December 21st, 2011
04:06 PM GMT
Johannesburg (CNN) - Last weekend I was at a Christmas parade in Barrydale, a small town in the Western Cape - a “dorp” as we call it here in South Africa.
I was working, following the Handspring puppeteers around, telling their story for African Voices. A little bit of shopping was called for, and besides buying a remarkably cheap case of shiraz from a local winery, I bought something called "ampoule couture."
My little piece of art is made of an old milk bottle, a couple of cut outs from a cardboard box, some beads, some wire, a few bottle tops and a crocodile clip.
Take the whole thing, wrap it around your low-energy light bulb and you have a work of art.
This little wonder was made by the socially conscious Magpie Art Collective, four creative souls who turn their town’s trash into beautiful light fixtures. They share the magpie’s love of shiny discarded items - hence the name.
From this little town in the Cape interior, they have quite a global following, with two of their chandeliers currently hanging in the White House. A bit of well-traveled Barrydale trash!
“This is our 13th year in business,” Magpie's Shane tells me. “We always produced high-end lighting products, mainly chandeliers. But when we moved to Barrydale eight years ago, we were confronted with a problem: How could we produce such exclusive products and be surrounded by the poverty of so many of the local inhabitants?”
So, with knowledge gained previously from working with a local NGO, Magpie developed a product that was a way of linking the studio with local craft - something hand intensive that could be created at home and would generate an income. And ampoule couture was born.
It’s a good business model too, says Shane. “You can’t just do chandeliers. You have to have a small item that people can slip into their bag or carry on the plane after their holidays are over.”
Most of Magpie's chandeliers hang overseas. Interior designers from all points of the globe have picked up on their distinctive fixtures, as have a number of gallery owners and discerning online shoppers.
You’ll never see an advertisement for this collective. All exposure comes from word of mouth, online presence and media coverage. This ties in with their whole philosophy of marketing; everything is meshed together into a web of social responsibility.
It’s actually as much about beautiful things as it is about job creation and civic upliftment. They provide technical support to their community, helping them in a myriad of ways, because they can, because they want to and because it’s their way of thanking them for their garbage. All of Barrydale keeps the Magpie recycling bin full to busting.
So, if you ever find your way to Barrydale, down in the foothills of the Overberg mountains, throw out your boxes and bottles (well rinsed, please) into the bin on the corner of route 62 and Tennant.
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