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Decorex Bids to Establish South African Decor on World Stage

Decorex is South Africa's leading design and decor exhibition. The event offers a unique insight into the trends that dominate the local scene and the styles emerging from the country, many of which are now in favour with Asian buyers.

Photo: Decorex: Something decidedly new from Africa…
Decorex: Something decidedly new from Africa…
Photo: Decorex: Something decidedly new from Africa…
Decorex: Something decidedly new from Africa…

"The world is starting to look towards Africa for something new" – at least according to Sian Gutstadt, General Manager of Decorex, the leading South African design and decor exhibition. Expanding on her, she says: "This is because of the unique design products and materials coming out of South Africa. This is refreshing, especially in a world where there is much 'sameness' when it comes to interior design."

Bearing out her conviction, it was evident from the products and concepts on show at Decorex that the South African design industry is now taking a fresh – and sometimes quirky – approach to decor and interior design. It was also apparent that the African craft movement is gaining momentum internationally.

From a business perspective, South African decor and design products are becoming increasingly popular on the international market, with many local companies supplying boutiques, chain stores and hotels all over the world. With this in mind, Gutstadt said: "South African design producers have a lot to offer the interiors market and are catching the eye of Asian buyers – chiefly because of the quality of designs emerging from the South African pool of talent. Asian industry professionals, such as property developers and retail groups, are visiting exhibitions – such as Decorex – in order to source suppliers for their properties."

Decorex is the largest decor, design and lifestyle exhibition in Africa. Every year, the show presents a curated mix of high-end products, with its focus squarely on the residential and commercial decor/design industries. According to Gutstadt, buyers from China and elsewhere in Asia now tend to be open to South African design products and materials.

The expo mainly appeals to buyers from the high-end interiors market – notably interior designers, architects, retail and hospitality designers, as well as resellers of design products. Decorex's own research has shown that 86% of the show's trade visitors come specifically to find new products and services, while half of the attending trade buyers have sole purchasing responsibility, with 40% sharing that responsibility jointly.

African interior design: What's trending?

The portfolio of Decorex exhibitions – held annually in the country's three major cities, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban – is seen as providing a platform for established and emerging design talents, showcasing the latest trends and ideas in decor and lifestyle-related products. There is a particular focus on kitchens and bathrooms, interior and exterior design, furniture and homeware, plan and build, green technology, cooking and cuisine, and craftware.

Many of the designers and decorators at the recent Cape Town event created gallery-like installations, providing a somewhat theatrical insight into the upcoming design styles and themes.

In terms of colour trends, black seems to be the new black.

Running in conjunction with Decorex since 2014, 100% Design South Africa focusses on the more contemporary designs emerging from the country. This year Cathy O'Clery, Programme Director of 100% Design, put together the 100% Black installation. For this she selected contemporary design pieces that are totally devoid of colour. Explaining her thinking, she said: "Black is not only this season's hottest decor colour, it's also the only way to appreciate great design." The thinking behind this particular installation was to focus on form, shape, line and structure, and highlight just how these play an integral part in the creative process, underlining how much of today's design is dictated by its sculptural qualities. O'Clery said: "By showcasing items all in black, I hope to celebrate the beauty and deep thinking of such design considerations."

This black motif was also favoured by Marcelle Crowther, owner of South Africa's award-winning Hocus Interior Design Studio, who adopted the same aesthetic for her own Decorex installation. She said: "Its intense drama and potency make black an incredibly exciting colour to work with."

A black interior, though, also comes with its own design challenges. Outlining these, Crowther said: "An all-black interior presents the biggest challenge of all, as you cannot rely on, for instance, patterning to add interest. Instead, you need to work with fabric textures, wall finishes, furniture patinas and lighting to create layers of excitement. The results are carefully conceived interiors that always represent a departure from the norm, but are also timeless and enduring."

Photo: Saturated colours from Sarah Ord.
Saturated colours from Sarah Ord.
Photo: Saturated colours from Sarah Ord.
Saturated colours from Sarah Ord.
Photo: Exotic seating from Sam Lurie.
Exotic seating from Sam Lurie.
Photo: Exotic seating from Sam Lurie.
Exotic seating from Sam Lurie.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, big, brave, saturated colours define the work of Cape Town designer Sarah Ord, whose sophisticated, quirky signature look garnered much attention at this year's show. Ord said: "Mine is very much an anything goes approach. My stand here has the look of a tropical arbour – it's a sexy, lush and colourful nod to warmer climes."

