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Our Story


A Tale with Many Turns

Twenty colourful years ago, Ashanti Design was founded as a vehicle to empower underprivileged communities across Madagascar and Malawi.

The aim was to give them a way to continue the legacy of their traditional crafts while earning a liveable income. Since then, the business and brand have supported thousands of individuals across the continent and introduced the world to an elevated vision of African design, in light.

This is our story.

2003: Rob Approached by Aid to Artisans

After running a business called Tradewinds for many years – selling parasols internationally – Rob Walker was approached to work in Mozambique for an NGO called Aid to Artisans. He assisted the community in designing products for the international market, including beautifully hand-carved wooden bowls and servers.

2008: Rob is Called to Madagascar

After successfully catalysing the project in Mozambique, Rob was called to foreign shores once again – this time to assist a project in Madagascar upcycling fabric from the industrial wastelands of the fast-fashion industry. While the project was going well on the ground, with encouraging community participation and recycling success, it was struggling financially. Rob had to find a way to make this recycled fabric commercially viable.


2008 cont. THE BEANBAG

Bringing a few sample throws back from Madagascar, Rob arranged a meeting with Fox Browne Creative, hoping to sell some fabric to the high-fliers of the design world. During the meeting, he noticed a beanbag in the corner of the room and inspiration struck.

Rob realised that the durable and colourful fabric emerging from Madagascar was perfectly suited to enrobe a beanbag with longevity and flare. He ended up producing the first Ashanti Design beanbag in South Africa and it was an instant success.

2010: The First Store Opens

Rob opened the first store in Woodstock, on Sir Lowry Road, and it traded without a name for three years, making custom beanbags for customers in the colours of their choice.

It was also at this time that Rob started selling woven baskets which he sourced from another trader in Malawi.

2011: A Malawian Mission

Rob was invited to assist a friend embarking upon a government-led upliftment project in Malawi. On arrival, the duo were met by then-Vice President Joyce Banda, who was passionate about the upliftment of rural people, especially  women. 

Rob spent two years flying back and forth, visiting villages across the nation in Joyce’s presidential convoy and helping them design commercially viable baskets which he would then truck back to South Africa to sell from the Woodstock store and wholesale to large retailers.


2011 cont. Malawi on the Map

This period was critical for Malawian craft. The support of Joyce, who became president in 2012, and Rob's own first-hand experience provided the circumstances neccesary to put Malawian woven baskets on the map within the SA design and decor world.

When a new president was elected in 2014, Joyce left for the US but the connections Rob had forged remained.

2013: Rob puts ‘Ashanti Design’ on the Door

In 2013 Rob decided it was finally time to name the store in Sir Lowry Road. He reached out to friends and family the world over with a list of options and the consensus was almost unanimous. ‘Ashanti Design’ was born. 

2015: The Kloof Street Store Opens

The unknown store in Woodstock got a serious upgrade when Ashanti opened at the top of buzzing Kloof Street. A cult following immediately formed around the multi-coloured new kid flaunting itself on Kloof, and business started booming. 

2017: Rob Orders too Many Placemats

Rob ordered way too many placemats from Madagascar, and they weren’t selling. So he decided to roll one up in an amateur attempt at creating a lampshade. And people loved them.

The shades were picked up by Tracy Lee Lynch, who now heads  Nando’s design team, and she used them in an installation at Cape Quarter.

Lynch loved them so much that she carried the shades through Nando’s head-office redesign, and when the international restaurant giant decided it wanted to use these shades in all its stores, it was a breakthrough moment.

Who knew it could all start with a placemat?


2022: A New Chapter

Since the Nando’s breakthrough, we’ve been tugged in many directions. Trying to balance the operations of the Kloof Street store with the massive expansion in our lighting range (we do more than just placemats now) has been an exciting challenge. 

We always had a production facility in Paarden Eiland but everything felt disjointed and the pandemic really sealed the deal.

So in 2022, we decided to open a new chapter. We closed the Kloof Street store to redirect all of our energy towards lighting, from one location.

We expanded our workshop in Paarden Eiland, created a viewing room … and we couldn’t be happier.

Ashanti Design is now focusing our energy almost completely on our lighting range, which has been a hugely freeing exercise. But  customers who’d still like to browse through the other retail offerings need only make a short 10-minute trip out of the city to visit.

We can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings….

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