Thabisa Mjo of Mash T Design studio has been blazing big guns since she won Nando’s Hot Young Designer Talent Search for her Tutu 2.0 light in 2015. Honours for this design include prestigious awards from 100% Design SA and Design Foundation, and invitations to exhibit at international design fairs including 100% Design London and Maison&Objet Paris. We catch up with Thabisa as the Tutu competes for Most Beautiful Object in SA 2018 at this year’s Design Indaba. And we wonder if the Tutu 2.0 could be Africa’s most authentic iconic light design of the now and the future…
Q: What was the inspiration behind the Tutu 2.0 light?
A: It’s inspired by the Xibelani skirt, which Tsonga women wear to celebrate their culture. The skirt reminded me of a tutu. If Africans had designed the Tutu it would look like Xibelani, hence the name Tutu 2.0.
Q: The light is impressive in its scale. What are its measurements and do you think it’s size is an element of its huge success?
A: 700mm x700mm, weighs about 10kg, so it’s big. I think the size definitely adds to the “wow” factor. It’s just so bold and unapologetic.
Q: This design came out of your take on a brief for the Nando’s Hot Young Designer Talent Search in 2015. Tell us about that journey.
A: Tutu 2.0 was actually the first interior product I’d ever designed, but as a small business owner and entrepreneur I’ve learnt the value of just going for it and not second guessing myself. TUTU 2.0 was my concept entry for the first round of the talent search. I made it to the finals and developed the concept into a tangible product with mentorship support from the amazing Megan Hesse and Andrea Kleinloog of Anatomy Design. I was over the moon when I was announced as the co-winner of the talent search for Tutu 2.0! I’ve since made more than 50 of these lights for Nando’s around the world, and have been given free reign to experiment with a whole range of materials, colourways and patterning.
Q: One of your intentions for this design was to create work for crafters, particularly for women crafters. Are you realizing this dream?
A: Slowly but surely, yes. I started off working with one weaver, Derrily Grater, and now we have expanded to include women from the Boitumelo Project in Hillbrow.
Q: As you have travelled with this design exhibiting in Cape Town, Joburg, London and Paris, have there been any particular responses to the Tutu 2.0 that have stood out for you as truly meaningful?
A: At 100% Design London a Nigerian women who now lives in London said that only as she’s gotten older has she realized that there is very little design in her life and home that evokes her childhood growing up on the African continent, and that the Tutu 2.0 had really moved her for that reason. That speaks to the importance of representation and the emotional response that it invokes in people. It’s that place where design becomes powerful and meaningful… when it moves you.
Q: The Tutu 2.0 has won prestigious awards from 100% Design SA and Design Foundation, and you’ve been invited to exhibit at international design fairs including 100% Design London and Maison&Objet Paris. It’s currently in the running for the MBOISA (Most Beautiful Object in SA). It’s fast becoming one of South Africa’s iconic designs. What are your dreams for the Tutu 2.0s future?
A: That’s a big question. I always think of Diane Von Fusternberg and her wrap dress. She always talks about how that dress built her business, her life. How the dress changed the way women wear clothes and how the wrap dress makes them feel. So that’s my dream for the Tutu, for it to become a cultural icon, to be reinvented and reimagined in many different ways and for it to outlive me.
Vote Tutu 2.0 for MBOISA here
Q: Where to from here?
A: My focus in 2018 is to develop a line of super affordable home furnishings. The pieces need to be multi-functional, durable and beautiful. Stuff that will make my customers home life, in a way that only clever design does.