You might just be our artisan designer with the MOST cultural influences. Tell us about your connections to the various countries that influence your work.
There are 3 main countries that I am connected to and those are Zimbabwe, Switzerland and the USA. Having grown up and lived in Zimbabwe for 18 years, I was made a first hand witness to the extreme poverty that lies in abundance throughout this country. Something that is so depressing, soul dampening and heart wrenching when you are immersed in it. The exposure to this created a very strong and inherent desire within me to help and give back as much as I can to those less fortunate.
My parents (now deceased) moved over from Switzerland to Zimbabwe before I was born. Evidently, being Swiss and having the majority of relatives and family living overseas meant I got to spend a fair amount of time in Europe. (A stark contrast on all levels to life in Africa!) I was always inspired by the beauty of Switzerland and the gorgeous buildings, old towns, cathedrals and churches that are in abundance throughout the country. These aesthetically pristine objects have always been a strong source of design inspiration for me.
After I was done with college in South Africa, I moved to the USA. Again a very different way of life compared to both Africa and Europe. One of the most notable differences for me was the very strong focus on work and the vast array of opportunities that were available to everyone and anyone in the USA! This live-to-work culture inspired and influenced me to start my own business and take advantage of the benefits of American manufacturing.
You’ve worked on some fascinating celebrity pieces, including for Rihanna and Madonna. Tell us about those experiences and pieces.
I was working at Michael Schmidt studios in LA at the time. We were often working on many different celebrity costumes and accessories that were used for tours and on stage performances. The pieces generally were VERY time consuming (there were about 3-5 of us working on one project at a time). Madonna’s crown consisted of a LOT of intricate work, such as delicate crystaling and stone setting. The whole crown itself had to be hand sawn out of a flat piece of metal and formed, soldered, plated etc. I remember one day when we got the design briefing for a ‘strap around’ shoulder piece for Kelley Rowlands’ music video, Michael came into the studio in the evening with a case of beer and told us to all grab an alcoholic beverage and get the creative juices flowing! We then proceeded by cutting out paper forms and shapes and pinning them to the mannequin late into the night. It was such a unique work environment, with many very long nights - but was so exciting and rewarding!
We have read about your friend from Zimbabwe named Martha who has inspired you not only creatively, but in life. Can you tell us more about Martha and your work in Zimbabwe?
I actually saw Martha about a month ago now, when I was back in Zimbabwe for a friend’s wedding. She is such a positive and happy person, despite the fact that she has so little. Her daughter is finally getting ready to graduate school and apply for college at the University of Zimbabwe. It really is so inspiring and at the same time heart wrenching to see Martha work SO hard (as a single mother) just to put food on the table and get her child through school, so she may have the opportunity to lead a better life. (Something which so many of us take for granted in developed countries). Martha and her daughter - Mellissa - live in a tiny, one roomed hut that Martha likes to jokingly call her “4 roomed house with kitchen, bedroom, living room and toilet all in one!” It really is a sad situation to witness, but being able to help Martha’s daughter continue on with her education is so rewarding and the amount of gratitude that they both have for this opportunity is priceless and overwhelming. At the moment, due to the fact that La Kaiser is only in the beginning stages and a very small business still, we are only able to help fund Mellisa’s education, but as we grow we will be able to help fund several children’s educations in Zimbabwe. My goal is that La Kaiser will build its very own scholarship foundation - allowing as many children as possible the opportunity to pursue an education, which is currently just a mere dream to many. It’s a slow and long process, but I’m determined to get there.
We are thrilled to have your beautiful designs on ShopFunder. What made you apply to the ShopFunder designer community?
I was so happy to come across an e-commerce site that was focused on something more than just beautiful and trendy products! The fact that ShopFunder donates a generous percentage from each sale to a good cause was the number one reason I applied to be part of this designer community. It’s a shame that there are not more platforms like ShopFunder out there though!
What more can we look forward to from LA KAISER in 2014 and beyond?
A lot of good things in the form of new and interesting products and updates from Africa and our scholarship program!