Gracious Dube (33) from Hout Bay has always had an eye for fashion, but never did she think her handmade purses from Rooibos tea bags would one day be sold as a hot fashion accessory in Paris – the fashion capital of the world.
Growing up in Harare, a career as an artist wasn’t encouraged by her parents, but when she moved to South Africa and got involved with Original T-Bag Designs in 2006, her creativity took flight.
Original T-Bag Designs is a company that started out as a social responsibility project by founder, Jill Heyes to help impoverished women from Imizamo Yethu to earn money by making unique arts and crafts from tea bags and boxes. Heyes, a former art teacher trained Dube in various art mediums and encouraged her to trial new product ideas as a way to boost her income.
Whilst holidaying in South Africa, French fashion designer, Carine Khalil who focuses on upcycling products was intrigued by Dube’s eye-catching tea bag purses, which she spotted at the V&A Waterfront. Kahlil has since worked with Dube on recreating her Rooibos purse for the Paris market, which sells at Ithemba Design Ethik – a top fashion and decor boutique – owned by Kahlil. Dube says the experience of working with Khalil has been awe-inspiring.
To make her fashionable purses, which are lined with silk, Dube starts off by drying and ironing about 45 to 50 Rooibos tea bags. Once done, the tea bags are varnished and either glued or carefully stitched onto the silk.
Some purses are also decoratively painted to add to the unique look. Kahlil has also commissioned Dube to make a lampshade and basket from Rooibos tea bags, which are equally big sellers.
“Funds generated from my designs have helped me to secure a flat in Hout Bay where I live with my 11-year-old son, Dion and my mom.”
‟I’ve always believed in the power of education and am now able to pay for him to go to a good school that will open doors for him. From a business perspective, Heyes has also taught me the basic principles of marketing such as pricing a product right, knowing what products customers want and to never compromise on quality,” says Dube.
“It’s wonderful to see how artists the world-over are incorporating rooibos tea bags, leaves and even boxes in their art. It’s also a great way to upcycle and gives rooibos tea bags a second life.”
‟The concept of painting on or using tea bags in fashion is truly unique and forces artists to work on a canvas that isn’t blank, but is instead imprinted with odd colours and textures. The creative possibilities are endless,” says Anele du Toit spokesperson for the SA Rooibos Council.
Like Dube, other artists from Original T-Bag Designs also use recycled tea bags that are donated by tea-lovers from all over the world to make anything from animal sculptures to gift cards, trays, notebooks, dolls, soap, fridge magnets, and other such as keepsake boxes, heart-shaped door signs/posts, coasters and even beaded jewellery.
Other products made from Rooibos and other tea bags include purses, handbags, trays, paintings and more.
For more information visit www.tbagdesigns.co.za