One moment you’re looking at a glossy billboard on the side of the road and the next you’re carrying it in the form of a chic bag.
Moipone Ntseke and Lise Kuhle, owners of StarBorn Creative Designs in Johannesburg, are in their own way transforming the way we view the world by reinventing unlikely objects – in this case, discarded billboards – and creating utility items out of scrap.
“As an entrepreneur, you’re an opportunist but a very good opportunist. Where the need arises for you to provide a product and where there’s a loophole, you enter. The green market was growing, it still is growing, and I wanted to penetrate it,” says Ntseke.
Founded in 2011, the company designs and manufactures laptop bags, iPad covers and sling bags using PVC from recycled billboards, then swathed in shweshwe, a printed dyed cotton fabric widely used in traditional South African clothing.
They also source used soles and create shoes from the bits. Ntseke knows her target market and ensures the bags they make match the shoes. The shoes are then sold in bags made out of discarded cushion covers. For Ntseke and Kuhle, everything has a use.
“The last thing companies want to do is see [their billboards] when they’re done. So they dump it, they dump it to us,” says Ntseke.
The duo also fashions African-inspired jewelry, which have appeared on South African television shows Generations and Muvhango.
The designs are sold to companies for corporate events and can often be found at Johannesburg’s local markets.
Ntseke and Kuhle work with Out of the Box Skills, a skills and training NGO in Germiston, in the east rand of Gauteng, a province in South Africa. The community functions like an ecosystem, helping each other as skills are learned and passed on. Members of the community are taught to sew and screen-print. The billboards are washed, cut and sewn.
“I had the design [ideas] but I didn’t have the skills and if there’s already a cooperative or organization with skills, why not empower them?” says Ntseke.
Ntseke grew up in a two-room shack outside her maternal grandmother’s house in Soweto, a predominantly black township. Her inspiration for her business was simple.
“I started with something I like so we began with jewelry. I learned a three-day [jewelry making] course in eight minutes. I think it was a record,” she says.
Ntseke then partnered with Kuhle, the brain behind the billboard bags. One can argue that their handmade creations are selling themselves.