Theme: Designing with Compassion

For 20 years, Monkeybiz has been a benchmark for non-profit organisations in the creative sphere, showing how a business model that benefits the people who need economic upliftment most can be sustained over two decades. Dedicated to reviving the traditional craft of African beadwork and empowering women to be financially independent, profits from the sales of its one-off beaded animals all go back into the township communities where its artists reside. “Monkeybiz has shown people in our communities that beadwork can take them places and help put food on the table,” says Community Director Mme Mathapelo Ngaka, who was one of the founders in 2000, together with ceramicists Shirley Fintz and the late Barbara Jackson. Ngaka is the integral link between the beaders and the Monkeybiz headquarters and retail store in Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap area, and has worked with over 300 beading artists over the years. “The women bead at home and can look after their children while getting on with their other duties,” she explains. “They have no transport or raw material costs as we bring the beads and cotton to them." Once a month, team leaders collect the work produced by their team members (each one lovingly signed by its creator) and are transported by shuttle to the Bo-Kaap studio for “Market Day”, where every item is evaluated for quality and aesthetic standards. The money for the pieces approved by Monkeybiz is soon deposited into the beaders’ bank accounts, which the organisation has – together with funeral funds – helped set up. Besides selling work through its own store, Monkeybiz’s unique beaded animals have gone into high-end international stores such as The Conran Shop, DKNY and ABC Carpet & Home, and Sotheby’s. Besides the financial rewards gained by these women, Monkeybiz has helped develop some of the country’s most recognised collectable artists. Its collaboration with Los Angeles designers The Haas Brothers, coordinated by Southern Guild, saw the resulting Afreaks collection displayed in the prestigious Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in the USA. Closer to home, some of its artists were commissioned to create a 3.6-metre-tall beaded curtain for the opening of Sandton’s Ivy Park store, Beyoncé’s clothing label in collaboration with Adidas, while many of its beaders received work from the V&A Waterfront’s Joy from Africa to the World festive-season campaign. Those who saw the Summer Palace, teeming with colourful beaded creatures, will understand the delight that such work brings. Ngaka agrees: “Beading lifts the spirits.” 

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.