Mescla: Bringing High-End Danish Design to Mozambique
Hand-knitting a 'Capulana rug'
Mescla is a Danish design company whose innovative rugs, furniture and cushions, are inspired by the vibrant colours and arts of Mozambique and handmade by Mozambican women. The company aims to keep the essence of craft tradition in its designs, and has won awards for its unique knitting technique 'Mescla'.
Mescla was founded in 2006 by Carla Botosso, a Danish-Brazilian product designer, who visited Mozambique in a trip that would come to change her life and the lives of a group of women she met sitting under a tree. Mesclae employs 25 Mozambican women through a livelihoods project sponsored by the Danish International Development Agency, DANIDA. Through this partnership, local women learn the necessary professional skills that enable them to provide for themselves and their families. In this way, Mescla provides genuine support to women affected by HIV and AIDS.
We speak to Carla to find out a little more about Mescla's social impact, their biggest achievements so far and her love for Mozambique:
What drew you to Mozambique?
My Mozambique adventure began in 2008 when I moved to Xai-Xai (a small provisional town, 150km north of the Mozambican capital, Maputo) where my husband was going to work for a Danish NGO. One day I was out exploring the local area and I found 100 women sitting under a tree doing beautiful embroidery work. It was an amazing sight, and I began to think about how I could work with them. I already had my own small design company in Denmark and I had heard about the DANIDA programme B2B, which gives support to Danish businesses who want to establish themselves in developing markets through collaborating with a local partner. And that’s really how it all started!
Through the Danida B2B programme I was given a grant to start working with 50 women, to develop and produce rugs using a hand knitting technique that I had developed for my final project at the Danish Design School. From the beginning I knew that I wanted to work with Capulanas (a type of sarong). You see them everywhere in Mozambique, they are a strong part of the culture and have a symbolic meaning. They are beautiful bright-coloured textiles that have numerous uses from making clothes, to carrying babies on their mothers backs.
What is the positive impact of Mescla?
I had a difficult time in the beginning finding my way through my design work. I couldn’t create products without a purpose and a good history behind them. After I moved to Africa, I found my way by combining my design work with real social impact.
It’s so important for me to see how design can make a difference in people’s lives and especially vulnerable ladies with HIV. Seeing mothers helping their kids to go to school, ladies growing their self-esteem both at home and at work and learning different skills, for me is the most positive design impact you can get.
Seeing Mescla creating jobs in the communities through a unique, high quality product with a strong story, that can sell in the best design shops in the world, is a sign that we are going the right way. We get a lot of good feedback about our products, which has been a big motivator for us.
Some of the ladies we work with couldn’t hold scissors before and now they are helping to create Mescla products that are sold in shops like Lafayette in France, Normann and Illum’s Bolighus in Denmark, as well as shops in South Africa, Mozambique and Holland.
A worker from the Vavasati Association with Founder Carla Botosso
Why was it so important that you created the Vavasati association and how does it work?
Mescla work directly with the ladies and together with DANIDA we helped them to create an association, which they called ‘Vavasati’. Instead of working through a local foundation, many of which I see fail due to lack of desire and willpower from the local partner, Vavasati gives the ladies more independence. The association is run by Dulce Mudhlovo, who has been an amazing support during the start-up process and now that I have relocated to Denmark, she is responsible for the day-today running of things.
The Vavasati Association
You speak very fondly about Mozambique. What is your biggest wish for the country in the next decade and how do you see this becoming a reality?
Improving conditions for exporters - both the bureaucracy and costs involved should be reduced substantially so that Mozambican products can compete on the international market. If it wasn’t for the constraints of exporting the Mescla products, the association would be able to grow more, and thereby improve the livelihoods of many more families. But it is not just my company that is adversely affected by this, it is all sectors, and I feel it is a real shame, because there are so many wonderful products in Mozambique with export potential.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Without a doubt our biggest achievement has been that this amazing group of women who I met sitting under a tree, many of them who had never held scissors in their hand, let alone used a sewing machine, were able to produce design products of such a high standard that they could be sold in the best design shops in Europe.
It was very inspiring to see how willing they have been to learn. They had no concept of quality or standards and over time they have learnt this. From the beginning, they really took ownership of the project. It has been an amazing journey and very fulfilling to see the women take such pride in their work and the project.
But I also have to mention, that through the project we were able to give the women a roof over their heads, which has also been a huge achievement. The women have a building of their own where the Mescla products are produced. There is a kindergarten attached to the building which was completed just in time for my last visit in July and the playground for the kindergarten is almost finished.
If you'd like to find out more about Mescla, see their beautiful products and read more about their work with Vavasati, head over to www.mescla.dk.