African Artisans' Recycled Products Go Global


Make-up artist Melissa Hartzel moved to South Africa with her husband to have a "family adventure." She came back to Watford, England, with an epiphany -- and a business plan.

While living in Cape Town, Hartzel met a local man making handbags and baseball caps to sell out of old tin and aluminum cans. Intrigued, she started talking to him and learned that he had trained friends and neighbors to do similar crafts -- and became introduced to a network of local artists in the city's poor shanty townships.

"I was truly amazed by this man's skill and resourcefulness," says the mother of two. "Never before had I seen unwanted rubbish being used in this way and I really felt that [the craft workers'] talents were being wasted by the few sales they were able to make from the sides of the roads."

Turning Old Tin Cans Into Home, Fashion Accessories
Hartzel set up a company, Old Tin Can Ltd., to help the artisans reach a wider audience of potential buyers. So far, her Web site has sold more than 500 of their items, including tin can bags, hats, vases, and fruit bowls, and purses made from old records and license plates, to customers around the United Kingdom and in Israel, Switzerland, and the United States.

In addition to following fair trade standards that "ensure the artists are paid a fee that they regard as fair and equitable in terms of their effort and resources," Old Tin Can Ltd. donates 10 percent of its profits to Out of the Box, a nonprofit craft school in Johannesburg that trains disadvantaged and unemployed young South Africans to be the next generation of eco-friendly artisans.

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