Designers We Love: Milkshed

INTERVIEWED BY Lindi Brownell Meiring


Milkshed, an East London and Cape Town-based furniture design trio, are doing something a little different with their business.

They donate 100% of their profits into their own social change programme to help better the lives of others. We chatted to co-founder Cindy Taylor about what goes into Milkshed, the importance of sustainability in design and their latest projects.

Once you’ve created an item from reclaimed wood, it’s sold through your online store before all the profits are channelled into your “Something Good” programme. Tell us a bit more about this process.

It all starts with the wood. Traditionally, one would begin with the product itself and match the material to the product but we work the other way around – the wood directs what product it will ultimately become. Working with reclaimed wood is a bit like receiving one of those lucky packets we used to get back in the day. The wood arrives – and while we know the characteristics of a beam of Oregon Pine or piece of Meranti – it’s only after we’ve ‘opened the packet’ by tending to the wood that we can say how it will be used.

From there the baton is passed to our amazing carpenter and co-founder, Douglas Grobbelaar, who transforms the wood into our Milkshed range. Our humble little factory is based in East London in a beautifully refurbished milkshed – hence the name – and it is here that all the magic happens.

I, the second co-founder, then photograph the products and these snaps are popped onto our online shop where our products are sold. It’s been a bit tricky for us to get our products in stores since the profit is what powers our projects, but we’ve had the support of two amazing shops that believe in the work we are doing and as a result draw only an amount to cover their costs. On the space front, we do have something very exciting in the pipeline in Cape Town.

The profits from the sale of our items are channeled into our projects, which fall under the umbrella of the name ‘Something Good’. Our projects are varied. We have specific concerns that are particularly close to our hearts, like ensuring that children have the necessities for their bright young minds to grow or bringing hope and a bit of sunshine to the lives of the elderly, but with that said, many of our projects actually find us through friends and family who have come across an organisation or person who could do with a hand.

From there we get in touch and see if and how we can assist. We’re quite strict about making sure we’re assisting people in a positive way and not contributing to or creating learned helplessness. While the profits are helpful in fueling our projects, they are actually not the focus of what we’re trying to do, which is to show people that making a difference is not about donating a wad of money or having to sacrifice all your time – it’s about doing what you can, where you are, with what you’ve got. It’s about actually doing something good and about showing people that a collection of small efforts can really have a big impact.

Who designs the items and are they one-off pieces?

Our design whizz and third member in our co-founder trio is Blaire Rieger. She is the talented mastermind behind all our products. While we produce a number of each product, you could consider each item a one-off piece considering that no two items are identical as a result of the wood. Some items, like our little Motive wooden tricycle, are limited, with only a handful available.

What do you believe is the most important aspect of sustainable design?

For us, sustainable design boils down to impact. We believe that in order for a design to be truly sustainable it’s impact at every level should be considered: Does the material I am using impact the environment? Is it contributing to job creation? Is it empowering people? Is it contributing to people’s lives for the better? Is it making a difference? How does its functionality impact the life of the person who has decided to bring it into their home? If the impact that it has on the environment outweighs the impact it has on a person’s life, it is not sustainable. There are so many ways that design can impact lives and for us, the greater the positive impact the more sustainable it is.

Are you currently working on any new projects?

A project we are trying to raise more awareness about at the moment is our ‘Tubs of Love’ campaign. This project was born out of the need of a home that cares for abandoned children. One of their biggest challenges was the kids’ daily meals – not only was taking up a lot of time to prep the meals, it was coupled with the stress of raising funds to ensure that these kids are getting three nutritious meals a day.

The concept is very simple – you receive a 2L container and commit to making a healthy meal (e.g. soup), filling the container and freezing it. We’ve put together a little book of healthy recipes that one can make. These meals are then collected and delivered to the home or organisation in need and kept in their freezer and defrosted when need be.

It’s a really simple way of making a difference. It doesn’t take a lot of effort or time, and one can get a group of friends together and manage it in your own community. If you’d like to start up your own Tubs of Love project you can pop us a mail at hello@milkshed.co.za.

Visit milkshed.co.za for more information and to shop their creations.