If you like Africa-inspired jewellery, SOUL Design has a lot to offer to you. Created by Capetonian designer Abi James, all pieces are “ethically” hand made and reflect the colorful spirit of the continent. What I like about SOUL Design is that you can visit their studio in Cape Town and have bespoke pieces made up to order! And 10% of all studio visit sales go to a community school in Zambia, where Abi hold jewellery workshops for the children. Let’s listen to her story and get inspired!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, studies and experiences that influenced you to become a jewellery designer?
I’m English, but I moved to Zambia 14 years ago, after graduating from my Art Degree in UK. I had managed to do a couple of safari seasons for The Bushcamp Company (in South Luangwa, Zambia) during my university summer holidays. I got to know Tribal Textiles in the same area and was offered a job as Design & Production manager after graduating in my Fine Art degree (www.tribaltextiles.co.zm). There began my love affair with Africa and it’s bold creativity and the link it gave me to connect authentically with people from different parts of Africa. After three years at Tribal Textiles, I worked for Katundu Textiles on Likoma Island, Malawi and then started a career as an interior designer for safari lodges. During all this time, I designed jewellery and sold them in the safari lodges -often working with local women to create small ranges. Since moving to Cape Town eight years ago however, this has now developed into an established collection called Soul Design (www.souldesign.co.za). Each piece we make is inspired by Africa and my travels and is made by hand on the continent.
When did you decide to be a jewellery designer?
I started making jewellery when I was about 10, and I loved going to markets/bead shops and then making pieces to sell at school fairs. As touched on above, I started also making and selling jewellery when I moved to Africa in my early 20s –it has always remained a constant thread through my textiles/interiors work and was as a result able to flourish from a passion project to a business over time.
How did you fall in love with Africa?
I grew up travelling to Africa every year –a result of a South African mother and a British father who loved Africa more than my mother probably! However, it was my fırst independant trip to Africa when I was 21, a month spent travelling Malawi/Zambia with my cousin, where my love affair really started with the continent. I just loved the people/landscapes and feel of Africa –it all felt so tangible to me.
Why did you call your brand “Soul Design”?
It actually was a name my sister and I derived for a range of cowskin leather bags we made in Kenya that we sold to our London friends over 10 years ago. It was representive of our “souls/hearts” being in Africa. It just felt apt to continue this name for my jewellery line with its own roots in African soil.
How can you describe your style? What is the concept behind your designs? And what makes your collections unique in the industry?
“Africa Adorned” by photographer Angela Fisher, a visual history of Tribal jewellery, has been a constant source of creative reference over the years and definitely leaves its imprint on our designs. In terms of what makes SOUL unique, I would say it is in how our pieces are made. I like to use the term “nomadic workshop” to describe the process; travel and connection are very much the driving forces behind the production -working with entrepreneur brass smiths in East Africa, bead traders across Africa, which are all brought and beaded into jewellery in our little studio in Bo Kaap, Cape Town.
What does “ethically handmade” mean in the production of the pieces and how many different collections do you have? What are your favorite materials to use?
In essence, “ethically handmade” means that a brand practices fair trade/prices with whom they employ/collaborate/buy from and also follow safe and good working conditions. In terms of SOUL Jewellery, it is reflected through the small network of artisans that I have been working on a one to one basis with for over 6/7 years. I visit them a couple of times a year and work directly with them on sampling new designs. We made a small behind the scenes video which shows this in action, video link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VG5rR1iloE8&feature=youtu.be
My favourite material, and the backbone to SOUL jewellery is brass, I love the soft gold appearance and it is such a versatile metal to work with –easy to cut and mould into beautiful jewellery pieces.
We have four main collections, all found on our website, and we are about to launch our new Tribal Collection, inspired by bolder, more graphic shapes. Tribal Collection is a range of smaller collections inspired pieces by my recent travels to Kenya earlier this year. Our Peponi pieces draw on the round arches and studded Swahili doors found on Lamu Island, one of my most favourite places in Africa. In fact the Peponi earrings are definitely one of my favourite designs (image above). Then our bold Maasai pieces were created by looking at the simple graphic shapes found in the tribal adornment of the Maasai.
How can people ask for customized designs and looks?
People can contact me directly, email@example.com, for bespoke colours and intermixing charms on any of our pieces on our website.
Can you talk about the studio visits you organize in Cape Town? It’s a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. How do people visiting Cape Town come and meet you or your team in your studio and order personalized pieces?
We love people visiting our studio in Cape Town –perfect for a bit of “off the beaten” track shopping for visitors to the city. People can visit our little studio in the heart of the colourful Bo Kaap. Here they can view the full SOUL range and also have bespoke pieces made up to order, whilst sipping on mint tea/coffee or bubbles if they’d like! To arrange an appointment, you can e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org We give 10% of all studio visit sales to Tujatane Art Dept, a community school in Zambia, where I hold jewellery workshops for the children – www.tujatane.com
Soul Design, www.souldesign.co.za