In terms of interior colour schemes, according to this year's exhibitors, also look out for a comeback from pastel tones, especially when teamed with natural linens and greys. Yellow and pink are exciting colours right now, particularly soft dusky pinks and lemonade yellows.

Overall, colour and graphic prints were seen as the key fabric trends this year. These provide "a lively mix of vibrancy and happiness" – at least for Marc Shotland, Group PR and Marketing Executive for Home Fabrics, a South African textile house.

A trend for coppery and silver metallic finishes and furnishings, and metallic tones in fabrics, was also in evidence at Decorex. Mixed and textured metallics, apparently, are set to be the key design trend in the African market over the next year or so.

More globally, handmade craft is enjoying a widespread revival. Fittingly, then, the Craft & Create pavilion at Decorex offered an artisanal marketplace. This featured the smaller design studios, crafters and start-up exhibitors, many of them making their first forays into the world of interior design. It was evident that Africa's 'maker' trend – the practice of using solely local inputs – was increasingly appealing to trade buyers and end-customers.

Among these, Ozzy's Eco Decor, in particular, offer a clear sign that recycling remains at the forefront of Africa's design consciousness. The Eastern Cape-based company manufactures a quirky hand-made collection of furniture, mirrors, clocks and other objects, all made from used tyres. Yolanda Msutwana, the company's Founder, said the business is now gearing up for exporting, and already distributes its products in the UK and the US, where it exhibits at an Atlanta trade show, AmericasMart.

Greening – or eco-chic design – was another of the trends evident at Decorex. Leigh-Anne Casey, Marketing Co-ordinator at kitchen-systems supplier Franke, said: "Think recycled materials and earth-friendly products, and plenty of natural light – with the aim of literally bringing the garden into the kitchen."

On a smaller scale, glass containers were also seen as making something of a design statement, no longer being seen as simply utilitarian kitchen storage utensils. The classic Mason jar for storing preserves, for instance, has found many repurposed uses – from practical to aesthetic. Solar-lamp jars, water bottles with a silicone rubber hand grip for the gym, gift containers, and utensils for serving food and drinks have all found renewed expression in this humble glass jar.

Distribution Opportunities

The majority of exhibitors at Decorex tend to be established businesses, with many of them selected to appear based on the quality of their products. As a result, they are accustomed to dealing with trade visitors and are ready and set to supply international buyers. When visiting the show, such buyers can gain insights into the latest developments in the South African design and lifestyle industry, as well as taking the opportunity to identify distribution opportunities.

Many of this year's exhibitors were actively looking for opportunities to distribute their products in the Asia-Pacific markets. More specifically, several said they were interested in leads from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, while some already work with agents in Asia.

Hertex, a South African textiles manufacturer, which produces fabrics, rugs and wallcoverings, for instance, has a strong export presence in Australia, Dubai, Europe and various African countries. According to Carla Grundlingh, the company's Export Manager, it is now looking for distribution in China. Hertex already has an agent in Hong Kong but is seeking greater exposure in the region. In terms of its exports, Grundlingh said the company was doing well with its tropical-themed prints, luxury velvets and items with colour notes in metallic tones, marsala and burgundy.

Fantastick, a Gauteng-based wall-covering specialist, produces printed adhesive vinyl media for customised design applications in domestic, retail and corporate environments. Having established a strong presence in some 500 stores across Africa, Carolyn Kuiper, the company's Founder, is now actively seeking more export routes. The company already has a small presence in China, but she believes her products have the potential for a bigger footprint there – particularly in terms of use in shopping malls as retail window displays, in restaurants and for corporate branding.

Photo: South African setting.
South African setting.
Photo: South African setting.
South African setting.
Photo: The 100% Black installation.
The 100% Black installation.
Photo: The 100% Black installation.
The 100% Black installation.

In terms of imports, Helen Chen, owner of Johannesburg-based Lotus Home, said there is also a growing market in South Africa for China-sourced products for the home. Chen has established a vibrant market in Johannesburg, where she has been trading for five years, specialising in decorative items, such as sculptures, water fountains, lamps and artworks. Many of these she imports from the mainland.

Decorex Cape Town ran from 24-27 April 2015 at the city's CTICC venue. There is still time for buyers to catch the final Decorex of 2015, which takes place in Johannesburg from 6-10 August at Gallagher Convention Centre. The first two days of Decorex Joburg are dedicated trade days when exhibitors will be on hand to take enquiries and orders, providing the chance for buyers to engage with South Africa's design community.

Mark Ronan, Special Correspondent, Cape Town

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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