Mpho Vackier (37) left her blossoming career as a metallurgical engineer to become an interior designer. She shares how her childhood dream has become a reality. By Kwanele Mathebula Pictures Peter Whitfield
I was born in Meadowlands, Soweto. My mother was a self-employed seamstress, and I used to watch her make clothes. This sparked my love for creating things. My dream was to be a fashion designer, but I knew that due to finances, I couldn’t afford to pursue it. So, I opted for engineering because I was good at maths and enjoyed chemistry. In 2000, while in matric I applied and received a bursary to study chemical engineering from Impala Platinum. Unfortunately, by the time I went to apply at the University of Johannesburg, the course was full. I then settled for extraction metallurgy.
My engineering career didn’t last long. After graduating in 2004, I interned at Impala Platinum in Rustenburg and worked as a technician at Anglo research labs for a year. When my contract ended, I spent six months at home looking for a job. A year later, I started working at a copper mining company in Phalaborwa, Limpopo. I worked here for two years. While there, I met my husband and wanted to move back to Johannesburg to be with him. Fortunately, in 2008, I was head-hunted by Lonmin in Pretoria. Two years into it, I felt unhappy because my time was split between head office and the mine in the North West. And, the price of platinum plummeted which impacted my job. So, I took this as a sign and quit so I could go back to school.
Design school rekindled my passion for making things. In 2011, I began studying interior design at Inscape Design School in Pretoria. During my course, I realised that I liked product design more than what I was studying. But, I stuck to it because the it was expensive. I completed my degree in 2014, and got a job at an interior design company. After a year, I quit and ventured out on my own. In 2015, I launched my interior design company, DesignPeo. A few months later, I was offered the opportunity to showcase at the Decorex Expo. I jumped at the opportunity to design a few products. This gave birth to my product design company, The Urbanative, which I officially launched in 2016 at the Hello Ambassador Expo. I also showcased at the Design Indaba where I was named one of the emerging creatives in the class of 2017.
For a long time, the African aesthetic has been linked to beads. This hasn’t been the case for me. My products aim to expose the world to other design aesthetics that we have to offer. I’ve done this through my ranges such as the Ndebele-inspired collection. My pieces are about connecting people from different backgrounds. They are about creating a conversation between modern and cultural, as well as man-made and natural products.
Turning opportunities into sales has been a challenge. Décor expos have played a huge part of marketing my business, but have resulted in only a few sales. So, I looked at ways to turn that marketing into profit. I learnt that when it comes to making a sale, I need to build relationships with my clients. Production has also been a challenge with regards to sourcing materials for my pieces. Fortunately, this year, we’ve started making some products in-house, such as all our timber items.
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