Following a successful showcase at Milan Design Week where she wowed visitors with her Oromo chair, Mpho Vackier of TheUrbanative, contemporary African furniture, and product design company in South Africa shares with us how it feels like to have her work displayed at one of the world’s design destinations.
TheUrbanative is one of the six local brands that exhibited at Ventura Future Base in the Tortona District as part of a striking installation entitled Sacrosanct.
Ventura Future is a platform for young designers, offering the best of contemporary design from a mix of international academics, designers, brands, and labels.
Please tell us about your work as a designer, when did it start?
In 2017, I officially launched TheUrbanative and prior to that, I was really working on a range for about a year, inspired by Ndebele cultural graphics.The furniture and products that I make are differentiated by the juxtaposition of abstracted African cultural graphics, motifs, lines, forms and inspiration with the functionality and look and feel of modern, mid-century and Bauhaus furniture silhouettes guided by the philosophies of craft, collaboration, authenticity, and design evolution for the urban native.
Mpho Vackier founder of TheUrbanative. Picture: Supplied.
How did you get to showcase at Milan Design Week?
My friend Thabisa from Mash T Design Studio whom I also share a furniture showroom with got the opportunity to exhibit at Milan and she, like most of us believes in collaboration over competition. She asked a few of us for pieces she curated along with the entire look and feel of the Sacrosanct hut, which resulted in a beautiful representation of what is happening in the SA design scene at the moment.
Tell us about the experience of being one of the exhibitors at Ventura Future?
Ventura Future was so inspiring, we were all reignited with new energy, the reception of our showcase was so warm, and it didn’t even matter what initial inspirations drove the designs that we showcased. A lot of visitors remarked on how it made them feel and good design is supposed to move you! We are so excited about being able to be representatives of the amazing scene that is South African design.
The Oromo chair is Inspired by the beautiful organic lines of the Oromo (Kemetic Africa) hairstyles in Jimma (Ethiopia) in the late 1800s. Picture: Supplied.
How do you narrate stories through designs?
Through TheUrbanative we aim to tell stories inspired by African culture, history, and heritage through furniture and product design guided by the philosophies of the craft movement, the Bauhaus & African philosophies of quality of craft, and functionality.
Our design language is that of juxtaposing seemingly opposite and different inspirations (African stories + Modern design classics) to create pieces that are a conversation in the relevance of culture and design with today’s problems and end users in mind.
We’re ultimately a design studio that always endeavors to design products and furniture that tell a story for the urban native.
What inspires your designs?
I am constantly guided by practicality, functionality, and purpose when I design. I am inspired by life, culture and the idea of making culture and heritage relevant to TheUrbanative. When designing I love the visual tension created by contrasting elements/ materials/ideas and the result thereof. I am also inspired by patterns in everything ( art, craft, urban living, nature and so much more)and I love translating those patterns into functional 3rd products that tell a story.
At TheUrbanative, they believe that juxtaposition is the spice of life.
Now that you’ve unlocked Milan, what’s next for The Urbanitive?
It would be a super amazing to break into the overseas market either through re-sellers of our items, maybe take our showcase to other countries and share our stories with those nations.
TheUrbanative constantly explores the role cultural representations in modern societies, with the aim of telling contemporary African stories through furniture and product design.