An architect and designer, Mlondolozi “Mlo” Hempe is exploring design and using furniture and product design as the medium of choice in his new platform, Umongo.
How did your business start?
My current design business and curating was started by chance but has always been a space I wanted to explore. I did a collaborative exhibition with Laduma Ngxokolo (knitwear designer) creating an interior space with the theme “Xhosa-inspired living”. The space we made generated a lot of interest. This is where the seed of Umongo was planted.
Why did you choose this area to set up shop?
The location of the building is quite unique, nestled between Woodstock’s creative hub and the string of creative spaces going up Lower Main, Observatory. This seemed to be the right spot to find art and design lovers searching for the latest designs.
How did you find your premises?
It’s more like the space found me. I was searching for studio space to start the business in around March 2015, when a ceramist friend, Andile Dyalvane, recommended the space to me.
Why are the premises ideally suited to your business?
I went to view the space and I enjoyed the fact that it was not just a stand-alone space but it was a community of designers. The history of the art deco building, an old cinema, spoke to my architectural side where buildings can be repurposed for other uses.
Who are your neighbours?
At the Bijou, my neighbours are artist Martin Lund, blacksmith and tool-maker Conrad Hicks, and Run Rabbit Run coffee shop. Down the road are Laurie Wiid of Wiid Design, and fashion designer Dennis Chuene. So there’s quite a mix of creatives around Obz.
What are the shop rental/sales prices like in this area?
Rental for my space is around R9,000 a month. Other spaces within the Bijou range from R2,500 to R7,500 depending on size.
What is your shop footprint?
In the beginning there wasn’t that much traffic because the main door was always closed, but the integration of the coffee shop Run Rabbit Run in the entrance space has provided some walk-ins, approximately five people per week.
Do you have any expansion plans?
Not necessarily, but I would like to move to the CBD area which is closer to where I live, so I can have a closer relationship with my business and create a work-play-life environment.
Do you operate online as well?
Yes, through my website.
What’s your most popular item?
My most popular product is the wooden Potjie coffee table as it is a very unique item and quite unexpected, with a cross-cultural appeal.
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Words: Kit Heathcock | Images: Supplied