Some may say the luxury industry is a victim of its own success. In a consumption-driven world, luxury items have become so mainstream and accessible that they have gone a long way towards losing their exclusivity.

It’s no wonder then that many high-end companies are turning to craftsmanship and traditional production methods as a way to distinguish their brands. Consumers, too, are beginning to see the value of how much time and passion went into the creation of a product, and how much skill was required to conceive that item.

The South African creative landscape is no exception. We speak to eight local companies and designers whose hands-on approach to production is spearheading the craft revival. These makers are creating unique, authentic, tactile, and sustainable products, with which the buyer cannot help but experience a personal relationship. They are defining craft as the new luxury.

Image: Sarah Nankin

Blowing glass amid hot furnaces is a physically demanding job, but it’s all that David Reade has known since his teenage years. “When I was 16, I visited a glass studio on the Isle of Wight. I watched the master spinning out a glass platter, and it grabbed me completely,” he says. It took Reade three weeks to convince the studio to take on another apprentice, and a further seven years to learn the art. “You pick it up as you go,” he says. “As you progress, you’re given a more complex job.”

Indeed, he has progressed, and 40 years later, Reade, who moved to South Africa in 1984, is the country’s most well-known glassblower. He creates both functional and sculptural works, as well as commissions, such as bottles for some of the country’s top brandies, large-scale lighting installations for architects, and containers for brands such as Frazer Parfum.

Reade makes his clear glass himself, from “true Cape sand”, and each piece starts as a ball of molten glass at the end of an iron pipe. Reade’s assistant then blows through the pipe, while he shapes the ball, using handheld tools. “I make particularly large, heavy pieces, which becomes rather technical,” he says.

When it comes to passing on his skills, Reade has trained up a team, a fact that he is particularly grateful for these days. “I find I need assistance with the more physical parts of the job now,” he says. “Glassblowing is incredibly demanding work. My body is breaking down.”

Accomplished as he is, Reade admits that he is still learning as he goes. One challenge is trying to envision an often varying final product. “Glass has a mind of its own, and facets will look different in any space. “Now that I think of it, nothing is easy when you’re working with glass,” he says.

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