Umcebo design emerged from Robin Opperman’s long-standing vision of turning his passion for community-based arts and crafts into a viable income-generating business model. It ticks all the necessary boxes in terms of profitability as a business, but also – more importantly – provides a means for the unemployed and marginalised in our society to translate their abundant creativity and skills into much needed income.
Opperman started experimenting with “The Umcebo Model” when he was an art teacher at Ningizimu School for the Severely Mentally Handicapped (Durban) in the early Nineties. He saw the need to develop a model based on creative and interesting ways for the students to express themselves while generating an income from the sale of their work. As the Model developed, it became more inclusive, with more community members included and a growing skills base. Opperman received a National Teaching Award in 2000 for his efforts.
The Trust was registered in 2003 and Opperman left his teaching job at Ningizimu in 2005 to take up the helm of Umcebo Trust in the hope that he could dedicate 100% of his time to proving that the NGO arts and crafts model he was pioneering could stand on its own two feet. The Trust moved into a space above Artspace Gallery in Umgeni Road. After a year-and-a-half of growing the project, with increased sales, and celebrity clients like Oprah Winfrey, Rita Marley and Richard Branson, the project moved into uShaka Marine World’s Village Walk shopping emporium. Here, the project ran for four years, operating an integrated workshop and retail outlet, where the public could meet the crafters and discuss and buy their work. During this period, the Trust attended four Design Indabas and the Ambiente Trade Fair in Frankfurt while retailing and working on high profile commissions such as the Moses Mabhida Stadium for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Old Mutual and other partners assisted the Trust in making ends meet, and it received business mentoring from the Legends Programme.
The final year of Umcebo Trust (2010/11) was a time of great achievement but also difficultly from a funding perspective. Umcebo Trust had to face the reality that public funding was unlikely to materialise and that this reality must be faced head-on.
Instead of being defeated, Opperman remains fixed on proving the viability of making income opportunities through arts and crafts. He now does this independently off the NGO flag as a small business. Umcebo design stands on the shoulders of the last 15 years of his work.
It now looks forward to a bright future, with growing lists of clients. Their work has been featured in the prestigious Maison Objet Show in Paris, as well as shows in the Netherlands, and new work is in development for the 2012 Cape Town Design indaba. You can also find their work at Weylandts Stores nationwide.
Umcebo is also working with MK Illumination, and will be providing Christmas decor for Cavendish Square this year. This is an exciting opportunity for Umcebo to stretch its creative wings and provide work for community crafters and their families.
Umcebo Design’s aim is to combine the best of local design and arts and crafts skills into ‘must have’ pieces of work that grace the top private, corporate and commercial collections of work.