'Handmade with Love' is in Love with South Africa!
Early this year, we decided to expand our collection of pillows to include a wider range of colors, styles, and textures, but only once we found a collection that was truly exceptional...
When we discovered South African brand Cotton Tree, we knew right away that they were a perfect fit! This lovely group of artisan women work to create stylish pillows, utilizing unique techniques and handmade from some of the highest-quality cotton we've ever seen. Not to mention all of the fantastic work they do to empower women and support their communities. Their story warmed our hearts and we couldn't help but fall in love with their fantastic designs.
The first Cotton Tree pillows were announced a few weeks ago, and the response has been SO amazing that we've already ordered more (arriving in 2-3 weeks)! With the weather cooling off and the holidays upon us, we are thrilled to share their story in more detail, in their own words.
Let the founder, Cindy Roseveare, tell you all about it!
#JointheJourney with us to South Africa!
Exclusive handmade contemporary cushions focusing on texture and original design, guided by environmental kindness and community upliftment.
The journey began in 2012, learning the skills as a mindful and meditative activity, which naturally turned into a much loved hobby and eventually evolved into a small business. It is so satisfying to work at something that you love every day!
Q: What is your background and how did (your company) come about? How long have you had this business/when did you start it?
A: The journey began in 2012, learning to knit and crochet as a form of mindfulness, which naturally turned into a much-loved hobby and eventually evolved into a small business in 2017. It is so satisfying to work at something that you love every day! I trained and worked in corporate, but there was always this side of me that was yearning to be creative. It took time and plenty of positive feedback to realize that I could actually earn and be creative at the same time.
Q: What is your company aesthetic / vibe and where do you draw your design inspiration?
A: I felt that knitting and crochet and other needlework needed a new image and to be taken out of the “doilies knitted by grannies” mold. I found as I scoured Pinterest in the early years for inspiration, that I was constantly drawn to the thicker, chunkier yarns and needles. I love the texture that is created and it allows for a modern, contemporary style and feel in your home.
"I believe strongly in the ability of creativity and working with your hands to fill your soul and bring purpose to your life and in this instance, it provides a means to earn an income at the same time."
- Cindy Roseveare
Q: Please tell us a little bit about the materials you use, why you select them and what makes them unique/interesting/high quality etc.
A: We only source the absolute best cotton yarns, 100% cotton that’s dyed locally and according to all of the necessary standards and eco-friendly regulations. It’s got the most beautiful touch and feel. I have always loved working with cotton. I began working with the harder recycled cotton twine, which is extremely durable and allows for great stitch definition. However, it does not dye well, and I wanted to play more with color, which is why I moved to experimenting with the softer, higher quality cotton which holds dye very well. There is a wide range of colors available as well as different variegated and gradient dyes. If loosely spun, the softer superior cotton yarn can be a pleasure to work with.
Unlike fossil based fibers, cotton is sustainable, renewable, biodegradable, and carbon neutral and can be used without depleting or damaging the environment, thus making it an excellent choice as an environmentally-friendly fiber throughout its entire product life cycle. New technology, such as insect-resistant and drought-resistant varieties, continues to reduce the need for pesticides and water.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about the technique used to create your pieces, how you chose that and what makes these techniques unique or special.
A: We use crochet and more recently we progressed into a technique called Punch Needle. Punch Needle is an age old embroidery technique which is going through a modern revival - you push a threaded needle into fabric, stretched across a frame - the most gorgeous textural loops are created. We are fortunate to have entered the market early in SA, which provides something new and fresh for our customers. Punch needle is so versatile - it allows you to really experiment with design and color, creating cushions which can add interest, and this also allows me to offer a bespoke product.
Q: How many weavers do you work with/employ?
A: I started first working with a domestic lady who lives in my area, who was looking for extra income, knitting in the evenings. In fact, Thandi is my primary knitter for all of the cotton twine cushions. I also started working with ladies in Alexandra, Johannesburg, in 2017, as part of the Rays of Hope group. They met at the Rays of Hope to learn crochet and knitting skills, under the guidance of an incredible woman, Olly Rheeder. Olly made it possible for the ladies to earn from their skill. The group unfortunately dissolved and as my business grew, some of the ladies joined Cotton Tree on a part-time basis and now Lydia, Esther and Abi have enough work to keep them working almost every day.
"Cotton Tree helps to build skills within the local community. Each cushion is hand-knitted, crocheted, embroidered and hand punched by a group of extremely dedicated women, who pride themselves on delivering a quality, authentic product. Each piece takes many hours of hard work and is unique in its creation."
- Cindy Roseveare
Q: What are some of the best adventurers and anecdotes you've found yourself in this whole process?
A: My first range of knitted twine cushions was called “out of Africa” and really spoke to the incredible natural landscape and wildlife in South Africa. One of my favorite designs is the Baobab. I am in awe, while driving in the South African bush, when I stare up into this majestic beauty. There is no tree quite like it. My challenge in this design was to capture the solid enormity of this incredible presence in nature, in a very identifiable, contemporary way.
Q: How has COVID affected your business?
A: At the start of COVID, it was actually really tough and there was so much uncertainty. Everyone was consumed with the virus and had very little headspace for anything else. But as the lockdowns continued and people had to stay at home more and more, there was a shift inwardly to their homes - the world was a stressful place and people wanted to feel peaceful and comfortable in their homes - this is where they started to spend their disposable income. They got tired of looking at the same cushions 16 hours a day.
Q: Has COVID affected your lead times in regards to fulfillment? Can you explain what suppliers go through to collect products?
A: It affected lead-times hugely in the first year of COVID. No one was prepared for it and the sudden closing down of supply chains. As a small business, watching our cashflow, we didn’t have volumes of raw materials on hand. As businesses learnt to plan better and manage COVID limitations, this has improved. Businesses are now trying to rely more on sourcing supplies from local suppliers, as opposed to importing raw materials (there are still massive backlogs in the docks) - and this is a good thing!
Q: What trends are you seeing starting to manifest in Cotton Tree over the course of the next year?
A: We will always have a focus on Texture, which is the core of our appeal, but we will constantly have to find ways to show it differently, to stand out from the crowd. We are seeing a very big move towards the “earthy” colors and we have just selected some of these to incorporate into our work for the next year, which is very exciting.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your business, and do you have any particular goals for the business in the future?
A: I love the creative process and the challenge of developing new designs. It is quite difficult in a small business to make time for this process, but it is essential. I would like to outsource some of my administrative role to create space for this. Customers are always
looking for unique pieces and I would like to explore some other home décor product options with punch needle embroidery, specifically wall art.