Theme: Designing with Compassion

Fine artist Irma van Rooyen started Kaross over 30 years ago with five women from the community working on her family’s Limpopo farm embroidering together. It was an opportunity to earn a living through their traditional skill. Now the enterprise supports 1,400 women from the Mopanie District, who produce everything from placemats and cushion covers to handbags and wall hangings from the comfort of their homes, obtaining an income every time they bring a new piece to the Kaross studio.

Many of the narratives depicted in the super colourful designs relate to the area’s Tsonga mythology, further building pride in the culture of these craftspeople, who now teach one another the art form, transferring skills from one generation to the next. More recently, Van Rooyen and her daughter, Janine Pretorius, have been creating embroidered portraiture of their talented team members. This project, based on texture and mark-making, has won Kaross a National Craft Award for the past two years.

“We’ve perfected the craft of embroidery so much that people don’t necessarily see that it’s handmade,” says Pretorius. But the name of the embroiderer of every item is stitched onto the product as proof. “The touch of the individual hand is paramount to our success and excellence,” she says.

Further focus on the community comes from the Kaross Foundation, which, along with other initiatives, partners with principals from six government schools to which its employees’ children belong. “There’s only so much you can earn from embroidery,” says Pretorius, “and the only way we can have deeper impact in our community is by playing a small part in ensuring better education and opportunities for the children so that they are more employable later in life.”

100 Beautiful Things is presented by the V&A Waterfront in celebration of South Africa’s creativity, compassion, ingenuity and resilience. Every week we will be showcasing five amazingly beautiful creative things that make us proud. It is curated in partnership with Platform Creative.