Five stories from the inspiring Mash.T founder
Since starting her Johannesburg-based design studio Mash.T in 2007, Limpopo-born Thabisa Mjo has risen to stellar heights with her personal heritage and collaboration-focused approach to design. The winner of accolades like the 2018 Most Beautiful Object in South Africa award and South African designer of the Year, the Nando’s Hot Young Designer and globally-exhibited at prestigious spaces like Milan Design Week 2019, 100% Design UK and at the Bonne Esperance Gallery in Paris, Thabisa is one of the continent’s most inspiring young design voices.
Always Welcome did a deep-dive into her career in quotes from previous interviews to bring you her story in her own words, and uncover some of the thinking behind a few of her pieces in our store in Hyde Park Corner, Johannesburg, and in our online store.
A CINEMATIC START
'I [have] loved storytelling for as long as I can remember. History was my favorite subject in school. After high school, I enrolled at AFDA, a film school where I majored in production design. As a production designer, you create the visual world that the story takes place in. I then started noticing spaces in the real world in a way I never had before. I’d go to a beautiful restaurant and would wonder why I wanted to stay there longer. [I asked myself] what about the way the space was set up made me feel good? [While there], I’d notice the furniture and think about who are the people who made that? Who are the people who put this together, [because] THAT’S what I want to do.’
‘I’m unapologetic about being who I am and doing the kind of work that I think will benefit people in my sphere of influence. That’s what I constantly aspire to be.’
COLLABORATION — HER PROUDEST WORK
‘This would be the Hlabisa bench. The Master weaver was Beauty Ngxongo.
As a kid, over the summer holidays, we would drive to KwaZulu Natal, a province in South Africa. My maternal grandmother’s home was nestled in the rolling hills so synonymous with this province. Even as a child, there was something so romantic and even nostalgic about driving slowly through the meandering, undulating hills; on our way to visit our granny. That’s where the undulating backrest of the bench came from. When we’d arrive, she would always be cooking up a feast over an open fire in her 3-legged cast iron pot popularly known as a “potjie.” The legs of the bench are inspired by the legs of this “potjie” pot.
Me and the head designers at Houtlander; Stephen Wilson and Phillip Hollander, wanted to create a piece that felt communal, that encouraged conversation, a cocoon. The piece had to honour both Mash.T and Houtlanders values. We knew the bench was not complete without the Zulu basket weaving on the backrest. So we reached out to master weaver, Beauty Ngxongo. Beauty is one of the foremost weavers in the world with work at The Met and the Smithsonian. She led a team of eight weavers to weave this backrest. It was the first time they had adapted their technique to work on a furniture piece, which was such an incredible honour for us.’
‘I want to make Mash.T products more accessible. And it’s why Presents From Joburg is launching with items centred around serving tools. We want to foster the idea of community, and of coming together at the end of the day to share a meal. It’s about treasuring the moments spent together around the dinner table.’
THE BEST ADVICE SHE EVER RECEIVED
‘Just do it. And listen, listen to your critics, listen to what your customers are saying. Persevere, adapt and don't be afraid to ask for what your time and or, products are worth.’