Self-made designer turns sisal into furniture, decor

07Jul 2020
The Guardian
Self-made designer turns sisal into furniture, decor

​​​​​​​LEANDRA Lyimo from Tanzania gave up a two-year career in architecture to pursue her passion for design.

​​​​​​​LEANDRA Lyimo.

She especially enjoys using sisal to make eco-friendly, creative products for homes.

Leandra graduated in 2015 from Ardhi University in Dar es Salaam with a Bachelor of Architecture. She founded Refixit, a start-up social enterprise that is combining modern design and traditional skills with a focus on sustainable resources.

"Sisal is a versatile material that can make twines, shipping ropes, to decor. The workshop is located at Masaki, in Dar es Salaam," she said.

Refixit has a team of four people and all of them have been trained on how to make our products. They work alongside other service providers like carpenters, welders and wood carvers.

Her uncle who is part of the team, trained her and other two team members on how to create the patterns and products. They first learnt how to make four products, but later began experimenting with the patterns to create more products.

"So far we make more than 50 products and all items are handmade from our workshop by the team," Leandra said.

Refixit seeks to make natural products that can compete in the international arena in a quest to merge traditional skills and creativity with a modern touch.

Leandra said the process involves purchasing sisal from a factory and sourcing other materials like metal or wood from local suppliers depending on the item being made.

"The creation process begins with sketches of what is being made. If it’s a lamp for example the metal part is sent to a welder. We always make the frames in bulk to save on costs," she said.

"During my architectural studies, I learnt about building materials and I was fortunate enough to attend several workshops such as the Climate Generates Space and Structure, which was conducted in Tanzania and had students from Ardhi University, Lucerne University (Switzerland) and SLU University (Singapore). We researched on local materials that can be used in a tropical climate like Tanzania's," she said.

Leandra said they make wall hangings, rugs, plant hangers, lighting fixtures, and up-cycle furniture, table runners, partitions from sisal and there is so much more than can be made.

Their products can be used in homes, restaurants, hotels, lodges cafes, schools and offices. The cost depends on materials, labour and time used.

Leandra said customers find them through their online platforms and they also get direct clients who walk in to their shop.

Initially most of their client were foreigners, but now more local residents are buying their products.

“It is time we all learn to appreciate our resources and make something out of them; there are a lot of things that can be got from our natural resources,” she said.