A woman is like a tea-bag. You only know how strong she is when she is put in hot water. – Eleanor Roosevelt
Jill Heyes did not realise how much Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote was going to mean to her until she arrived in South Africa. She and her husband Charlie moved here from the security of England in 1996. Charlie’s work brought him here and it was a hard transition for them and their two daughters. Jill was horrified by the overwhelming poverty and apparent hopelessness in the local informal settlement of Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay. Constantly thinking how she could help in some small way, Jill was approached by Thelma, who persistently requested that Jill teach her a hand craft skill. Initially Jill’s idea was a “starfish” one, to assist one person at a time. One quickly became two, then three as curiosity and a will to learn emerged from within the settlement. After some unsuccessful attempts to make and sell paper mache products, made by her small but enthusiastic group, the tea bag concept was created. This was in 2000. The first finished article, namely a greeting card, quickly began to find a ready market. New product ideas incorperating the tea bag theme sprang forward.
Seeing sales growing at an unexpected speed, Jill decided that the project required full time commitment if it were to develop further. Her part time teaching salary was essentially used to provide the necessary funding to create and maintain the project. It was thus a decision of faith in 2002, to give up this income and continue, determined to make it become a self-supporting business. In 2003 Jill met Christine Sadler, who was successfully producing Decoupage products and together recognized that by combining their unique product themes, could improve chances of sustained work. Christine agreed to train one of the ladies to work with the resin. Sweetness did the training and then passed on the skills to other members of the team.
The group of ladies became skilled and talented artists. Some have moved on but have been replaced by other members of the Imizamu Yethu community. The craft of Decoupage has now been well and truly mastered and is an essential part of the quality work produced by Original T-Bag Designs.
What started as a hand of friendship many years ago is now a thriving business, still based in Hout Bay. Tourists and locals alike visit the workshop to enjoy a tour during which they meet the artists who produce these unique products. Original T-Bag Designs is now a registered CC. It should not be underestimated that although a business, Original T-Bag Designs is sustained by the commitment, unwavering effort and faith of those involved. Jill, now affectionately known as ‘the t-bag lady’, along with her t-bag team, has foremost created an environment where people have gained far more than employment. An environment that has thrived on determination, co-operation, give and take, support and friendship, has created in reality confidence, pride, responsibility and perseverance where it previously didn’t exist. Lives have been picked up and nurtured, each one an asset and contribution to the success of T-Bag Designs today. As each tea – leaf is crucial to a perfect brew, so each individual at Original T-Bag Deisigns is indispensable to a business that has become a family.