South African design pioneer Carrol Boyes wanted her brand to live on ‘long after I’m gone’. It will!
Tributes attest to how the former teacher built a global business.
At age nine, Boyes became obsessed with drawing portraits, and at the back of a comic book saw an ad for a contraption that would allow her to draw a perfect, life-like portrait. She ordered it immediately, but it didn’t work. “I then realised that no instrument will do it for me. I will have to do it myself.”
She went on to study sculpture at the University of Pretoria, and worked as an English and art teacher for many years. While teaching in Hout Bay, she finally decided to give up her day job.
“When I turned 35 I decided the time had finally arrived to turn my passion into a business,” she told Prestige magazine. “I saved for around six months in order to be able to support myself and then I resigned from my job. It was 1989 and I already had the basement studio in my home, and so what was a part-time hobby really became my life. I worked into the night, generally finishing at around two in the morning. I didn’t want to look back and know I hadn’t tried my best to make it work.”
Her first creations were jewellery made from clay and cuttlefish, and she then moved on to copper, which she dipped in her swimming pool to create a patina on it.
Once, she couldn’t find any metal for jewellery, and out of desperation melted her own pieces (some gifts from ex-partners) as well as jewellery from her mother and grandmother to create new products to sell.
Boyes says she took a very conservative approach to building the business, and bought only materials and equipment when she could afford it.
She eventually started creating cutlery, which long fascinated her. Growing up “with only the serious Victorian stuff in the house, I couldn’t understand why we didn’t have something that was fun to use,” she said.
She sold her creations on weekends at Green Market Square in Cape Town. When her products were featured in the media, demand grew to the extent that in 1992, she opened a factory on her father’s farm in Limpopo. The company also eventually opened a facility in Paarden Eiland in Cape Town.
A demand for cutlery that could go into a dishwasher encouraged Boyes to explore cutlery made from stainless steel, and she eventually bought a stainless steel cutlery company, which manufactured items for the airline industry.
She designed the company’s products until her death this week, sculpting designs in Plasticine, whereafter the company’s art department would “fine-tune” her designs, using silicone and fibreglass, and casting the final design in resin.
All the pewter, stainless steel and some of the aluminium products are manufactured in-house.
“Nobody in the world forges stainless steel like we do,” Boyes said.
Her home decor company exports to over 51 countries, with 45 shops locally where staff own a 20% stake in their outlets.
In the video below, she says that it was never her intention that the business would grow to this extent.
“It surpassed my wildest dreams and I would like to know that from a South African point of view that it remains a South African icon and that the South African public can be proud that we have created this brand that can go across the world.”
We are indeed proud!