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.

“My goal from the beginning was to be recognised for creating unique furniture,” says David Krynauw, whose award-winning, expertly made wooden furniture and lighting can now be found in homes around the world.

Krynauw’s passion for timber goes back to his childhood, when he used to make furniture with his father in Piet Retief. “I started helping him when I was about 10, holding planks, turning wood, and making basic things.” This was a true apprenticeship: Krynauw learnt by watching his father, who only let him move onto the more dangerous machines when, in his early 20s, he started to make furniture for a living.

A decade or so later, after much media and industry recognition, Krynauw has ramped up his production and moved his workshop to Johannesburg, where he works with a dedicated team of 35.

“The transfer of skills we see in our factory is amazing,” Krynauw says. “In the early years, I would make a lot of furniture myself. Now, the people that I taught are passing the skills on to new members. The guys are learning all the time.”

Krynauw’s distinctive designs are shipped around the world: he currently exports about 30% of his production, and he aims to increase this steadily over time. “As South Africans, we carry our own signature, and the world sees the uniqueness of our aesthetic. This is exciting for us: it’s an opportunity that needs to be seized,” he says.

For Krynauw, wood is the most versatile medium on earth, and mastering one product opens doors for him to work on the next challenge. He is baffled by the fact that timber isn’t used more in construction, especially since his recent creation of a wooden chapel, which used Eucaplytus saligna trees planted by his father on their family farm. “As my business grows, we’re creating more of a market for my dad’s timber,” he says. “We’re completing a sustainable full circle within a family, and I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of that.”

Krynauw is fascinated with how new technology is enabling us to use wood in ways it’s never been used before. “I hope my work will continue to evolve and I look forward to seeing where that might lead,” Krynauw says. “One day, I’d love to make skyscrapers out of wood.”

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