Turning an export coaching project into a legacy

In South Africa, there is plenty of inspiration and raw material for beautiful fabrics and furniture. To help businesses in the home decoration and home textiles sector export to Europe, CBI launched the 5-year Home Decoration and Home Textiles South Africa project in 2013. During the project, we partnered with the Craft + Design Institute (CDI), a not-for-profit organisation that helps local businesses. Since 2013, the partnership has grown and evolved into something special.

Strengthening a sector through partnership

Our mission has always been to work with local partners to strengthen a sector. Before launching our Home Decoration and Home Textiles South Africa project, we looked for local organisations that already worked in the sector. Our search led us to CDI. Specifically, to CEO Erica Elk and Market Development Programme Manager Fran Stewart.

“Before the project began, we had several strategic discussions,” Fran recalls. “What excited us about working with CBI was the idea of combining our strengths. We had already helped businesses get ready to export. But this was not in a structured way. Partnering with CBI meant working through a well-structured 5-year programme we could all learn from.”

The legacy project

CBI has been partners with CDI for many years, and we have carried out many activities. One of the most significant was the ‘legacy project’. Many businesses were asking for help with export development. So, early on in our project, we decided that once the original coaching project was over, we would adapt the content and structure and give ownership to CDI. This would allow more businesses to benefit from the export coaching. “This is one of the things I particularly enjoyed about working with CBI,” says Erica. “There was a strategy for us to take over ownership of the project.”

Solly Levy is a consultant for CBI. He explains how CBI modified the project after 2018 and re-branded it as NEXT. “We took the best parts of the CBI project and tailored them to specific local conditions. It is now a fast-track export coaching programme that takes around 15 new companies to market each year,” he says. “It also includes a local trade exhibition, presenting the 15 new companies and the original 22.” Fran adds, “Entering the market through big trade fairs can be difficult. So, the idea is to use this local trade fair as a step to international markets.”

A strong sector community

10 years ago, the South African home decoration and textiles sector was divided. “Now, things have changed. We want to maintain the unity that has come out of this project,” says Erica. “Through this project, participants have built a strong community. There is good communication, and we often have project alumni come in to share their experience with new participants,” she adds. The new sense of community has led to business improvements. For example, design partnerships between brands, better recognition in international markets and a higher turnover, meaning a more stable income for many workers.

Overcoming the challenges of COVID-19

COVID-19 created a challenge. But it also forced positive growth. “With CBI’s support, we are looking at how to put the educational parts of the project on LEARN, our online learning platform,” says Fran. “Sharing information to help local businesses has been CBI’s legacy for many years. We want to carry on that legacy. We want to offer more businesses the opportunity to grow in South Africa and abroad.”

The project in numbers

  • Average job increase between 2014 and 2017: 18%
  • Companies that have participated in NEXT: 39
  • Number of new business contacts: 3,500

Meet some of the participants

Minima offers a South African-made range of digitally-crafted wooden lighting and furniture. This company took part in the original CBI project. Thanks to advice from CBI experts, It adjusted its designs to include flat-pack options. This significantly reduced the cost of transport to Europe and meant minima could offer more competitive prices, as well as innovative new designs.

The Wren Design focuses on the innovative use of recycled and natural materials. Wren is most well-known for its bags made out of paper that is treated to make it water-resistant. The treatment results in products that are both durable and functional. The company’s 2021 collection includes prints from another project participant: Skinny laMinx.

More CBI stories

You can find this story and many others in our 50 years of CBI e-zine.

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