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No. 027 TWO DECADES OF THE CRAFT AND DESIGN INSTITUTE (CDI) 

Theme: Designing with Compassion

Over its 20-year lifespan, The Craft and Design Institute (CDI) has carved the way forward for many of the designers and craftspeople we recognise in South Africa today, offering them business, product, market and design support to help grow their businesses while reaching new audiences both locally and internationally.

Executive Director Erica Elk has been there from the beginning of this not-for-profit company, when it had just 63 people on its database, all from the Western Cape. “We now have over 5,600 members across the country,” she says, stating that many of the local businesses you will find in retail hubs like the Watershed have made use of the CDI’s services at some point. “People dip in and out of our programmes on a needs basis,” she says, explaining the variety of free workshops and training programmes available throughout the year at the CDI’s Cape Town headquarters and around the country. With the Covid-19 lockdown, more online seminars are being offered, and these are likely to become a regular feature in future.

The CDI’s robust learning programme is of benefit to any designer and maker – from craftspeople supporting themselves and their families, to small export enterprises employing 50-100 people. The development agency is even able to assist with product refinement and prototyping in its fully kitted and supervised workshop spaces that can accommodate everything from 3D-printing to sewing and woodwork. “Over 20 years, we’ve built a system that’s able to support a diverse range of people,” says Elk, who remains motivated by seeing the sense of purpose and possibility that people get when making use of the opportunities presented by the CDI.

These include workshops on pricing strategies, brand positioning, teaching entrepreneurs how to get their products into a retail space and engage with consumers, the steps toward exporting, how to manage staff, and much more. Free one-on-one consultations with the business-development team also go a long way toward members successfully achieving sustainable growth for their enterprises. “Over the 20 years, we’ve really seen the professionalising of a lot of these businesses,” Elk says of the results.

At the same time, the CDI offers creativity workshops to stimulate ideas and innovation, and has launched projects such as the Better Living Challenge that shows the scope of design thinking when employed beyond product development. This ongoing project, which looks to support the policy changes for informal housing development, led to a pop-up incubator last year that taught 15 small-scale builders basic design skills, while enhancing their techniques and business acumen, thereby improving the homes that they will build in future.

Never stagnant, the CDI recently launched an online learning platform and, together with the government’s Department for Small Business Development, manages Peek, a platform for its members to display their handmade products online and gain more reach and visibility. “It’s about opening pathways to market access,” Elk says of her organisation’s continued championing of the craft and design industry. Here’s to the next 20 years!

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. 

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