From Design Duo to Design Team

Lise Butler and Amanda Haupt are the brainchild behind The Design Team, which was borne out of a design project in 2000, while studying Textile Design and Technology at the Tswane University of Technology. Since then, they have injected a unique take on South African textiles, by reinterpreting their local landscape to create their signature prints and motifs. 

The Insider talks to Lise Butler to explore her world of ‘local iconograhpy’ and ”indigenous botany’, and take a peek at their latest collection, ‘Sillybilly’.

Lise and Amanda
Lise and Amanda

What inspired you to become a textile designer?
Textile as a medium allows you to work with illustrations, pattern, colour and texture – so it really offers a designer an enormous scope to work with . In addition to this, I grew up in a home where my mother sewed and exposed me to the world of fabrics and haberdashery. I liked the fact that every person is in some way exposed to textiles, whether it is in our homes or the clothes we wear – regardless of income group or age – it is an integral part of life.

What informs your design aesthetic?
Inevitably our design aesthetic is influenced by what we are exposed to. The most valuable asset as a designer is the ability to observe, question, research and interpret in a new way or style. In a commercial environment the ability to adapt your own design aesthetic to the likes and dislikes of a client, through their brief, is essential.

How do you arrive at the key motifs behind your textile prints?
Mostly we work with local iconography or indigenous botany. Inspiration is mostly unexpected, but when you are constantly observing and open to new visual inspiration or pick up on conversations and trends through the multitude of web and print sources (and if you are lucky enough to travel) the feeding ground is really endless. We do not believe in “boxing in” our design style, but heritage and honest interpretation always result in design with meaning and relevance.

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What makes textile design so unique in the design industry?
For me, it is the accessibility and necessity of textiles that makes it a unique design principle, not to mention the incredible and diverse history of textiles through the ages.

What do you love most about textile design?
The ability to combine pattern, texture and colour in one design and create an object that evokes a response or emotion from the client when viewing or touching the fabric. Design Team also designs and manufactures for both the apparel and homeware industries giving us endless design exposure and opportunity to work on several seasonal briefs, design scale and surface application.

Tell us a bit about your latest collection?
Our latest ‘Sillybilly’ fabric collection is a compilation of playful designs for decorating children’s rooms that they can grow with. The boys collection include designs such as Robot, Aero and Origami dragon showing a playful side without being too age specific. Colour palettes range from traditional blues to a retro feel palette with taupes, oranges and aqua and more sophisticated tones of grey for teenagers .
The girls collection is all about pretty lace, bunny, bird and floral patterns that can be layered. All our designs can be printed as a vinyl wallpaper and, unlike any other fabric supplier in the country, we offer our clients custom print options mixing different base cloths and standard colours to come up with new colour combinations to suit any interior brief.

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How and where do you make your products?
All our fabrics are designed and hand printed in our factory in Pretoria. Our base cloths are locally dyed in our signature colours and we support local textile mills as far as possible. In addition to our printing facility, we also have a CMT section where we manufacture finished goods.

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What are the main challenges you face in owning and managing your own company?
Management of staff, cash flow and support from unions and bargaining councils. It really is a tough and lonely road. That said, the benefit of being a creative entrepreneur is the ability to do “out the box” thinking and problem solving.

What do you think of the textile design landscape in South Africa?
Sadly the last 10 years have been marred by several large textile manufacturers closing their doors and skilled textile experts leaving the country. The poor performance of our local currency should improve our export potential and we are seeing more SA retailers turning to local suppliers, as imports have become expensive. Unfortunately in many areas, the involvement of labour unions in the workplace does not have a positive impact, as unsustainable bonus and wage payments are demanded regardless of economic challenges.

What has been a particular milestone in your career thus far?
Design Team was elected best Textile designers at the 100% Design exhibition in 2015. The panel of judges came from a very vast professional panel and showed acknowledgement from our industry’s peers for still maintaining a high standard of work after 14 years of being in the industry.

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What advice do you have for someone who would like to pursue a career in textile design?
Unfortunately, opportunities for formal employment within the textile industry in SA are very limited so prospective designers would most likely have to pursue an entrepreneurial route to apply their skills and designs. The balance between business savvy and design ability is often not an equal match and in many instances, designers are better off pairing with a suitable business partner to take care of the financial and logistic side of the venture. That said, many designers, like ourselves, have embraced the challenges of entrepreneurship and design with great satisfaction .

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Where do you see the Design Team over the next decade?
As with any successful business, it is important to build the business so that it is not solely reliant on our input. We would love to build systems and structures within the company to make it a profitable and sellable business. We have realised that the Design Team brand has a life of its own and even if the business had to fail or close, the legacy will live on for many years to come, through fabrics and products in so many homes, offices and public spaces .

Where can we find your products?
Our fabrics are sold through dedicated sales representatives in all major centres in South Africa and we have retail spaces in Brooklyn Mall (Pretoria), The Watershed at the V&A in Cape Town and Kramerville in Johannesburg. We are currently revamping our website to accommodate online sales as well.

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See more of the Design Team’s fabric collections and lifestyle products on  http://www.designteamfabrics.co.za/

(All images courtesy of Design Team)