TAKING THE HUMBLE TEA BAG TO NEW HEIGHTS
Taking the Humble Tea Bag to New Heights
WHEN 33-YEAR-OLD ZIMBABWEAN NATIVE, GRACIOUS DUBE, MOVED TO HOUT BAY NEAR CAPE TOWN IN 2006, SHE HAD NO IDEA THAT HER LOVE FOR ROOIBOS TEA WOULD RESULT IN A CREATIVE ENDEAVOUR THAT WOULD BECOME ALL THE RAGE IN ONE OF THE FASHION CAPITALS OF THE WORLD.
Gracious Dube is a woman that truly embodies her name. Her journey from humble beginnings in Zimbabwe to the high-end fashion boutiques of Paris is a transformative and empowering tale that has blessed both Dube and her family in ways beyond her wildest dreams.
A NEW START IN SOUTH AFRICA
After leaving her home town of Harare in 2006, Dube moved to South Africa and found her feet in the informal settlement of Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay in the Western Cape. Her decision to leave the country of her birth was spurred by the political and economic turmoil Zimbabwe was facing at the time and her desire to seek out a better life for herself and her family. She immediately set out looking for work, but found it hard with no friends or extended family in the Cape, and so she sought support from a local church in Hout Bay. It was here, at Valley Church, that she met a social worker by the name of Lesley who introduced her to former art teacher and founder of OriginalT-Bag Designs, Jill Heyes.
Heyes started Original T-Bag Designs as a responsibility project to help impoverished women from Imizamo Yethu to earn money by creating unique arts and crafts from recycled tea bags and boxes. “When I met Jill for the first time, she sat with myself and five other ladies for two hours and showed us how to paint the tea bags,” Dube recalls. “She then sent us home to do 10 different designs and when I came back with 50, I got carried away, she loved all 50 of my tea bags and bought all of them from me.”
AN ARTISTIC TALENT REALISED
It wasn’t long before Dube’s natural penchant for art became clear to Heyes, and Dube soon found herself employed as a fulltime designer at Original T-Bag Designs, where she was given the freedom to explore her own creativity. “I love drinking Rooibos and it was whilst drinking a cup that I came up with the idea of creating a purse from tea bags,” she recalls.“Initially, I tried making it with lots of different tea bags, but the Rooibos tea bags were ideal. Not only do they give my purses a beautiful rich colour, but they also tend to be a lot stronger than other tea bags.”
“At first I split and empty about 45 or 50 tea bags and then I iron them,” she explains.“Once they are ironed, I use a gel to bind them together – this creates my ‘fabric’. Once it has dried I sew the tea bags to the lining and then add the zip.”
Dube’s bags and purses where an instant hit and it wasn’t long before they caught the attention of some extremely important names in fashion.
FROM CAPE TOWN TO COUTURE
One such designer who was smitten with the eye-catching tea bag purses was French fashion designer, Carine Khalil.Whilst holidaying in the Western Cape, Khalil – whose focus is on working with upcycled products – spotted the purses at the Original T-Bag Designs store in the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront. She was intrigued by the unique designs and immediately got in touch with Dube, whom she has since been working with, recreating the Rooibos purses for the Paris fashion market where she sells them for €26 at Ithemba Design Ethik – a top fashion and decor boutique owned by Kahlil.
“I never thought something this big would ever happen to me,” Dube says.“When I first heard Carine wanted to sell my work I didn’t believe it. It’s an amazing feeling. In the future, I would like to expand my range of bags and create different ideas and designs, and hopefully one day I will be able to go to Paris and see my bags there. But for now, I am just concentrating on making the highest quality bags that people seem to love and that sell well. I have big dreams and I know I will achieve them one day.”
GRACIOUS BY NAME, GRACIOUS BY NATURE
With the funds generated from her designs, Dube has been able to secure a flat in Hout Bay where she now lives with her mother and 11-year-old son, Dion, whom she is able to send to a good school, opening doors for him as she has had opened for her. She has also learned the basic principles of marketing and understanding how business works – something that will stand her and her successful work as an artist in good stead in the future. And so, with the humble Rooibos tea bag making waves in Paris, and Dube’s purses all the rage in the high-end fashion capital of the world, her future seems well and truly blessed.
For more info about Gracious Dube and the other tea bag artists, visit www.tbagdesigns.co.za; www.facebook.com/rooiboscouncil/ or visit their shop at The Watershed, V&A Waterfront.
Gracious Dube PRETTY BAGS & PRETTY POWERFUL Rooibos contains polyphenols that have anti-inflammatory and antiviral qualities that help with fighting colds and flu.