This is a story about a piece of cake. Let’s see where it goes.
There’s something that happens in my brain when I close my eyes and take a bite of the birthday cake Caroline has brought into the office. A burst of fireworks. Awakening a space of joy that sweeps out the mental cobwebs. Wipes off the darkened corners, where anxious thoughts have been collecting dust like antique furniture. Weighty, unlovely pieces that nobody likes, but that have been there for so long, there’s a kind of craven sentimentality. Oh, surely we can’t get rid of those? Who would I be without shame? My misplaced guilt?
I don’t think I’m alone in the sentiment that cake, and birthday cake specifically, holds a rare magic. One that speaks to whimsy and joy. Unshackled by age or the shrewd sensibleness that comes with it. Something on par with plunging feet-first into a crunchy pile of leaves. With the ridiculous and random delight of popping candy. To misattribute Dom Perignon, ‘Come quick, I am tasting the stars!’
In another life, I studied Journalism. Four years followed by quick disillusionment. A quest for storytelling and human-to-human connection turned sour by what soon became clear – that we are hooked on sensationalism. Drawn to the deathtrap of negativity. Sex sells – but tragedy sells better. A short-lived, toe-dip into the field (a smattering of internships, really) from since I have fought against the onslaught of righteous and unappeased comments from my mother, who cannot understand why I am not inclined to pick up a newspaper or watch the news. ‘How can you not know what’s going on in the world?’ To me, this is entirely subjective. A scope of ‘what’s going on’ varies depending on who’s asking, on whose story is being told. And the answer to that is wrapped up in politics and influence and advertising and…
Let’s just curtail this by saying that I am not an ostrich when it comes to the goings on of the world. But I am selective.
The Golden Snitch
A decade on, there are a few things I can take away from a Journalism degree. Besides the fact that I am lily-livered and have little grit for the gutsy world of hard news, there is one distilling point. It’s about the merry chase of the industry – the elusive Golden Snitch. Objectivity. There is no such thing. There is no universal truth. And should anyone tell you otherwise they need to be knocked down a peg or three. Whilst we might quest for a vision (a version, really) of veracity, the media world is no doubt negatively bent. Underpinned by a fear-mongering mentality that, if you allow it, would leave us all acutely agoraphobic. Pinned behind closed doors with the last stand of the doomsdayers.
Cold, hard fact.
This is not an exercise in denialism. Real crises – political, social, economic, environmental – are rupturing the planet on a daily basis. They have been, and will continue to do so. But this is not a story about that. This is a call for optimism. A stake on the revolutionary power of hope. Not reductive, or toxic, positivity. But hope and joy as forces for change. As energising agents.
The importance of optimism
Recently I was surprised by a conversation with champion freediver and ocean conservationist, Hanli Prinsloo. By her refreshing take on the importance of being optimistic. In her words, hopelessness would ‘spell the death of everything we care for.’ Because without hope, with only apathy as an ally, why would we change? Why would we act differently, forge on, or look for better ways of doing things? If there was nothing left to fight for, why even get out of bed in the morning?
Two years ago, on a weekend away, I had a casual conversation with the owner of the guesthouse I was staying at. I told her where I worked. Mungo? As she waved me off her property, and I thanked her for an enjoyable stay, she said 9 words that have reverberated in my memory ever since. Mungo really is the shining light of South Africa. I profess in writing this into the story, there may be a sense of immodesty. But I knew what she meant. That amidst all the stories of gloom that characterise our daily landscape, that ripple through our conversations, peppered no doubt with a South African sense of humour, that it was good, refreshing, to see a story of success. Of growth and hope and expansion. Of a company striving for something better. We deserve that – to hear stories of hope. We’ve earned it. Hope is also perhaps the greatest driver for change, the richest source of inspiration, the sharpest tool at our disposal, that will allow us to envisage a world better than this one. A place liveable for all.
