Local crafts and handmade wares can be found in all corners of Cape Town. Here's where to buy the best and where you'll get good value
You’d have to be blind not to be impressed with the level of skills displayed by our local craftspeople. A large majority of craftsmen come from Zimbabwe, a country well known for the quality of artistic skills handed down from generation to generation. Many of these craftsmen can be found in groups on street corners with their intricate, often beaded pretties and they’re generally open to negotiation, within reason. Things to look out for include plastic animals made from recycled plastic, beaded wirework from animals to baskets and bowls (at Christmas time the beaded Rudolph’s that pop up all over town are irresistible). If you’d like to see some of these craftsmen at work, pop into Streetwires (77 Shortmarket Street; +27 21 426 2475; www.streetwires.co.za), an impressive organisation that has helped scores of craftsmen develop their skills - their retail store is crammed with smalls that are ideal mementoes.
For items that are more obviously African, head for the Pan African Market (76 Long Street; +27 21 426 4478; www.panafrican.co.za) and Green Market Square, both situated on Shortmarket Street (off Long Street) and within spitting distance of each other. The latter has been a market square since the earliest days of the colony and is now a central trading space for vendors from all over the African continent. There are woodcarvings, jewellery, figurines carved from soapstone, masks and ethnic textiles and clothing. Again, bargaining is definitely possible.
The Pan African Market is situated in a gorgeous Art Deco building over three floors. It is a bustling, noisy, fragranced space crammed with tailors and stallholders and traders, each more keen than the other to make a sale. Good for buying masks en masse, great if you’re after an ethnic something to wear (a tailor will whip something up in a day or two) and, if you’re hungry, order something hot and spicy from the on-site eatery where all the traders eat. There’s even fresh African grown coffee.
There are a number of Afro oriented stores that steer clear of the usual tourist ephemera. One of these is Heartworks (98 Kloof Street, Gardens; +27 21 424 8419; www.heartworks.co.za) on Kloof Street where the owner works with local craftspeople to create contemporary wares that are undoubtedly African – I buy lots of presents for friends here as well as at one of my favourite bastions of local ceramists and crafting talents Marigold (21 De Lorentz Street; +27 21 422 5451) which is just around the corner. Another is Africa Nova in De Waterkant (Cape Quarter, 72 Waterkant Street, Green Point; +27 21 425 5123; www.africanova.co.za), a bastion of contemporary African style, curated by an owner who is passionate about the level of talent we have locally. From ceramics to potato print textiles, this is part exhibition space part retail store.
A local success story is ceramics brand Imiso (The Old Biscuit Mill, 373-375 Albert Road, Salt River; +27 21 447 7668; www.imisoceramics.co.za) whose products have grown to become sought after commodities with collectors from all over the world clamouring for their latest vessels. If you’re planning on making a trip up Long Street, pop into Tribal Trends (72-74 Long Street; +27 21 423 8008; firstname.lastname@example.org) where African arts and crafts are elevated by their very placement in this oh-so-stylish boutique setup.
If you're planning on visiting Kalk Bay you will find plenty of fascinating stores selling African artefacts and contemporary collectables. I'm a fan of Kalk Bay Modern (1st Floor Olympia Buildings, 136 Main Rd, Kalk Bay; +27 21 788 6571) whose ever-changing stock is really droolworthy as well as Artvark (48 Main Road, Kalk Bay; +27 21 788 5584; www.artvark.org) where I know I'll always find carefully sourced decorative and gift items (the informal vendors who hang out outside Olympia Café and Deli also have cool things like beaded skulls and knick knacks).
And for genuine African crafts that are easy to stash, head for Bead Merchants (223 Long Street Cape Town; 021 423 4687) where you’ll be able to buy pre-strung necklaces or, if you prefer to try your creativity at home, a series of loose beads to make into your own piece of African wearable art. I often take lengths of beads from here for when I travel – perfect for impromptu gifts for hosts or clients. A new store (well, new venue but it’s been around for ages) is Ashanti (135-137 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock; 021 461 0367; www.ashantidesign.com), based in Woodstock, a five-minute drive from the city centre. I know the owner Rob and he travels all over Africa for unusual crafts and spends time with craftspeople developing his own range. His efforts show in the gorgeous wares he has at his new showroom – especially the lengths of handwoven Madagascan cloths. He’ll ship anywhere in the world too.
More expert advice on Cape Town
For suggestions on where to stay in Cape Town, see my Cape Town Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Cape Town page.
Read my overview on Shopping in Cape Town.