Bringing South Africa to London — The Collective Stories

Bringing South Africa to London — The Collective Stories

“Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.”

- Steve Jobs

The chance encounter – never knowing who you might meet, or what might come from an unplanned meeting – is a theme we’ve discovered runs through our mission to create thriving co-living and coworking communities, and It’s something we’ve taken to heart for a big event we’re running in June.

It was through a chance encounter that I met our next All Star for Pop Brixton – a scheme that provides free space to aspiring entrepreneurs who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity – and that Busi found her first space to bring her business Ehkaya to life.

At a public consultation for Peckham Levels, the new project we’re launching in collaboration with Make Shift in the Peckham carpark later this year, Busi and I just got talking. Busi was there looking for space, all the way from Hackney where she was yet another victim to rising rents. As soon as she began telling me her story, I knew she was the perfect fit for the All Stars initiative at Pop Brixton…

1. What does Ehkaya stand for?

 Ekhaya means ‘at Home / Home’ in Xhosa, which I thought was an appropriate name for a homeware business. 

 2. Where did the inspiration for Ehkaya come from?

 Ekhaya’s lived in my headspace for years, (recently found an email I sent to a cooperative in 2009). The main inspiration is to source and showcase the best arts and crafts from South Africa for people to treasure and cherish. The other driving force is to have a business that can sustain a living for the crafters and keep traditions going. 

 3. Does art play an important role in society in South Africa?

 The arts have always been a major part of South African life and are one of the few meritocratic industries in the country. It is not unusual for an artist brought up in rural areas to be feted in international circles, be it singers such as Busi Mhlongo and Miriam Makeba, to master basket weavers like Reuben Ndwandwe. As a result, virtually anywhere you go in the country people are singing, dancing, carving, beading – perfecting their craft and long may that continue. 

 4. What has been the biggest lesson learnt during your Pop Brixton residency?

 The biggest lesson has been to make no assumptions and expect the unexpected. People are generally amazing. Apart from buying, they’ve given me tips on markets to apply to, potential venues for other pop ups and encouragement, all of which is worth its weight in gold. 

5. How was the transition from a market stall to a retail space at Pop?

The biggest transition was the ability to display all my wares instead of having to select a range that can be displayed on a tabletop and the ability to create a retail space, which I enjoyed.        

6. What's next for you and Ekhaya? 

My stint at Pop Brixton opened my mind up to so many opportunities I wouldn’t have thought of, apart from trading at market stalls, I will also be supplying wholesale goods to local independent retailers who have shown an interest in stocking my goods after seeing the pop up shop. I’m also setting up my website and plan to sell on social media platforms. 

In December, Ekhaya will be back at Pop with handmade South African Christmas tree decorations and gifts. 

7. You ended up at Pop Brixton through a 'chance encounter' - how important do you think it is to your business' growth to put yourself out there?

We are lucky to live in such an incredible city with some of the brightest people in the world. As a startup in particular it’s incredibly important to connect with as many different types of people as possible, you never know who you’re going to meet and what impact they may have on your business. I’ve only been trading for a couple of months and already have had so many doors opened through networking. Feedback and advice from people not in your immediate groups is also invaluable as they don’t tend to wear the same rose tinted glasses. 

8. What does "co-living" mean to you and do you see the value in it?

It’s an aptly timed question as I am currently evaluating my living arrangements and co-living seems to be an option that offer the best of both worlds, living independently in a community. 

Living on your own, as I do, can be lonely and expensive, and house / flatsharing can be heaven or hell based on the personalities in the house. Co-living sounds like the perfect modern solution to the housing crisis and changing social dynamics.

9. How would your best friend describe you in three words?

Funny, engaged, impatient. 

10. What's number one on your bucket list?

To have a successful business I can be proud of.

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