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Thabisa Mjo: The woman behind the Tutu 2.0

A catch up with the designer at her new studio's stylish home

By Gugulethu Mkhabela | May 7, 2018 | Design

It’s been almost three months since Thabisa Mjo won Design Indaba‘s 2018 MBOISA (Most Beautiful Object Award) for her Tsonga Xibelani inspired pendant lamp, the Tutu 2.0 Pendant Light.

We met up with the designer to find out what she’s been up to since winning this coveted title. Thabisa is using the title to push her grind and make an impact empowering women.  She continues to create more beautiful products telling African stories and her business, Mash.T Design studio, has just found a new home at the stylish SA designers department store at 99 Juta Street in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

Thabisa shares the beautiful design space in Apartment 2B with Mpho Vackier of The Urbanative and Monique Vee’s Contemporary Design.

Founder of Mash. T Design Studio, Thabisa Mjo outside her showroom in Apartment 2B at 99 Juta, Street. Image: Gugulethu Mkhabela

Rewinding to where it all started

It all started on Twitter with Nando’s running a competition open to everyone with a brief to design a pendant light.

After graduating in Production Design from film school AFDA,  she enrolled in a year-long Interior Decorating and Architectural Drawing course at Inscape Design School. Thabisa was working on styling events and wanted to break into the interior design field, specifically commercial retail spaces. She was trying to find a way to introduce herself and her work. “I had never designed a product before and I didn’t even know I could design a product, but I just thought if I just entered this competition, it would be a foot in the door. I didn’t expect to win, I didn’t think I’d win, but just wanted them to notice me and know that I exist.”

She became a finalist and eventually a co-winner. “It changed the trajectory of my life because it was only then I discovered that I had this talent to design products. The best thing that came out of this Nando’s challenge, was discovering that I had this gift.”

A woven Tutu pendant light available at Mash.T Design Studio. Image: Gugulethu Mkhabela

What winning Design Indaba’s MBOISA means

Winning this title has confirmed to this young creative entrepreneur that she’s on the right track and that her work is speaking to people. “That is a wonderful sense of validation. In terms of opportunities, I don’t feel like winning competitions does that. I think it gets your foot in the door, but that’s just about it. it’s up to me to use the legitimacy and credibility it has given me to create opportunities for myself, make a bigger impact and build my business.”

Design products available at Apartment 2b at 99 Juta Street. Image: Gugulethu Mkhabela

Mash.T Design Studio

The designer describes herself as a storyteller and product and furniture design is the medium she uses to tell these stories. “I want to teach customers about our products and how they can live in their homes and be a platform for other designers too.”  The mission is to ultimately push South African design forward and for it to be accessible.

“Growing up I loved Mr. Price Home and even though a lot of people hate on Mr. Price, I love it. All of the stuff and products we aspire to own, they bring it to us. That’s the kind of work I want to be doing.”

Empowering people

Thabisa found an outreach project in Hillbrow, called the Boitumelo Project as the demand for the lights grew.  “There are young and older women that do everything from weaving, to mosaics, art, sewing, beads and more there, I was quite amazed. I showed them one of the Tutu lamps and asked if they could make it. They tried it and did it very well. So now, those are the people, who do the weaving for the Tutu lamps and other products.”

Furniture from Mash.T Design Studio. Image: Gugulethu Mkhabela

Future plans

As a storyteller, Thabisa draws from her own and other cultures.  “It’s all about representation. Our stories matter, our memories, our childhood, where we grew up – all of that matters. And in pop culture and everything else, you need to see that. Ultimately that is who I’m creating for.”

The plan is to eventually make products in-house as she doesn’t own the means of production. ” I want people to aspire to own my products and make them accessible so that every South African can afford a Mash.T Design product in their home.

We love this unique Mojo Chair by Mash.T Design Studio. Image: Supplied

One of our favourite products, the Umbaco lampshade. It is upholstered with a fabric called ‘Umbaco’, which is a traditional Xhosa dress. Thabisa says the shape of these wall-mounted lamps references the Soweto towers. Image: Supplied

The Kassena Server by Dokter and Misses also available at the stylish design department studio at 99 Juta, is one of Thabisa’s favourite and most iconic designs. Image: Supplied

Feature Image: Supplied