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Raves for Southern Africa furniture maker


Mabeo Furniture’s modern Africa designs have won raves from around the globe, most recently in May at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), where the Botswana-based company won media accolades and the Editors Award for Furniture.

It’s the third Editors Award for Mabeo—it won for craftsmanship in 2006 and 2008—honors made possible by support from the USAID Southern Africa Trade Hub, managed by CARANA, which has helped founder Peter Mabeo attend the ICFF since 2006.

“Every year at the ICFF, we have made significant progress,” Mabeo said. “The commitment we have shown to the market, the profile we have established through high-profile projects we have completed, the relationship with an increasing list of high-profile designers, the quality of our products, and acknowledgement from the media and the design community, continue to serve us well.”

With 30 employees in Botswana’s capital, Gabarone, Mabeo has developed lines of furniture in collaboration with respected Canadian, Spanish and Swedish designers, and its distinctive chairs, tables and other pieces can be found in high-end hotels in New York and Stockholm. Yet to really grow, Mabeo needs retail exposure—and U.S.-based storage to ship more cheaply in bulk, build an inventory and respond quickly to orders.

Among the more than 100 visitors to Mabeo’s ICFF booth this year were owners of three New York showrooms, including one with retail presence in eight other North American cities. They agreed to incorporate some of Mabeo’s line pending discussions on pricing and exclusivity.  Peter Mabeo also continued discussions with a warehousing, distribution and marketing firm in Maryland that could give him “quick ship” capacity.

Mabeo negotiated a deal on the last day of the show to sell several floor samples to the Museum of Art and Design in Manhattan.  The pieces will be part of an Africa-themed exhibit the Museum is curating later this year.

The Southern Hub’s assistance goes beyond trade shows, however. It has helped Peter Mabeo put together a business plan, and earlier this year, connected him with wood suppliers in Mozambique who will provide him with sustainably harvested wood at a much lower price. Mabeo has long bought FSC-certified panga panga wood from middlemen in neighboring South Africa—buying directly from Mozambique will save him at least 50 percent in wood costs.

After this year’s ICFF, CARANA arranged a meeting for Mabeo with a New York-based private equity firm, which is in the final phase of raising capital for a new fund targeting African SMEs.  Mabeo will need about $2 million in new investment over the next five years to support the company’s entrance into the U.S. retail market, so they may be a good match for this fund.

The New York blog buzz on Mabeo's products at the IFCC:

Published June 2010