Quazi Design: Sustainable Jewellery With A Social Impact
Quazi Design are on a mission to change the perception of how people see recycled materials. They work with local, female artisans in Swaziland to create elegant jewellery and interiors using only 100% waste from magazines.
Craftsmanship, ethical production and social impact is at the heart of Quazi Design, and they ensure the women they work with are empowered through skill sharing and earning a living wage.
We speak to founder Doron Shaltiel, a British-native based in Swaziland, who tells us more about the social impact of Quazi, why she wanted to help empower women in Swaziland, and what people's reactions have been to her innovative recycled jewellery:
Why did you start Quazi Design - what was the inspiration behind it?
The main reason Quazi exists is to create much needed employment in Swaziland. It began as a partnership between me and the local magazine distributors, who were tackling the issue of all their waste magazines and wanting to create a social project at the same time. I was 24 and had just finished an internship with a local craft company called Gone Rural, I had been there for a year and was learning and working in product development. I loved the work - the combination of creativity, design, empowerment and economic growth - and was inspired to start something myself. When I founded the company in 2009 it was slow going, and it was just me and one artisan. She is now the production manager all these years later! We started slow because we wanted to see if the idea was viable and if we could actually sell the product. There are are so many women (and men) seeking employment that finding willing artisans was never an issue and we have been working with the same women since we started. At the core of Quazi we aim to tackle the issue of unemployment and to change the perception of waste products. I was keen to use my skills in design and wanted to learn about business. I had always been interested in ethical fashion – the idea that making products can actually benefit our planet.
What is the social impact of the company?
We offer our artisans permanent contracts with benefits and train them in-house, ensuring that they have full time work and we endeavour to pay a living wage, which is very different to a minimum wage in Africa. I wanted to create a working environment that is like a small community, where everyone feels equal and supported. Having this as a basis means the women can gain confidence in themselves, and become the decision makers in their lives. Financial stability means they can send their children to school and of course pay the rent and buy food. This is our priority. We are based in the city and the cost of living is rising. Swaziland is one of the only countries in Africa where education is not free so we offer a school fees fund scheme where the artisans save and we add a percentage. Then, we also offer training and skills development, we have peer educators and health workshops, along with design days and work advancements.
A selection of Quazi Design rings
Why did you decide to focus on women's empowerment?
After being in Swaziland for a year and working with rural women weaving baskets it was obvious that there is a real need for women empowerment. It is a patriarchal society and many women don’t have a voice. Most of the women at Quazi are single parents, the fathers of their children not wanting to help raise or support the women they got pregnant. It is very hard to see so many people struggling, and so in a small way we can help a few women.
Has the reaction been positive to jewellery made from recycled materials?
One of the best reactions we get is “I cant believe that’s made from paper!” and we are happy to hear that. It has been a challenge to add value to paper and perception of paper can be quite cheap. But with the help of design and creating original products we keep getting positive reactions. I think our customers like the idea that each piece is original due to the nature of the recycled magazines. They buy into our story and want to support us. But most importantly our pieces are easy to wear, light to carry and are conversation starters! We have two retails shops, one in Swaziland a small co-op space in Cape Town, and we export worldwide. So it is nice to see that it bridges all cultures.
Quazi Design Founder Doron Shaltiel
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
I think in the beginning my biggest achievement was to create a sustainable business that made enough through sales to sustain itself and pay wages. Breaking even after the first two years was a great achievement and from then on we knew that we should continue. Then along the way there has been many achievements, from seeing our office manager buy her own car, build her own house and now sit on the board of SWIFT Swaziland fair trade network, to seeing our things at OR Tambo Airport in South Africa and to be recognised for our work.
Have you seen a rise in ethical and sustainable businesses in Africa in recent years?
Yes absolutely, and I think that correlates to the rise in consumers interested in ethical fashion and buying sustainable or fair trade products. The gap between rich and poor is widening unfortunately, but at the same time there is a real interest in businesses that treat people and profit equally. I think we can credit this to design and innovation and people in Africa creating products with a global appeal. The demand in the market is there so we just need to know better how to meet that demand. Ethical production can be a powerful tool for economic growth, and when combined with design led goods it can become very successful. I know in Swaziland that local ethical craft businesses are becoming more professional, offering high end products with good design and are good at communicating with the world. Things can only get better :)
To find out more about Quazi Design and to shop their full range of beautiful jewellery, head over to their website.