Janet Barry, founder of the Isiphikeleli Community Project, relocated to the quiet, rural area of the KZN Midlands from city life in Johannesburg towards the end of 2009. For the first time in this busy ex-teacher’s life, she found that she had some time available and a strong desire to make a contribution to the less fortunate community members in her new environment.
Janet offered her assistance to a small group of AIDS patients meeting weekly at the Bruntville Clinic just outside Mooi River. As a means to alleviate depression and apathy, she took knitting needles and a variety of yarns and started teaching the group to knit. In a short time, the small support group had swelled in numbers and meetings had to be held on the lawn to accommodate the group. Happy patients would arrive early to share the items that had been knitted and to help friends struggling with a pattern. The nursing sisters no longer had to coerce patients into attending their support sessions, as they arrived keen and eager to share a happy couple of hours learning a new craft.
Ms. Barry is of the opinion that many Zulu women have an innate competence with handcraft, but turbulent times in recent South African history have left a generation of young women without the instruction from their elders to learn these traditional handcrafts. When young women are taught these crafts they seem “hard-wired” to learn quickly and competently.
Very soon, Janet realised that in order to keep the project going, she would have to start finding an income to purchase wool, needles etc. Thus, the Isiphikeleli Community Project was born. The Zulu word has a dual meaning - Kingfisher and also “to help oneself”.
This was an appropriate name for a growing project that encouraged learning skills, and a means to earn an income. The members were often struggling with ill-health, unemployment and many of the “gogo’s” (grandmother’s) and young mother’s needed to stay at home to take care of their children.
Over the next few years, the project grew to 42 members, a trust was formed and some corporate sponsorship was procured. After identifying a need for a retail space to display and sell the products the members of the project were making, Janet Barry opened a store in Nottingham Road. The Lilac Crane still operates today and proudly displays many of the products made by the local community at large.
The next few years saw the project going through many challenges and triumphs. The legal costs and difficulties of running a trust made it difficult to operate the project in a sustainable manner and in 2015, it was decided to start operating the project as a business. It was at this junction, that Janet realised that many locals and overseas buyers had great difficulty getting their tongues around the word “Isiphikeleli” and a name change was suggested to make the company name more memorable for non-Zulu speakers.
thandi collection was born
The word “THANDI”, loosely translated, means “lovely” in Zulu. This was a perfect fit! The lovely items the project members create using traditional handcrafts can be showcased in a fluid, ever-changing and expanding collection.
Currently, we are placing a huge emphasis on using recycled or eco-friendly materials to hand knit or crochet products. We make every effort to source locally made raw materials. Our rural environment is so beautiful and we would like to create an awareness to try and preserve the pristine beauty.
It is founder and director, Janet Barry’s, passion to use the project or business as a means to empower rural women with skills and a means to earn an income whilst staying at home to raise their children. Most of the members are challenged by health issues, high unemployment rates and socio-economic hardships. Handcrafts are a pleasant way to while away the hours in sunshine, while chatting to friends and watching over children playing. The projects worked on provide desperately needed income to these families.
The purpose of Thandi Collection is to market hand crafted products by community members. As our sales increase, so we will be able to provide employment and an income to existing and new members needing support.