Africa Works

Oneness Handcrafted in a South African Township

In a small township of Alexandra, South Africa, an organization called Africa Works is situated just 15 minutes outside of the heart of Johannesburg. This town has a long history of conflict, hardship, and extreme poverty but Africa Works is doing its best to break this cycle by providing hundreds of artisans with income generation opportunities. Africa Works is taking a holistic approach to affect the lives of their employees and are recognized for their hand woven and crocheted bags. All employees are part of the skills development program, which offers classes in business, crochet, woodworking, mechanic skills, gardening, weaving, and welding. This social enterprise is not only empowering individuals, but giving them financial freedom so they can improve their families' lives and affect generations to come. 

Project coordinator Katy Roberston states, “All products are entirely handmade. Weavers collect recycled pieces of fabric and/or plastic scraps which are then sort and cut into different pieces, depending on the shape and size. Each bags starts with a base which is woven, lined with traditional African material, and hand-sewn. Every product is made carefully and with pride—quality is of the utmost importance to us as well as our members. Our crocheted bags are also extremely popular and they are crafted using organic hand-dyed and hand-spun yarn, which we source from a community project in Cape Town. Dedicated volunteers train community members on a weekly basis in the techniques of crochet.”

In African culture, the principle of ‘ubuntu’ is loosely translated as ‘human-ness’ or ‘oneness’ and is deeply grounded in the ethos of Africa Works. Katy adds, “This philosophy relies on communal thinking and decision-making. It is a beautiful principled model of inclusiveness and respect. Art and creativity is part of everyday life in South Africa, from the bright colors people wear to the handing down of traditional artisan skills and techniques. I believe that by cultivating color and pride, this leads to a vibrant community.”

While visiting Artisan Resource @ NY NOW™ this February 1-4, 2014 be sure to check out the debut of Africa Works’ collection.

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