12 years ago, South African artist Merewyn De Heer and her righthand lady, Nozi, started making clay beaded chandeliers in a small rural community in South Africa. The chandeliers were beautiful and soon began increasing in popularity, so Merewyn approached her community centre and started training local women, turning her team of two into 65!
Hearing about Merewyn’s story, Melbourne-based South African father and daughter duo Phillip Jones and Kerri Wallace immediately took an interest. A huge change of pace for Kerri, who worked as a radio producer for Hamish and Andy and Fifi and Jules, and Phillip, who ran an international food importing business, the three of them decided to form klaylife, an avenue for introducing the chandeliers to the Australia and New Zealand market.
Made entirely by hand, the chandeliers are quite obviously extraordinary, but more than that, they’re helping a whole community, with many of the local women being affected by HIV. “The majority of the women who create the chandeliers are HIV impacted,” explains Kerri. “They either have it themselves or care for family that do. But it doesn’t define them. Many of the team aren't able to read or write but have now gained an income and have the means to help provide their children with an education.”
Not only are the effects of the business on the local community magnificent, the whole chandelier creation process is pretty special! From the initial hand drawn design by Merewyn, to the local ironmonger creating the frame (often with his bare hands!) and finally to the woman making the beads: “Merewyn works with her team (she has taught herself Zulu, the local language) to hand-roll each bead from raw clay,” says Kerri. “Instead of sitting in a cold, lifeless factory, everyone sits outside in the sun talking and singing. Once the beads are rolled and sun-dried, they go into a kiln to fire. They are then dip-dyed by hand. The final step, which is the most intricate, is each bead being masterfully hand strung onto its wire frame.”
Having successfully mastered lighting design, the team now have their eye on some new projects for 2015. “A jewellery and furniture range are currently in the works. It is also our intention to put a program in place to help this beautiful community even more. Right now, the bulk of the team’s earnings go into the schooling, clothing and feeding their children, so if we can help with these costs, 2015 will be a good year!”