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Cape Town’s newest retail hotspot, Design Lab opens its doors ahead of the festive season

Boasting break-out designer names and exclusive products and designs, Design Lab is a must-shop this summer season! Eight promising creative brands have been clustered together into a living retail “laboratory” – and just in time to meet the festive demand. This new incubator store, known as the Design Lab, has opened its doors at the bustling Watershed, within the iconic V&A Waterfront precinct.



Design Lab’s shelves boast handmade leather jewellery from Nondwe Nyathi, bespoke linen and homeware from Jenine Allchin, and work by several members of Our Workshop in Langa, supported by well-known local designer Heath Nash. The Our Workshop offering includes: custom-painted and embroidered clothing from Anele Nono; wall hangings by Malibongwe Nohesi; wooden bowls and platters by Ado Ludidi; upcycled e-waste jewellery and wall-mounted trophy heads by Sizwe Shumane; beaded candelabras, wire animals and trophy heads by Richard Mandongwe; and upcycled pendant lamps and wall hangings by Heath Nash. In essence, the “lab” is a concept store with a difference. It’s a go-to for fresh style that’s proudly “Made in Cape Town”.  

All these rising brands have been set on the path of retail success thanks to a collaboration between the Craft and Design Institute (CDI) and V&A Waterfront, with additional support from Business and Arts South Africa (BASA). Now, with some help from the hearts and pockets of the public, these creatives can make their mark on the industry. 

But achieving great things as a designer takes more than just exceptional creative talent. One of the keys to unlocking success in the market is retail readiness. CDI X V&A Waterfront created Design Lab with precisely this factor in mind. It’s more than a shopfront where the selected businesses will gain hands-on experience running a store. It’s an annual programme, initiated in April 2021, that assists creatives with dedicated support through training and mentorship.

Before Design Lab’s first crop of entrepreneurs could take up the prime retail opportunity, they went through all aspects of selling products in their own space, with training provided by the CDI. For each of the eight designers involved, the learning process was tailormade. Individual business assessments, hands-on product support, business training and mentorship, were coupled with full on-site training around running a store, including merchandising and styling, sales techniques and etiquette, banking, stock taking and point of sale.


Once the first year is over, it is hoped that these eight businesses will “graduate” to their own standalone stores at the Watershed. Design Lab will then welcome a fresh crop of designers needing to break into the industry. 

“The Watershed is the Waterfront’s home to African design and its tenants represent some of the most beautiful and creative local skills, each with their own story to tell… The Design Lab programme allows us to extend the opportunity for emerging retailers to test their product in a real-world environment. Through this, it builds a new range of talented entrepreneurs accessing market at the V&A Waterfront,” states Alex Kabalin, Executive Manager: Retail at the V&A Waterfront.

Says Fran Stewart, the CDI’s manager for Market Access: “Through this initiative we are focussed on the ongoing sustainability and growth potential of the selected creative businesses; helping them with dedicated support to hold their own successfully and confidently in the marketplace. The V&A Waterfront’s Watershed has consistently provided one of the most sought-after market access opportunities for creative entrepreneurs – we are proud to be partnering with them for this new programme to accelerate the development of local creative entrepreneurs.”

The Watershed is the ultimate teething ground for new creative businesses. It is a beautiful and vibrant space at South Africa’s top tourism destination, where over 150 tenants offer more than 365 brands to visitors. These include ceramics, textiles, furniture, fashion and jewellery. All this makes it the perfect spot for Design Lab, where the eclectic mix of undiscovered products, and the enticement of new names on the design scene, adds richness and fresh excitement to the Watershed. Head down to the V&A‘s waterside neighbourhood, and discover all that’s fresh and fab at Design Lab!

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