Siphesihle Mshibe takes the term “bespoke” to a new level with his multi-purpose smart furniture design company, Songa, which recently got him onto Design Indaba’s 40 Upcoming Designers to Watch 2017 list and a position in the finals of the PG Bison 1.618 competition
An interior design student and art enthusiast, Mshibe fell in love with designing furniture at the Durban University of Technology and in design competitions. He didn’t know what the goal was when he started entering competitions, nor did he know it would result in the establishment of his smart furniture design company, Songa.
The 23-year-old entrepreneur wants his designs used and appreciated by people from all walks of life. He designs his furniture with an eye for what the future may look like and also considers the practical application and quality of the furniture. Mshibe’s decision to become an entrepreneur was inspired by multiple requests for his work, which he views as a coincidental occurrence that has lead to a self-sustaining business. “In view of the current unemployment rate, to be able to create business opportunity and a better life for myself and others is a privilege,” he says.
With the growth of the middle class in SA, we’re seeing more investment in young creatives. The annual Design Indaba is one such example, as it gives up-and-coming creatives the opportunity to get mentored by established brands and showcase their art under the 40 Upcoming Artists to Watch banner.
“Although natural talent in furniture design can take you far, a tertiary education is important in that it gives you a better understanding of an industry.”
He describes his work as “multi-purpose smart furniture” and Songa, which means “fold” in Zulu and Shangaan is a business name that fits. He says” “That’s what my product is about; folding modular furniture that can fit in any space and can be arranged in any desired way, with an added traditional aesthetic feel.”
Some of his biggest challenges are getting people to buy into the idea and juggling his fourth-year studies with developing the Songa brand. A big concern with the production process of his furniture is the finish and the quality of the product. The Durban-born perfectionist is working on finding a way to get his product fabricated exactly the way he wants with limited resources.
One of his mentors is Siya Mbele of Pinda Designs. Mshibe stresses the importance of having a mentor to rely on for advice and help with creative blocks, saying he believes “it’s easy for them to help because they’ve been where you are”. He looks up to global furniture design company Ikea that, like Mshibe, designs a Scandinavian-inspired product range, which he twists by adding an African element.
With plans to continue to obtain a Master’s degree, this creative believes in balancing talent with a formal education to give yourself a better chance. Part of his near-future leaps involves working abroad in three different countries to learn more about interior design and bringing skills back to South Africa where he will finally base his business.
As far as his career advancement rate is concerned, the motto he lives by – “play hard; party hard” – seems to be working well for him.
Pictured: Siphesihle Mshibe