Dressed in comfortable clothes, gloves, safety goggles and a pair of safety shoes, a woman rummages through the rubbish bins lined in Cape Town streets.
The former PA and events coordinator, who used to work in the corporate environment, finds her treasure – disposed wood, tin cans, broken lamps, old furniture, wine corks, bottles, and other material that catches her interest. This will all be restored and transformed into high quality furniture and other practical products.
This South African, woman, who is also a Christian, finds all kinds of treasures in rubbish bins, dumping and construction sites, industrial kitchens, and waste management companies. The only thing she does not collect is wet rubbish and paper. While lurking in dumpsters, she draws the attention of passers-by who probably wonder why such a stylish and beautiful woman wastes her time rummaging through other people’s trash. Naude, originally from Paarl, in the Western Cape, restores the rubbish she finds and turns it into marketable furniture, clocks and lamps which she presents at tourist shops in Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Cape Town. She also sells her items to shop owners.
Statistics indicate that there are 5.88 million unemployed South Africans, but instead of adding to this grim tale, Lizl Naude chose to turn her adversity into creativity. In 2004, she started her resourceful company called; Lilly Loompa. Since then she ran different businesses under that name, such as jewellery making and interior decorating. In 2016, Lilly Loompa Eco Products was formally launched with an online auction. The slogan; ‘Waste. Reimagined.’
Naude explained that: “I am always on the lookout for materials. I cannot pinpoint a specific day that I started rummaging through other people’s discarded junk. It was an organic process that happened over time. I can recall a few weird looks by passers-by as I lurked in dumpsters to find my treasures. I’m sure they wondered what a well-dressed woman was doing there, but I couldn’t ignore the wonderful, useable items that begged to be found. There were times when unpleasant smells and textures would put me off, but my curiosity got the better of me and I continued.”
The mother of two, Chelsea, 11; and Kirsten, 8, and wife to Ashley Naude, ventured into the recycling business a few years ago when her household suffered a few financial setbacks.
“In fact, over the last 10 years, we have lost everything four times. Which meant we had to start over four times. The first setback was when we made an unwise financial investment. We were about 28 years old. At 29, all our properties and cars were repossessed, and we lost our construction business.”
“After that, a series of events happened that meant years of hustling and trying to make ends meet. Time after time our faith were tested. We had to learn how to live with the minimum resources. In fact, we did not have a stable income for more than 12 years. We were blacklisted and struggled to find permanent employment. Thus, my business was born out of lack and desperation. As if that was not enough, our house was burgled several times and we were left with an empty shell. I needed to build furniture on a budget and I started looking at my surroundings for solutions. I quickly discovered that many people discard usable material, so I used that to build my first few pieces,” she recalled.
Naude said: “Thinking back, these experiences, as painful as they were, trained me to think in a certain way. It engrained in me one of my life values, which is; use what you have. Through all of this, we finally realised that our life’s purpose is about restoration. My business speaks of that as I take waste and restore it into a new, usable product.”
Naude started her company with no money in her bank account. She’s been working hard and diligently at her business with very little financial assistance. Naude chose to grow the business through revenue of sales and encourages scavengers not to venture into projects only to make money, because they might be sorely disappointed.
“There are many opportunities in the recycling industry. Look at your environment for inspiration. You will have success if you work hard and if you are passionate about the work you do.”
“Sometimes I collect stuff and store it until I have an exact plan of what I want to do with it. At times a salvage piece will ‘talk’ to me and tell me what it wants to be. Then I listen, and I do it. One of the first pieces I made was my puzzle table. It wasn’t really made from rubbish, I used discarded wood that was stored in a carpenter’s workshop for years. When I saw it, a vision of a puzzle came to my mind and that is what I executed. I call it the Jigsaw table. It is still one of my favourites. The usual turnaround time (to turn rubbish into beauty) is approximately three to five days, sometimes quicker, sometimes longer. It depends on the complexity of the design, and on the size.”
Each of her designs tell a story. The intention is to create awareness about the social struggles and concerns in South Africa. She believes in tackling burning issues in a constructive manner, rather than in a destructive and ineffective way.
“When you buy one of my products, you are reminded of the history of the piece as well as what it represents, which is part of the restoration journey. I want to design and create products and solutions that improve people’s lives, so everything is ultimately a design with a conscience.”
