Business Focus- Stonehill Originals

Tucked away behind the Bay Harbour Market, next to the Workspace is a beautifully quiet space where you will find three women diligently going about their business, sewing and dipping and dying natural fabrics and fibres; turning them into fashionable works of art. The name of the shop is Stonehill Originals and it is fully owned and run by Debbie Braunlich.

Stonehill’s story began 12 years ago when Debbie started breeding Alpaca’s, part of the Camel family that resemble Llama’s but are considerably smaller, their fibre was prized by the priests of South America for their clothing. Debbie started off with a small herd and has been herding ever since. The Alpacas are sheered once a year for their wool which is then processed into either yarn for knitting or it is used in their studio where its turned into hand-made textiles. The pure textile is known as Felt, but they also make Hybrid Felt, where the felting is done on silk or cotton. These can then be made into an end garment such as jackets, throws or baby shoes etc.

 

Debbie has a dedicated team working with her which consists of Nwabisa, who she has trained and helps her with felting. Nwabisa has been working for Stonehill for a few months now and Debbie says, “She has amazing strength in her hands and has picked up on it incredibly quickly.” There is also Liaan who is a seamstress, CMT, who works with all the designs and makes them into coats, cushion covers and various other fashion items. There are also two other gentlemen who work with them when required, they come in when there is a big job, to help with the felting. Then Robert, one of the two gentlemen, helps with the final stage because it’s quite physical, where they have to wet the wool and rub it by hand. Debbie says that she certainly tries to strive to maintain certain values with everything they do, in making sure that they work together as a team rather than a hierarchical way.

Debbie loves what she does because she loves natural textiles. They don’t work with anything man-made. They mainly work with Alpaca but they also work with Sheep’s wool (Marino), Silks and Cottons. It’s a very creative process and Debbie says when she is creating felt, it’s like creating a piece of Art, starting with a canvas and adding to it and take away from it until she is satisfied with the final product. Then they “Commit” the piece of felt, where they wet the fibre and work it until it becomes embedded. It’s an artistic process to get to the final stage.

They also do other things like “Echo dying” or as the rest of the world refers to it “Botanical Printing” where they take natural elements from Nature such as leaves, small branches and flowers. Then they place them onto either fabric or silk and put it through a process of introducing heat, where the leaves then leave their natural pigment on the fabrics.

 

The products that are created at Stonehill can often be viewed as being “One of a kind” as once the sheet of felt or silk is created with a certain colour/echo dye pattern, one or two jackets or a few clothing items will be made. So as Debbie says, “After we have sheered the animals, there is only so much grey goose you are going to get, so when I’ve run out of it, I’ve run out of it.” This makes the products they create, fairly unique.

 

“About Hout Bay, I love the fact that we are in an environment where there are two communities that have a natural empathy with fibre’s and skills” Debbie Braunlich

 

Members of Debbie’s staff reside in Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg and Debbie reflects on how much creativity there is in both communities. She says there is an incredible creativeness within them. When working with her team, once Debbie has shown Nwabisa a new technique, she allows her to come up with her own design where she says Nwabisa will firstly, get the joy of seeing her own creation at the end, and secondly, if something goes wrong it’s a wonderful learning process for them all. Debbie realises that there is an enormous amount of skills in Hout Bay that are largely untapped.

During the tourist season business is great for Stonehill, but it’s very quiet in winter. Debbie thinks that its mainly due to locals tending not to journey out a lot. During these month’s they have basically been building up skills development and products, waiting for tourist season to start again.

Debbie keeps the Alpacas on a farm in Paarl, she has about 38 animals now. She would have had about 100 but over the years she’s either bartered them away or sold them. She would like to bring two Alpacas to Hout Bay; she still needs to find a farm or someone who would be prepared to take care of them, because she would love to have them at the shop on the weekends to show people. There’s a saying that goes “From Farm to Fashion” or “From Fibre to Fashion” and that’s exactly what Stonehill is doing here. They take a product from the raw state right through to the very end and each piece is unique.

 

“It’s hand-made, its local, its sustainable, it’s ethical. All of those wonderful buzz words that we seem to be hearing at the moment.” Debbie Braunlich

The products at Stonehill are only available at their Studio, it was basically a one-person business in the past, but now it’s a two/three-person business so they don’t have the capacity to expand currently. Also, because it’s

a luxurious fibre it’s incredibly expensive even when they start working with it. Even once the product has been made there is still quite a price tag to it and if it were to be taken to other shops they would still have to add another 100/150% so it becomes a bit difficult.

“So right now, we are where we are.” Debbie Braunlich

 

Debbie has built some partnerships over the years and they are currently working on some very exciting projects that will benefit the entire community of Hout Bay. The work will be centred around skills development in the area’s of fashion and textiles, so keep an eye out for it in the near future.

To find more you can find their products and contact information on their website:

http://www.stonehilloriginals.com/