The Nando’s Hot Young Designer Talent Search, a transformative opportunity for South African design.

It’s been four years since the competition was launched, director Tracy Lee Lynch tells us why it is crucial for South Africa’s design industry to have platforms that not only give opportunity for visibility, but also go along with designers on their journey to build sustainable businesses.

“South Africa is bursting with extraordinary creative talent that needs more platforms to help launch their potential into the market place,” says interior designer and Nando’s Design Programme director Tracy Lee Lynch.

Together with Nando’s Property Director, Michael Spinks and their team at restaurant chain Nando’s, they launched the Nando’s Hot Young Designer Talent Search in 2016. That year, they invited entrants to present lighting designs. The prize went to co-winners, then 28 year old Thabisa Mjo and 23 year old Samantha Foaden.

Co-winner Thabisa Mjo entered 2 lights into the competition. Her timber Skyline lights represent iconic Joburg buildings. Her winning Tutu 2.0 light was inspired traditional Venda Xibelani skirts.
Co-winner Samamtha Foaden with her Buhle BulbLight which makes use of traditional Zulu beadwork.

“Meeting the people I met through Nando’s has changed the entire trajectory of my life…They helped me discover gifts I didn’t even know I had,” says Mash T. Design founder and 2016 co-winner Thabisa Mjo, who up until entering the competition had not attempted product design. Fast forward four years later, her winning light has been voted as the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa at the Design Indaba conference, and her products have been on top glossy magazine covers, and she has a retail space in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. In 2019, with the support of Nando’s, she took to Milan Design Week 2019, to show both her products as well as a curated selection of South African designers. And a few months later, she was named Designer of the Year alongside Urbanative founder Mpho Vackier at the 2019 100% Design South Africa showcase.

Finalist Candice Lawrence entered three lights which have been widely used in Nando’s Casa’s around the world: The Painted, Beaded and Woven necklace lights.

“Beyond the competition and the prize, support for designers also needs to be there as they journey. We must do our bit to build the emerging design community by encouraging industry collaborations and the sharing of knowledge and skills; we need to make sure that designs progress from paper to reality and that the world sees just how unique the designs that originate here are,” says Lynch.

To achieve this, Nando’s has incorporated products from designers that they have encountered through the competition into their Portal to Africa, an online marketplace that allows interior designers working on Nando’s restaurants around the world to order furniture directly from South African designers. Since it was launched in May 2018, the Portal has shipped over R40 million worth of South African designed products, and since the chain makes no direct profit from the Portal, charging only a levy to help run it, the profit goes directly into the design businesses.

The 2018 leg of the biennial competition opened the stage up to even more creative talent, asking young South Africans to submit pattern designs. Hundreds sent their entries, presenting original patterns that shared uniquely South African narratives. Eventually, 10 finalists were chosen, who then went through an intensive mentorship process until the winner, Mncedisi Agrippa Hlophe, was chosen. However, due to the strength of each of the finalists’ work, Nando’s has gone on to collaborate with several of them, including creating a licensing deal that allows them to license their pattern designs to interior designers and product designers across the globe for a fee, effectively putting them in a position to start building their businesses, as well as building the kind of long-term relationship with Nando’s that has proven to be transformative for businesses like Mjo’s Mash T Design.

“The response to the pattern competition was so incredible, and once we had met all the finalists it became very clear that we had a responsibility to showcase more than just the winner’s work. Patterning is a major element in the design of a Nando’s restaurant. It was a plus to add all ten patterns to the Portal and work with 10 new creatives to bring their amazing stories and expressions to life in different applications and on different surfaces,” says Lynch. Read all about Nando’s Hot Young Designer Search, The Pattern Hunt, here or watch the video here.

The team behind the competition is currently at work preparing to launch the 2020 leg of the competition and unearth new creative talent. This year, the focus will be on benches. Says Lynch: “It’s been our focus to identify key elements in the Nando’s restaurants, and a unique bench features in every restaurant globally because customers that order take-out are hosted on a waiting bench, this means we have a captive market for well-designed memorable benches.”

The competition which will be launched at the beginning of April, not only presents a unique opportunity for young designers who have great furniture ideas but might lack the infrastructure and the skills to bring them to life, it also gives “the new finalists a chance to be part of our community for the long haul,” explains Lynch. “We are beyond excited to imagine what new pieces we will be seeing and how, with the help of our established design community in South Africa we can help bring their visions to life, and in this way contribute to their growth in a holistic and sustainable way.”

Watch this space as well as Instagram accounts @clout_sadesign and @nandos_hyd for the announcement of the 2020 Nando’s Hot Young Designer Talent Search. And should you be a designer wondering if you should go for it and enter, look no further than Lynch’s advice: “Go for it, you have no idea what magic can happen when you let go of your fears and leap. We are here, waiting for you!  Tell us your story, share your unique ideas, be inspired by the past, present and future, don’t wait on the sidelines for something to happen, this opportunity is for you!”

Enter Nando’s Hot Young Designer Talent Search “The Benchmark” here.

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