In the years of 2004 and 2005 I, Merel, lived and worked in South Africa. On behalf of the Johan Cruyff Foundation and the Ndlovu Care Group I was in charge of the construction of a large sports complex in the township of Elandsdoorn. During my time there, I met many people in the townships who had the desire and skills but not the opportunities to start their own business. Because of this they were unable to create a financial future for themselves and their families. After the completion of the sports complex I returned to Holland, but regularly visited South Africa to meet the with the locals.
On one of my trips there I met a group of 10 talented ladies, the Shukushukuma Beaders. I asked them to produce a large batch of small beaded angels. It was wonderful to see how this initiative got them excited for their future!
AND SO TOWNSHIPSMILE WAS BORN!
In the first year I went to the shops throughout Holland, displaying the beautiful beaded products. With my enthusiasm and my story I was able to sell the products to many retailers. After a while however, I realised that the story behind my products was lost when someone would buy a Townshipsmile item in store. Together with the help of a designer, I developed a beautiful label that told the whole story. It gave the products more meaning and a unique depth to share the story of the artisan.
‘Share the gift, share the future’ it says on Townshipsmile’s logo. The products are sold in pairs and on the label I recommend that you ‘Share this gift with a special person.’ By sharing the gift you celebrate your friendship. At the same time you share the story of Townshipsmile and give other people the chance to get acquainted with our special products. Successful sales in the Netherlands means I have been able to buy more products from the artisans in South Africa and assure them and their team of a better future.
In March of 2012, Townshipsmile was able to show for the first time, at the Trade Show for retailers in Utrecht. The display was striking in its simplicity and showcased the colorfull beaded angels, bracelets and the heartfelt story. It gave me the perfect backdrop to share the story of Townshipsmile with interested retailers, and from that moment on, the ball started rolling. More than 30 retailers bought our products for their stores during that 3 day trade show!
Since then, our list of retailers has grown (see physical shops). Townshipsmile now has its own online store and the range of products has expanded to include new trendy products, each accompanied with its own special story from Africa. Twice a year I try to visit the suppliers and artisans, who either work from home in the townships or in a communal house. During my visits I photograph and film and conduct interviews, so that I can share the most recent behind the scenes story of Townshipsmile with its followers. You will be able to see for yourself on my website how Townshipsmile makes a difference for talented entrepreneurs and artisans in Africa.