In August, Mungo participated in the line-up for the 2023 African Textile Talks. An annual event, hosted by Twyg and Imiloa Collective, that offers a full day of inspiring talks and panel discussions that shine a light on – and celebrate – innovations around sustainability, environmentalism and circularity in the fashion, craft and textile industries.
Talks were presented by engaging speakers from around the continent. Stories of change and promise. But also stories that brought us down to earth. Like the representatives of the OR foundation, who showed us pictures of the Kantamanto market in Accra. Of an ocean awash with textiles. A shivering example of a city drowning in the faults of the fashion and textile industries. Where overconsumption and overconsumption have become the name of the game. And the Global South a dumping ground for the sins of the North.
The textile industry is a historical quagmire. Characterised by lack of transparency and lack of traceability. By exploitative working conditions. By gross overproduction that has led to bulging landfills and throwaway mindsets. But I’d like to think that these hidden costs are gradually coming to light. That more people are cotton-ing on.
Fetching the future
One of the contributing speakers at the Africa Textile Talks was design journalist and creative director, Bielle Bellingham. She spoke about the role of design in shaping the future. And the need to design not just new products but new behaviours. Of using our resources as makers and innovators to ‘fetch the future’. One that is beneficial for all.
After the Textile Talk’s wrapped up in Cape Town, I drove back home. To the haven of Plettenberg Bay, where the Mungo Mill and its hub of production is based. And with the conversations around the textile industry, around fears for the future, still fresh in my mind, I looked around with a new sentiment. Something that felt a little a little more… effervescent. Buoyant. Optimistic.
It’s not hard to find. When you work in a place that is naturally and abundantly beautiful. Green. Nestled between oceans. If I look out of the office where I write this, I see leaves and skyline. If I stand at the window I can hear the sea. See the waving arms of a large and stately Coral Tree. And if I take the short flight of steps into the mill adjacent, there it is. I still get a catch in my throat when I hear the sound of the looms, five years on. It comes with the knowingness that there are visions of the world where equity and good feeling are interwoven into each thread. Spaces of optimism. Spaces of joy.
Joy, like birthday cake, is better when shared.
So I asked on our WhatsApp group – to 76 weavers, dreamers, designers, cutters and cake lovers: What brought you joy today?
Here are just a few of the replies.
For me it’s walking from the shop to the mill, saying hi to all the smiley faces as I go past to nag Ginny in production about an order. The different types of greetings, the fabric coming to life as it gets woven, Norton asking for nibbles (we all mother him), checking in on the ladies in despatch, stopping to watch the guys in the warping doing their work with such pride and care, out the back door through the nursery back to the shop, the fabrics, my lovely coworkers and the wide eyes visitors. It’s great! I love it. Oh, and the Wisteria full of bumble bees buzzing next to the shop.- Jonica
Mine was walking through the mill today. I am still mesmerised by the sound of the looms and the creation of a beautiful product. Plus another bonus is working with an awesome team of people. Grateful! – Caroline
I’m on the road in Durban and for me it’s meeting our clients and customers who say, ‘We loooove Mungo, you are so lucky to work for such an amazing South African brand, the new towels are incredible, the colours are amazing, I won’t use anything else, my clients insist I use Mungo in their home…’ Just praise and more praise. It’s humbling to say the least. – Merle
I love walking along the walkway overlooking the looms, hearing the intense clatter, feeling the difference in the air/humidity, watching everyone intently working, seeing the threads weave together – it is mesmerising! – Tijen
For me it’s looking at the warp and weft threads binding together and forming the most beautiful designs. Each one with a unique story behind it. – Nicky
I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to help shape a company that has as its foundation principles and philosophies that go beyond the need to make money. It makes life infinitely more interesting to be involved in a pursuit that has some meaning. And I really enjoy offering a platform for the improvement of people’s lives in a space as beautiful as ours. – Dax
The product, the people, the place and the poetry it all makes. – Tessa