Expert Ease: Ngala Trading

We didn’t choose Africa,” say Ngala Trading co-founders Nick Geimer and Lawson Ricketts. “It chose us.” These two men had been following a circuitous path – from similar boyhoods in small-town America; to studying, working and meeting in London; relocating to Johannesburg, South Africa; and finally diving into interior design. It all sounds like a made-for-TV movie, but it’s all true.

As they explain, “Over many visits, we fell in love with the country and its people. We thought, why not live there? So, we did, arriving in 2006.” While keeping their day jobs, Geimer in banking and Ricketts in education, the men embarked on renovating two houses; one is the historic, Art Nouveau Cullinan House. Then, totally hooked on the experience, they renovated a second house, opening Plaid Cabbage Interiors in 2012, an interior design and home-furnishings store in Johannesburg.

The Shaggy Leather Club chair is fully upholstered in leather and heavily detailed in stripped pieces of leather most commonly seen in Ngala’s chandeliers. A true work of art, the chair is available in nine different leather colors and combinations.

The shop did well from the outset and quickly gained a following for the unique blend of modern American staples with an African twist – think plaid with zebra – and the products were handmade in Africa, ethical, sustainable and luxurious.

Despite their success, the men decided to return to the U.S. in 2016. “We were so far away,” they say. “We wanted to be able to see our family and friends more often.” At the same time, they wanted to share their African journey and maintain the business relationships they had developed with suppliers and designers. Thus, Ngala Trading Co. was born.

Headquartered in a brand-new Manhattan showroom, Ngala Trading is expanding rapidly with retailers selling their collection throughout the U.S. They also have a growing list of interior-design clients. With “an ear to the ground” and the help of suppliers who source on their behalf, their wares now include items from Malawi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and South Africa. Ngala is also developing new products to showcase the creativity and skills of many African craftspeople and designers: larger furniture pieces, table-top items and a gift collection among them.

“We select items from partners who weave together European and African design while avoiding overt references to either. The result is contemporary ‘safari chic’ as we call it,” says Ricketts, “relaxed and inviting.”

The Hinterveld line of throws and blankets is made in South Africa and features a blend of wool and Mohair, one of the world’s most lustrous, sustainable natural fibers.

Asked how they choose items for the American market, the partners explain that, “what was popular in Johannesburg is equally, if not more, popular in the States.” They also customize a great number of pieces; they have 20 different combinations of horn and leather for the tops and bases of one table, and incorporate leather and gold into their authentic kudu horn lamp for a modern turn.

This of course, raises questions about the materials they use. “Each supplier we partner with,” explains Geimer, “has committed to a sustainable business model, whereby the business, its employees and the communities where they operate all benefit. We pay particular attention to the ethical sourcing of the animal by-product, buying only from suppliers who themselves procure raw materials from the right sources in the right way, and do not trade in endangered or threatened animal species.” Details about Ngala’s practices are clearly spelled out on the company website, “Not only because it’s important for us,” says the co-founder, “it’s important to our clients.”

“Our hope,” declares Ricketts, “is that by continuing to expose new designs and styles, we are showing the variety within African design. There’s so much more than images of elephants done up in colorful beads!”

To view Ngala’s ethical commitment/product please click here.

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