Johannesburg designer Thabisa Mjo couldn’t have predicted where her work would end up. After graduating with a degree in film production design in 2013, she decided to take her knowledge of lighting, construction, and narrative into "the real world," as she puts it. The result was her first lighting collection, Tutu, which uses a colorful, pleated lampshade to recall the fabrics of a traditional xibelani skirt worn by South African Xitsonga women.
In 2015, Mjo impulsively entered the fixtures into the Nando’s restaurant chain’s Hot Young Designer Talent Search and won the chance to create a lighting design that is now used in restaurants around the world. Mjo has since found fans in more rarefied circles as well. The Louvre’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs has made two of her works, a Tutu light and the Mjojo cabinet, part of its permanent collection
Read the full Q&A below to learn more about Mjo's approach to design.
Hometown: Johannesburg, South Africa
Describe what you make in 140 characters. Lighting and furniture.
What's the last thing you designed? Two tables including the Flute Table, which is made out of terrazzo, and the Bright Bable, which is woven out of a grass called ilala palm.
Do you have a daily creative ritual? Deep breath in, deep breath out, and constantly reminding myself to just be observant as I go about my day
How do you procrastinate? When I get an idea for a product, I'll see it vividly in my head but it will take me weeks to actually put it down on paper. I suppose there's always the question of how to translate it to paper and ensure it's as great on paper as it is in my head
What everyday object would you like to redesign? Why? Sneakers for myself as I wear sneakers everyday. A well-made sneaker is one of those things that always makes me think "I wish I'd thought of that."
Who are your heroes (in design, in life, in both)? Oki Sato, Peter Mabeo, Bibi Seck, and Beauty Ngxongo.
What skill would you most like to learn? The balance between something beautiful but strikingly simple. And execution—how to make things well.
What is your most treasured possession? I don't know if I have one.
What's your earliest memory of an encounter with design? My earliest memory of design really came in the form of fashion. I remember being five- or six-years-old and showing up at school in a huge, satin pink baby ballerina dress and everyone looking at me like I was weird.
What contemporary design trend do you despise? I dislike the very idea of trends in and of itself. I feel they inhibit us from being authentic because we might, even on a subconscious level, be always be trying to make something in order to fit in with whatever is trending. This is limiting.
Finish this statement: All design should... be functional and invoke something in us
What's in your dream house? A James Turrell sculpture.
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