Even a cursory look at global fast-food franchises indicates that home-grown Nando’s is a frontrunner when it comes to aesthetics.
You can walk into any Nando’s restaurant across the globe and be assured that you won’t only enjoy its famous Portuguese style peri-peri chicken, but also some of the best from the country’s artists, furniture designers, and interior decorators and designers.
This is not by chance. The franchise made a deliberate decision to support South African design five years ago. It went a step further, and in May 2018 launched its Portal to Africa – a curated online shopping platform that connects its designers to those interior decorators across the world who are responsible for the decor of the group’s restaurants.
Leading exporter of South African design
Since then, the portal has managed to facilitate sales of over R30 million. “From a zero base, I think the proportion of growth is quite significant,” says Michael Spinks, property and development director at Nando’s South Africa.
So significant is this feat that the chain now calls itself the biggest exporter of South African design.
“This is a fledgling industry and there are no measures to specifically quantify the impact of the Portal to Africa on the industry as a whole [but] we are confident that the R30 million injection into the industry over the past 18 months constitutes a majority offtake in the design sector in South Africa,” Spinks says.
Portal to Africa
The portal currently has 52 businesses listed on it, and links them to the 1 200 stores that Nando’s has worldwide, which continuously undergo revamps and rebuilds.
There are two aspects to the portal: businesses can showcase either the actual furniture they have designed and produced, or the designs of the items, which can then be produced under licence. In terms of the latter, interior designers or manufacturers acquire a licence and manufacture the item themselves, according to the designer’s specifications.
The portal has sold over 2 400 chairs, 1 040 tables and 1 094 light fittings all over the world.
The peri-peri chicken chain says it does not profit from the initiative, nor does it retain any intellectual property rights over the designs.
The ultimate aim of the Nando’s Design Programme is to create a category brand for South African design while uplifting the local design sector by developing individual creative businesses.
The programme has multiple aspects, such as the Nando’s Hot Young Designer talent search competition, the Nando’s Business Development Support Programme, the Portal to Africa, and the print magazine Clout.
“We engage with young designers,” says Spinks. “And the idea is we don’t do short-term incubation type initiatives where we mentor them for six months then let them go – we try to bring them on board and commit to bringing that through.”
He adds: “Our commitment to design is for as long as we can make it last, which is hopefully forever.”
An example of a lasting and growing relationship between Nando’s and a designer is the partnership it has with award-winning interior designer and businesswoman Thabisa Mjo of Mash.T Design Studio.
Mjo was the first winner of the Nando’s Hot Young Designer competition in 2016 – thanks to her Tutu 2.0 light pendant, which takes its inspiration from the Xibelani skirts worn by Xitsonga women.
Spinks now refers to her as the “favourite”. Mjo now has four pendant designs in Nando’s restaurants. Her pendants have been shipped to Australia, the US, Dubai, the UK and Singapore.
“Someone once said to me that if you’re not making sales, you’re not in business [and] since winning the Nando’s competition, my business – the bottom line – has grown substantially,” says Mjo. “It’s really set me on a path of realising my goal, which is to build a scaleable, profitable business and create economic opportunities for the craftspeople I work with.”
Mjo started her business in 2015 after working as a set designer in the TV and film industry. “I decided I wanted to create spaces that people in the real world could interact with, and that’s when I started working as a furniture designer,” she says.
“I choose to use design as the medium to tell the stories of my culture.”
The cultural inspiration can also be seen in Mjo’s potjie server (inspired by the three-legged cast iron pot) and her ‘My cone’ wall lamps (inspired by a traditional Xhosa dress known as umbaco).
She says she really started working as a designer after winning the Nando’s competition.
“She has remained part of the family since then and we have loved to watch her grow in her profile and get access to different platforms,” says Spinks.
In August Nando’s added four more young creatives to its design programme after their design pitches were chosen from those of 26 candidates at the first Clout Designers’ Industry Days Fired Up By Nando’s.
Glorinah Mabaso of LED Interiors, Rene Forbay of RF Designs, Siyanda Mbele of Pinda, and Khosi Leteba will receive year-long mentorship from Nando’s, including upskilling and training, and their designs will be added to the Portal to Africa.
The Nando’s group’s commitment to the creative industry runs deep, stemming from 2001 when the restaurant chain ditched off-the-shelf art installations for handcrafted design and art.
Today Nando’s has the largest collection of South African art in the world, managed under the Spier Arts Trust.
The collection includes more than 21 000 pieces of contemporary works of art displayed in over 1 200 restaurants across 24 countries, supporting over 350 artists.
“The beauty of it is that [the art] is displayed in our restaurants and is accessible to everyone,” says Spinks.
Without putting a price on the collection, Spier Arts Trust CEO Mirna Wessels says over the last four years the trust has bought around £500 000 worth of art per year. This translates to art worth more than R9 million, bought directly from artists through Nando’s’ programmes and galleries each year.
“For us, it is much more than a budgeted figure,” says Wessels.
“The collection’s worth is in the many lives it touches, from the families enjoying the experience in our casas to the artists who are able to focus on their careers full time, including the heritage we are preserving in collecting a body of work that is representing an era in the history of Southern Africa.”