Shopping in Cape Town: handmade crafts

by vickisleet

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;, an impressive organisation that has helped scores of craftsmen develop their skills - their retail store is crammed with smalls that are ideal mementoes.

Market report

For items that are more obviously African, head for the Pan African Market (76 Long Street; +27 21 426 4478; 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.

Contemporary crafts

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; 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;, 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; 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; 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; 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).

Good buys

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;, 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.


I am a freelance lifestyle journalist and editor, and write for the likes of Time Out Cape Town, Eat Out, Eat In, Food & Travel UK and British Airways Horizons amongst others.

I also edit a blog that regularly features exciting places to see in Cape Town. I have been writing for a living for the past ten years, prior to which I was involved in the food industry.

I’m a born and bred Capetonian and though I’ve lived and worked overseas and have travelled to many different cities, there is certainly no place like Cape Town AKA the Mother City – a place I like to call ‘the Mama of all Cities’. And when you see the plethora of breathtaking beaches, taste the new world wines, dine at the world class restaurants and bed down in some of the top notch hotels, I’m certain you’ll agree.

In recent years, Cape Town’s become a design and shopping hub too, so once you’ve sipped some local wines, scraped your plate clean, dusted the beach sand off your feet and popped up to the top of Table Mountain –spend some time at some of the city’s contemporary art galleries and interesting independent craft and design shops and see if you can find the perfect memento of your Cape Town trip. I thank my lucky stars daily that my work involves seeing, tasting and testing in the city’s shops, restaurants and hotels – and I love sharing my discoveries.

My Cape Town

Where I always grab a coffee/tea/hot chocolate: While the Vida é Caffe dark hot chocolate really does it for me (and if I drank coffee I’d probably join the ranks of regulars who’re hooked) I’m a Melissa’s The Food Shop hot chocolate gal through and through. They’re a milky confection of melted chocolate-hazelnut paste and the perfect accompaniment for a me-time magazine-filled morning.

Books for inspiration: Quivertree Publishing’s Hot Afro is a visual feast of many a South African (many of them Capetonian) home and offers eye candy and insight into local style.

Where to be seen this summer: Built for the FIFA World Cup held in 2010, the three-kilometre long fan mile takes people from the central business district to the magnificent Cape Town Stadium and its park-like surrounds - from here it’s a short stroll to the six-kilometre long Sea Point Promenade, where locals and visitors alike take in the sparkling Atlantic views, indulge in ice creams, join impromptu soccer games on the lawns or eye out the 'Walking the Road' statues installation currently based here.

The most breathtaking view: Unless the weather’s terrible or you have a really good excuse, going up to the top of Table Mountain is a must. Take the easy route up and down via the cable car or if you’re fit, the Platteklip Gorge hike will take around two hours - either way the views of the city and the Cape Peninsula are spellbinding.

My favourite stroll:  On the Atlantic Seaboard side, the Sea Point Promenade with its blue rinse grannies walking their dogs, bronzed adonises sweating up a storm on their daily jogs and mums pushing their charges in their buggies, there's never a dull moment and did I mention the beautiful sea views on this kilometres-long stretch? On the other side of the mountain is the Muizenberg-St James catwalk - a shortish catwalk with breathtaking views of False Bay. if i'm in the city for a meeting - if I have time, a leisurely stroll through The Company's Garden always has a restorative effect.

Best spot for some peace and quiet: I love Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens with its neverending rolling lawns, mountain vistas and sights of the city is one of the city's most well loved gems. Take a blanket and a book and spend an afternoon snoozing under a tree.

City soundtrack: do yourself a favour, pop into any music store and buy a copy of a Freshly Ground CD - their Afro fusion sound is uplifting, heartwarming and a true indication of our beautiful rainbow nation. You'd do well to buy a copy of the latest Goldfish CD too - you'll love the electro jazz that's taking these talents all over the world.

Shopaholics beware: If protecting your plastic from bargains, one-off finds and must-have buys is a priority, don’t even think about venturing to Long and Kloof Streets. The two interconnecting arteries wind through the city virtually up to the mountain - on Long you’ll find edgy clothing boutiques, designer sneaker stores and pavement cafés teeming with well-heeled twenty and thirtysomethings (try out Royale Eatery & Royale Kitchen for the best burgers in town and some great people watching). Stroll up Kloof Street and stop in at smart lifestyle boutiques like, Nap and Lim and make sure you take a look at Heartworks for cutting edge crafts by local talents.

Don't leave without: visiting the top of Table Mountain, you'll kick yourself if you don't. Trying dried meat biltong or a sweet and syrupy koeksister (a doughnut type delicacy), braving our chilly Atlantic waters and having fish and chips at Hout Bay harbour. Gifts? When I travel overseas I always take an animal or two made by a local craftsmen out of recycled plastic and they never fail to illicit a charmed response.