June 2021 marked the official launch of Clout SA, a purpose-first enterprise, creative agency, and business-to-business (B2B) market-maker for South African design, which states among its goals the promotion of South Africa’s creativity, craftsmanship, heritage, and creating opportunities for collaboration between designers and makers. While many members of the public will be finding out about Clout SA for the first time, the agency’s team has been hard at work building up to this moment for nearly seven years.
Much of that work was done on Clout SA’s founding project, the Nando’s Design Programme and eventually, the Nando’s Portal to Africa, an online shopping platform for designer furniture that has facilitated more than R60 million worth of sales across 20,900 products since it was launched in 2018, making it one of the country’s largest exporters of South African design. There are approximately 1 200 Nando’s restaurants located across the globe from Washington DC to Dhaka, and each space showcases bold, bespoke furniture items which are procured through the Portal to Africa.
As part of the Nando’s Design Programme, Clout SA has developed and facilitated one of South Africa’s top biennial design competitions, the Nando’s Hot Young Designer Talent Search, which has launched and supported tens of local design careers, including Mash T. design founder, Thabiso Mjo, one of the first winners of the competition in 2016. Mjo later described the competition as having “changed the trajectory of my entire life”. In 2020, she went on to make history when she became the first South African designer ever to have her work collected by the Louvre’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, for their permanent collection.
At its core, Clout SA specialises in creating interior solutions for hospitality, retail, residential and corporate clients – its approach foregrounds a South African design narrative as a point of distinction. For the next phase of the enterprise’s work towards growing the South African design industry and turning South African design into a globally recognised category brand, Clout SA has invited corporate partners who share these values to join its mission by taking part in collaborations with its designer-maker partners.
As part of Decorex’s month-long Cape Town Design Trail programme in June 2021, Clout SA will open an exhibition of South African art and design curated by Clout SA creative director Tracy Lee Lynch, titled “Right here, Right Now!”. The exhibition will not only introduce Clout SA to the industry and invited members of the public, but also unveil a collaboration with House Union Block (HUB), a platform borne out of the Spier Arts Trust which has run the Spier Arts Academy since 2009, training artisans in the field of ceramics and mosaics, as well as supporting the development of visual artists.
The HUB platforms works to create collaborative commercial opportunities for artisans and artists. While this is the official public unveiling of the Clout SA x HUB collaboration, there are already some sterling examples of what the two organisations have achieved together. Previous Clout SA and HUB collaborative projects include the striking serving counter of the Nando’s restaurant in Soho, London. This features artwork by artist Henk Serfontein, that was rendered in mosaics by HUB artisans. Another example is the Potjie Server by designer Thabisa Mjo. The beaded panels on the front of the server were designed by Mjo and created by the skilled Qaqambile beaders. The server was later featured as part of the Sacrosanct exhibition at Milan Design Week in 2019.
As part of the opening of Right here, Right Now!, the home of HUB, the four-story iconic Union House building in Cape Town’s eastern district, Clout SA and HUB are inviting architectural and interior design professionals, corporate procurement agents and facilities managers, to join their mission to support, develop, invest in and build the future of South African design. The first three days of the exhibition will be opened to the abovementioned professionals, while the last two will be open to design learners and limited members of the public.