By Jana-Mari Smith
In a colourful and playful corner of the Namibia Craft Centre you will find Maid in Africa, where pride is taken in putting a joyful twist on African themes. The name itself reflects the tongue-in-cheek attitude of its owners and creators, Andrew and Micha Weir.
Maid in Africa was set up in 2007 as a means of generating extra work and income for the Weirs’ maid Priscilla, who lost her other domestic jobs when she was diagnosed as HIV positive.
The project took shape around the kitchen table, where Micha taught Priscilla and some local street vendors how to do silkscreen printing and painting.
While still working full-time jobs, the Weirs and their team rented a retail space at the Namibia Craft Centre where their silk-screen and hand-painted cushion covers and T-shirts were sold. Since then, the business has expanded to include anything on which a print can be imposed, including clothing, chairs, wallpaper, postcards, posters, aprons, bags and suitcases, and coasters.
“We grew from a one-person, part-time business to a thriving enterprise where we trained and employed eight full-time and two part-time staff. We outsourced work to previously trained individuals and training centres such as the Katutura Community Arts Centre,” Micha explains.
The Weirs moved to Cape Town for family considerations, but their business still thrives in Namibia. They now also run a Maid in Africa branch in Swakopmund, while a general manager sees to it that operations run smoothly in Namibia.
Micha describes the design ethos behind their products as ‘Afro-pop as opposed to safari-khaki and cape-boere-lacy.’ She adds that while Maid in Africa produces a range of standard items, it also caters for eccentric tastes and all budgets.
Unique designs underpin the Weirs’ belief that it is the hand-made aspect of Maid in Africa items that appeals to a growing market as opposed to mass-produced articles that cater to soulless throwaway consumerism. The principle of recycling products and converting fine art into utility objects such as ironing-board covers appeals to buyers, making them prepared to pay for human values.
The Weirs believe that the designs produced by Maid in Africa show the creativity and the cultural diversity of Africa. “It is our aim to market African design as a fusion of tradition and modern, and as utility art with a high value attached, because it feeds an African community of proud and creative hand-crafters.”
And the colours? The Weirs say they take their inspiration from ‘townships, nature and the bright African sun’.