Naude is always on the lookout for interesting material to create products with. “That means going through rubbish bins. I have an inventive spirit, so I take what I can find and restore it into beautiful pieces.”
When asked about the meaning behind her company name, Lilly Loompa, she said that when she was a child, her cousins called her Lilly because they found it difficult to pronounce her name ‘Lizl.’
“As a teenager, I developed a love for reading and one of my favourite books were Charlie and the Chocolate factory (written by Roald Dahl). I loved the Oompa Loompa characters. Soon after, in high school, I started making jewellery pieces using my mother’s broken jewellery and always pushed myself to create unique pieces out of nothing. When I officially started my business in 2004, I went down memory lane and decided to derive the name from my childhood and the name Lilly Loompa was born.”
According to the Waste Economy – 2017 Market Intelligence Report, released by GreenCape Market, the waste industry in South Africa consists primarily of waste collection and landﬁlling, with a limited amount (10%) of recycling (DEA 2012). The household waste is managed by municipalities and their service providers. Commercial and industrial waste is typically managed by the private sector (in larger municipalities), although some waste may still be disposed of at municipal landﬁlls, states the report.
The report further asserts that the current waste economy results is estimated to be worth R15 billion in revenue and provides 29 833 people with employment. However, the report says that R17 billion worth of resources could be unlocked if 100% of the identiﬁed 13 waste streams could be recycled. Western Cape municipalities, where Naude is situated, are gearing up to implement PPP that will potentially attract a further R1.3 billion and create approximately 1 600 jobs in the next ﬁve years.
Naude said that both the rich and the poor generates tons of waste each year and that it has a devastating effect on the planet. Waste should be everyone’s problem and not only associated with the poor. She said there are people who only collect waste to sell it to recyclers, but there are others that collect waste to upcycle it, or to create products with. The waste sector has many more opportunities for income and she said it is literally a mountain of opportunities.
Although Naude does everything herself, from product development and manufacturing, to marketing, sales, and admin, she occasionally hires casual staff to help her. She sometimes enlists the help of external manufacturers as well. She completes and finishes such a high-quality product that her clients deem it worth purchasing. Her aim is to illustrate that there is value in waste.
“There is money in the recycling business. It is an unearthed mountain of possibilities. However, it will not make you a millionaire overnight. You must be willing to work hard and do the dirty work, pardon the pun. If you (scavengers) are hungry enough, you will make it work. I am truly committed to this cause, that is why I am willing to put in the hours of labour. I have a saying; “Creativity grows more when faced with adversity.” I have experienced that the less I have, the more creative and innovative I become. Do not let your circumstances overwhelm you to the point where you want to give up. Push forward. Know your industry and constantly upskill yourself so you do not get left behind. Don’t ever just start something for money. You might be sorely disappointed. There are many opportunities in the recycling industry. Look to your environment for inspiration. You will have success if you work hard and are passionate about your job.”
Naude is a qualified Interior Decorator, but she mentions that she has never studied design or carpentry. She believes that her skills are a gift from God. Asked whether she prays over her work, she said: “I regularly pray over my art, especially if I do a commission where I know the name of the person who is buying. In general, I pray over my business and I pray that God will use me as a vessel to spread the message of hope.”
From an early age she said God started nudging her to serve Him, but she was first lured by the pleasures of the world and she therefore only committed herself to the Lord when she turned 21. She gets emotional when she remembers where God has taken her from: “His grace upon my life is evident when I think about where I could’ve been. If He didn’t save me, I don’t know where I would’ve ended up. My family and I suffered many financial losses over the last decade. We were figuratively on the rubbish dump and we are now in the process of being restored, which is symbolic of the pieces I create within my business. Everyone deserves a second chance, that is why I take salvaged material and create beautiful pieces with it, pieces everyone can be proud off.”
God is busy restoring Naude to her full potential, she said. “I try to apply the principle of second chances to my work. When I find something very dirty and in a real bad state, I’m technically supposed to disregard it, but God gives me the ability to see the possibility – the item in its full glory. He almost gives me a vision of what they’re supposed to be. It is so comforting to know that our Maker will never give up on us.”
Abraham is a freelance writer.