Meet the team
Big Five Crafts is owned and run by a couple, Bronwyn and Alex.
Bronwyn was born and lived most of her life in South Africa, loving and often exploring the traditional side of the country. She came to the UK 6 years ago and missed the artwork and beautiful wooden carvings that formed part of her upbringing. After trying unsuccessfully to buy some good quality South African items in the UK a plan started to form! On a recent trip back to South Africa, Big Five Crafts was born. Bronwyn and Alex visited some of the villages and met the people handcrafting the products that are now imported to the UK.
Great care is taken to ensure that only the best quality Southern African products are imported to the UK, while also making sure the talented craftsmen and women are always given a fair price for their work.
About Our Wooden Products
We specialise in importing the finest handmade wooden products from Southern Africa.We buy direct from the craftsmen in their villages and import the products ourselves, therefore cutting out any middle men. This allows us to offer both a fair price to the craftsmen as well as being able to offer great prices!
Each item of our current stock has been lovingly handmade from responsibly sourced local timber in the villages of the Magaliesburg mountains, South Africa. As each item has been individually crafted they are all unique and we are pleased to offer a wide range of choices to suit every taste.
Caring for your Wooden Product
Do not place your wooden item in front of a radiator or other direct heat source. Avoid placing in direct sunlight or in front of a strong draught such as a fan. These items are not suitable to be stored outside. The colour of real wood matures with exposure to light, so it is important to rotate ornaments regularly to avoid noticeable colour differences occurring.
Your wooden ornament will need to be oiled every three to four months. Olive Oil or furniture oil is best. Always use a clean cloth.
To maintain the quality of your wooden item please follow the care instructions.
All of our wooden products are carved from wood that has been fully dried and acclimatised in South Africa. As wood is a natural product, and inherently unpredictable, we cannot however guarantee that our products will not warp or split over time. We cannot provide a warranty on our wooden products to cover these events as they occur naturally and are completely out of our control. If you are not happy with this please return your item within 28 days for a full refund.
Ngwenya Glass was started in 1979 with the help of Swedish Aid. Amongst the many hills in Swaziland is one hill that looks like a basking crocodile, at its summit is the world’s most ancient iron ore mine, dating back 43 000 years, and at its foot is the small village called Ngwenya (SiSwati name for “crocodile”). In this village is Ngwenya Glass, where a small group of Swazi craftsmen and women – with age old artistry – breathe life into enchanting interpretations of the animals and birds of Africa as well as a range of tableware, drinking glasses, vases and jugs.
Since its rebirth in 1987, Ngwenya Glass has been more than an inspiring success story. It is an environmentalist’s dream. The products are all handmade from recycled glass. Most of this is from soft drink bottles, gathered from all over Swaziland. Not only are the people of Swaziland encouraged to collect the bottles, but also Ngwenya Glass works with the local schools to instil in the children a sense of environmental awareness. In exchange for building materials and the sponsorship of the soccer team, the students must participate in roadside clean-up campaigns.
Ngwenya Glass now employs over 70 skilled workers, including 2 of the original blowers and 4 of the original other staff. Mr Sibusiso Mhlanga, who underwent advanced training in Sweden during the 70’s, has tutored new apprentices in the age-old art of glassblowing and has visited Sweden a couple of times in the past few years to once again work with some of the leading glassblowers in the world. Sibusiso also assisted world-renowned master glassblower, Jan-Eric Ritzman at Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, USA in July 1998.
Ngwenya Glass also launched the Kingdom’s most successful wildlife conservation fund to date. Known as the Ngwenya Glass Rhino and Elephant Fund, its proceeds go directly to Mkhaya Game Reserve, a refuge for endangered species in the Swaziland lowveld, saving these rare and endangered animals from the brink of extinction for a second time in the recent history of Swaziland. A percentage of Ngwenya Glass sales worldwide is donated to this Fund.
Groenfontein Toy Project
Groenfontein Toy Project – 100% handmade
The following text is taken from the Groenfontein Toy Project website and explains how the project started and the support they give to the women that work on the project.
The Groenfontein Toy Project is a community-based initiative for the unemployed women of the Groenfontein Valley outside Calitzdorp.
We started the project in July 2011 and currently have six trained women in our ranks. This number is set to swell with an increase in product sales.
Renee Leger, a fine arts and interior design graduate, is the creative driving force behind the project, while hubbie Paul takes care of the messy business of finance and general admin. Back at the rockface, our inspiring neighbour Mimi Linder has the toughest job of all: that of day to day production manager.
We have set up a dedicated workshop for the project, where training and production takes place in a convivial and supportive environment. Apart from acquiring a new skill, most of our members have progressed to the point where they can produce a highly sellable product in the competitive open market, whether it be a cute donkey, rag doll or teddy. All completed products are paid for immediately.
The main market for our handmade toys tends to be be high-end decor shops. We’re currently exploring the international market, with a number of leads showing good promise. Like any business, the challenge will be to balance production with sales, supply with demand.
Apart from the regular workshops our members receive ‘toy kits’ to take home with them – this is central to the project as it provides ongoing employment and income, rather than an experience of ‘one-offs’.
We hope to achieve several goals with the project…
1. To provide the unemployed women of our valley with a steady income. To this end we are proud to say that several of our members have already become instant breadwinners, though admittedly coming off a near zero base.
2. To teach the women a new skill that they can take forward into other initiatives. We find most of our members had some sewing experience; all they needed was a little guidance, affirmation, and a product to channel their skills and enthusiasm into.
3. To create a meaningful and pleasant work context where people can come together several days a week without domestic distraction and the usual home stresses. It’s most gratifying to witness the subtle personal growth unfolding before us.
4. On a wider front we would like to create a working model that can be rolled out to other communities. Our main vehicle in this direction is the creation of a ‘craft collective’ – nurturing and encouraging a number of similar projects that are drawn together by common goal and shared resources, whether it be a dedicated website, paid marketer and overlapping sales network.
The Groenfontein Toy Project represents what can be termed a ‘social enterprise’: a project with social goals (employment, income generation and skills development), but driven by business principles. In our case all labour and materials are covered directly by product sales, whereas other overheads, such as training and day to day office expenses, are kindly funded by a private trust. Although only just a little over a year on the block we are already well on the road to being self-funded. By demonstrating a workable alternative to the ‘charity model’ common to most community projects we hope that other poor Karoo communities can be encouraged to adopt a similar sustainable approach and we can all learn from each other.
Can you help? You sure can… Spread the word to your friends, Like us on Facebook, recommend our products to your local shop, write an article on us, visit our gorgeous valley and see firsthand what we’re doing, buy a couple of our adorable products… Every little bit helps!
We would love to hear from you.
Paul and Renee Leger
We would like to credit some very good friends for helping us out with out business and our website.
- Firstly we would like to thank Nicole at Montage for creating our amazing logo, and generally being extremely supportive.
- We would also like to thank David George for his amazing photography skills that have helped us to bring our products alive on our website.
- And we would like to thank Electronic Communities Ltd for their continued support and professionalism in hosting our site.