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Piratas do Pau: using design to create youth employment in Mozambique

Piratas do Pau Studio

Piratas do Pau - meaning "pirates of wood" in English - is a small design and production company in Mozambique making a big difference to youth unemployment. Focused on creating homegrown solutions to manufacturing gaps in the market, Piratas do Pau designs and hand-makes furniture using locally sourced, often recycled materials, while creating jobs for young Mozambican artisans and craftsmen. 

Using a mixture of local and modern techniques, Piratas' beautiful furniture encourages people to think about upcycling, rather than buying new imported products. We caught up with founder Ab Oosterwall, a Dutch designer and architect who came to Africa for a research project and was left fascinated by the potential of Mozambique:

Tell us about Piratas do Pau: what does the company do and what problem are you solving?

Piratas do Pau is the brand of creative design studio Abdesign that is set up as a social enterprise. We design and produce products, mainly but not limited to furniture and lamps, while working with local craftsman who are trained through our in-house training program. The majority of the materials we use are reclaimed to give an alternative to the hardwood furniture on the market.

The Piratas do Pau team includes design duo Nelsa Guambe (a Mozambican artist) and me (Ab Oosterwaal, a Dutch designer) and a production team of 16 young Mozambicans (furniture makers, metal workers, spray painters and trainees) who produce the products.

Our goal is to create employment by becoming the Mozambican centre for local craftsman, artisans, designers and entrepreneurs in helping them develop, produce and market different types of locally made products. Helping them develop their ideas into a sustainable product, market these products through our platform and give them the skills and funding possibilities to set up a business around their products.

Piratas do Pau founder Ab Oosterwaal
Founder Ab Oosterwaal and the Piratas do Pau production team.

What brought you to Africa initially and what has made you stay so long?

Initially I came out of curiosity about Africa and to do some personal research on design in developing countries. After arriving in Mozambique, I realised the potential for local production of this then fast growing economy. Most things are imported in Mozambique, while at the same time there is huge unemployment. I started the Creative Studio Abdesign to make a link between the two, and incorporated my passion for alternative materials and the re-usage of old materials. I didn’t plan to stay as long as I did but to get anything done in Mozambique you need a lot of time and leaving the project half way through was not an option.

What is the social and environmental impact of the business?

Piratas do Pau’s social impact comes through job creation and training. At the base of our designs is the use of reclaimed and locally sourced materials, which contributes to reduced logging of hardwood in the North of Mozambique

You have a new training program in partnership with GIZ which aims to provide skills for unemployed young people in Mozambique. Can you tell us more about GIZ and the program?

GIZ is the German development agency, which has a big presence in Mozambique. Together with GIZ and a range of experts we have developed a vocational training programme, focusing on enhancing the skills of local craftsman in manual crafts but also in design, product development, marketing and business skills. The programme has a duration of a year. Unfortunately we have not been able to start the full programme yet due to the economic situation of the country and the uncertainty that it brings, which makes investment in training for us as a small company difficult at the moment. We do however have 4 trainees that are working and training with us. Next year we hope to resume the full programme with the help of some donors.

Piratas do Pau furniture

Your hand-made furniture is absolutely beautiful. Where do you source the materials from? And who are you selling to at the moment?

First off, thank you very much for the compliment. The materials are sourced through different channels. We try to work with local re-sellers and scrap collectors to create additional income for them. Sometimes we are offered material through the local association for recycling (A.M.O.R) and companies in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.

Our clients are mostly middle and upper class Mozambicans, expatriates and local businesses in Maputo. We are starting this month with a sales point in Johannesburg and hope to expand to other parts of South Africa and eventually to Europe.

Where do you see your business in 10 years?

10 years is a long time to look ahead in Mozambique at the moment, but the dream would be to have a big production/training centre, where young Mozambicans are able to develop their skills and ideas. We also hope that Piratas do Pau becomes an international successful brand that stands for beautiful, creative and innovative Mozambican products which provide a lot of young Mozambicans with a future.

You can keep up to date and see more of their beautiful furniture on the Piratas do Pau Facebook page. If you are in Mozambique, you can visit the Piratas do Pau workshop in Choupal on appointment, email piratasdopau@gmail.com to book. 

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