIN offers is deeply personal to Chantal. That is because designs come “from my kin to yours, my family to yours, and my home to yours,” she says. And where there are homes, there are stories – which fascinate her, particularly the intricate ones told by her designers and their work. The online shop and associated blog allow her to share these stories.
'Gauging Children' photograph by Dave Robertson
Chantal is also resolute about supporting ethical manufacturing and impeccable craftsmanship. “We need to be critical about good craft,” she insists. “Some people are talented and creative, but need to improve their craftsmanship. After all, most of the greatest painters are also great craftsmen. Their work is not just about putting paint on canvas. It’s about how the canvas is pulled and treated. If that doesn’t work, you can have the best looking painting in the world but it’s not going to hold up; it’s going to loosen and warp.”
Craftsmanship is integral to art in her eyes. “The manufacturing of art and design needs to be honoured. There’s a process. Art is not created in Santa’s workshop. People with unique stories create it. I want to build awareness around that and the importance of the manufacturing process.”
Boston Terrier print by Patrick Latimer
Relationships – kinship, you might say – are central to the success of KIN. Not only does Chantal spend as much time as possible with designers – she records their work, writes about it and often tries her hand at their craft to get a better understanding of it – she’s also discovered how intimate relationships between online sellers and buyers can become.
“People can be incredibly open online,” she says. “There are few boundaries and some very personal stories are exchanged. For example, one of my clients was considering buying some of Patrick Latimer’s Big 5 Superheroes prints for her niece. I mentioned I’d bought the same ones for my 15-month-old niece who lives in London. We connected, discussed the work, what it said to us and what we hoped it would say to our families because I like the idea of her parents having superhero stories to tell her from their home country. I love that kind of interaction. It’s about finding people who have the same sensitivity to objects that I have, but also helping people find that sensitivity.”
Certainly, if anyone is qualified to recognise brilliant contemporary South African design and share its stories, it’s Chantal. Now, having trimmed the range down to her absolute favourite paper, metal and clay designs, she’s reinvented KIN and turned it into a gift shop unlike any other you’ll encounter.
by Penny Haw
Interested in more locally designed and manufactured creations? Read about Eco Furniture Design, the company that’s making sustainable wooden bookcases, bookshelves, tables and more.
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