Morongwe "Mo" Mokone at her NY NOW booth
New NY NOW attendee Morongwe “Mo” Mokone made a particularly strong first impression this week at the summer edition of the NY NOW home/lifestyle/handmade/gift market trade show at New York’s Javits Center.
Her Mo’s Crib South African handcrafted homeware design and crafts company, which makes eye-catching recycled origami paper swans along with planters and baskets made from recycled PVC water pipes, won a NY NOW Special Mention in the Artisan Resource category at the Summer 2019 Best New Product Awards presentation.
The Pretoria-based Mokone sees her Mo’s Crib line as a means of “redesigning sustainable living,” starting with her colorful origami Swan Sculptures—an acknowledged novel concept for South Africa.
“As you can imagine, origami is not an art common in South Africa—especially among black females!” says Mokone. Turns out she had a Japanese roommate while studying in England 11 years ago, who asked her to help her construct her own origami projects.
“At first I made origami pieces as gifts for family and friends, and at a trade show for handmade items four years ago in South Africa, I realized I might have a platform.”
Sure enough, her work won her Best Newcomer and Best New Product awards at another trade show in Johannesburg--and removed any doubt of its appeal. So this year she quit her full-time human resources job and is now exhibiting her wares internationally: NY NOW was her first trade show geared to retailers, and gave her the perfect place to launch her small, medium and large PVC planters, as well as display her big PVC covered baskets.
“They’re recycled PVC water pipes, made out of off-cuts from construction sites,” says Mokone. “I used to make bamboo baskets but wanted to do something different: I don’t feel that bamboo is environmentally friendly, so I wanted to use new materials that hadn’t been introduced to the market.”
She notes that her PVC product is “intriguing” in that it presents “the illusion of being made of wood.”
“You think they’re painted, but they’re exactly what I get from the construction sites,” she says, “and none are alike.” And because PVC is stronger than bamboo, the planters and baskets are weather-resistant and can be used outdoors.
Makone now looks to expand her PVC line into furniture. Meanwhile, her Swan Sculptures, which have been treated with varnish to make them shiny and durable, are also functional as well as decorative.
“You can put plants in them, or stationery,” she says. “They can be used to hold your makeup brush, or even serve eggs in the kitchen or on a table. And they’re a great conversation starter!”
But the swan is also “a very protective animal,” observes Makone, and as such, “it is for me a symbol of the current state of South Africa.”
Her country, she notes, “needed an awakening to come together to be aware of the the environment and sustainability—and being protective of the world.”
Hence, her swans, made of natural and biodegradable material, represent South Africa’s awakening among environmentally conscious nations.