Future heirlooms

MAY 2014 – Taunina weaves an inspiring story in which social upliftment meets inspired artistry, creating world-class collectors’ pieces.

Our age-old nostalgia and affection for our childhood teddy bears has given birth to a truly irresistible collectors’ item. The humble bear is transformed into a work of art and a family heirloom in the skilful hands of Taunina, the South African-based luxury atelier that has interwoven social upliftment with exquisite artistry. Its one-of-a-kind, hand-embroidered bears are finding their way into the hearts of discerning collectors the world over, who value the delicate hand-stitching, inspired designs and impeccable finishing that raise these individual bears to the level of artworks.

Taunina is the realisation of a dream for founders Tracey Chiappini-Young and Karen Jansen who, with successful careers in finance behind them, wanted to give something back. But they wanted more than just a charitable job-creation project involving basic skills; they aimed to elevate the status of craft to art and build a luxury brand, creating a unique high-end product that would sell itself, invest its makers with self-esteem, earn them a regular income and empower them as artists in their own right.

From the beginning the idea was to aim for the top in quality. The pair sought out women from underprivileged backgrounds who already had the raw skills in embroidery, appliqué and sewing. The women underwent more than 18 months of training in design and understanding colours and fabrics – and they continue to enjoy weekly workshops where they share design inspiration and come up with creative ideas for new collections.

The fully-employed team of 15 artists works strongly together, with the most skilful embroiderers mentoring less experienced members. Chiappini-Young stresses that working together in this way is an important element of their empowerment in the business. It will be the team who decides which of the 1 000 applicants to take into the Taunina family as new trainees next month and then works with them to develop their skills to the required level. ‘One of our star embroiderers today joined the business as a cleaner with no prior sewing experience,’ relates Chiappini-Young. ‘She was so intrigued and inspired that she taught herself to sew, joining the sewing table in her breaks and being mentored by the artists.’ Now her embroidered bear designs go out into the world and she has a new sense of pride and self-esteem from being a recognised artist.

As luxury items you’d expect that only the best materials would be used, so it’s no surprise that the list of fabrics resonates like a roll call of the most illustrious heritage houses: Liberty, Sanderson, GP&J Baker, William Morris. A new collection of bears made from luscious silk velvets sourced from Holland and the UK has just launched. These luxurious fabrics ensure that each bear is as sensuous and rich to the touch as it is to the eye. Chiappini-Young and Jansen would love to source fabrics in South Africa too but, not having yet found the quality that they require, are looking into having their own designs printed locally onto high-end linens. Each one-off bear undergoes rigorous quality control before receiving its personal passport, with its name, details of the artist who created it and a special code, which the bear’s owner can use to follow the artist on the website. Customers are also welcomed to the Cape Town atelier, where they can meet the artists and see the bears being made.

The Taunina philosophy sees these bears as part of a genuine social impulse to change the world. ‘The unique beauty of each collection piece lies in how it transforms the life of the woman who made it and establishes a lifetime connection between the artist and the purchaser,’ explains Chiappini-Young. The bears not only make the world a more beautiful place with their delicate designs and colours, but make a difference to the whole family of the artist, appealing to discerning, socially conscious collectors, who themselves become catalysts for change.

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