DURBAN – Former Pinetown Girls High learner has set her sights on building up her own bespoke furniture business, using the wisdom and skill of of her parents to take her on an upwardl y mobile journey.
Amy Mlambo, orphaned and then adopted by a Botha’s Hill couple when she was very young, says that the first thing she remembers about her new life in KwaZulu- Natal (KZN), was a pretty doll’s dressing table that her adoptive father had made for her.
“It was made of wood and painted a pink. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen,” she recalls as we chat over a cup of coffee at the Shongweni Market.
“I really believe that when children learn to appreciate skills and craftsmanship, it’s something that stays with them all their life. It certainly is the case with me”
It’s a lesson, says this 26-year old businesswoman, that she is teaching her own daughter five-year-old Lacy Jasmine, who takes an active role in creating her own collection of wooden treasures.
The first thing you notice about Mlambo and her daughter is their hair, braided not in the usual way but in wool.
“I don’t like anything that upsets the environment, so for me pure sheeps’ wool is not on a fashion statement, it is better for the earth. As a family we focus on the environment, using recycled wood, non toxic paints and finishes. Customers these days are concerned about the manufacturing process, a lot more than they used to be. So going natural is the right thing to do”
Mlambo is in charge of the family’s Back in Thyme shabby chic range, which attracts plenty of attention at the iconic Saturday morning market.
“Every week we try and bring in something new, so that our regular customers have a wider choice. For me it’s important that our stand has a distinctive design, that could be featured in any glossy interior magazine. Bringing magic to whatever you are selling is what appeals to me. It’s that warm fuzzy feeling that you can’t really explain.”
And there’s certainly a sense of homeliness when you explore her market domain where cream and white wooden pieces, from armoire’s to wine stands mix happily with funky brightly coloured panelled tables and nursery furniture.
She explains that the Back in Thyme range on show on any given weekend are just a small sample of what they have in their home-based production showroom in Botha’s Hill.
“We encourage people to come and have a look at what we are doing because unlike standardized factory-made furniture design we can customize everything to what people want. It’s the old fashioned way of doing business, but I think the personal touch is what people are looking for these days.”
Unlike the old-fashioned way of doing things, social media, she believes is the best way to get your products known.
“Perhaps a few years ago when we featured our range on a dedicated Facebook site, there wasn’t much traffic. But these days all that has changed. I say to people who want to start their own business, you’ve got everything available for you on the internet, free of charge. You just need to go out there and do it.”
Mlambo says that when she left school she was not sure of what she wanted to do.
“I used to dream about travelling and having glamorous jobs and did all sorts of courses. But in the end it was about appreciating what was closest to me – and that was my family, my mum and dad, and the business they had built using their own artistic talents and skills.”
Getting stuck in to the hands-on production side of the furniture and promoting it on the internet, is something that now takes up most of her time.
“I have been lucky enough to have had the teachers right on my doorstep. My father is a master carpenter and my mother a talented designer, so furniture design is something that is second nature to me.”
So too she says are the tools and processes of the trade from the sanding to the finished product.
“My daughter also is learning the art of sanding and painting and knows exactly which designs she likes – at this stage anything with unicorns. At school she often talks about the pieces of furniture that she is helping make. She loves the doll’s houses and has some very definite ideas about what they should look like. On market day she knows that she must be up and ready by 5am, even on cold winter mornings. But she is always excited which is great.”
Leaving Mlambo’s shabby chic wonderland you look back at her standing next to an olde-worlde kitchen dresser. Even though she is closely involved in things artisanal, glamorous is still the word.