The work of South African textile designers has changed significantly over the last thirty years. Thirty years ago textile designers in the home sector market were recognised as skilled, professional workers. Primarily employed by large textile manufacturers, they were formally qualified, worked in large design studios, and had control over their work and creativity. Designing by hand, their creative abilities were recognised in the industry and they were accorded due status and respect. From the late 1980s / early 1990s technological changes began to undermine some designers’ autonomy and control but there was still acceptance that those designing for the home/furnishing market were an elite and that the new technologies were not suitable for their type of work. But from the mid-1990s South Africa, and in particular the textile industry, began to integrate rapidly into the global markets.
This paper examines the impact of this globalisation on the work of South African home textile designers. It argues that the way in which the global integration of the textile supply chain has happened in South Africa has facilitated dramatic changes in the work of textile designers. As a consequence textile designers do not enjoy the status, autonomy and control of their work that was previously evident. Furthermore, the paper suggests, that just as the new technologies have played a key role in enabling the development of the global supply chain, so they have also allowed and even facilitated this marginalisation. The paper thus opens up a new area for discussion and draws attention to a different dimension of globalisation in impacting on the work of a particular profession.
The research is based on a qualitative methodology. Utilising snowball sampling, in-depth interviews have been conducted with South African textile designers and other key informants in the supply chain.