Zaid Philander and his team teach people to make bags, as well as wall planters, handmade gifts, clothing and accessories, all from upcycled materials. Photo: Supplied

I Scream & Red: Building confidence through eco-conscious design

By Gemma Gatticchi
Tuesday, Jul 18, 2023 FeaturesLifestyle

Zaid Philander is a great example of what it looks like when you put your passion into practice. He has always had a love for design, helping the differently-abled and caring for the environment. As a young man, he used his skills to create and fix costumes for contemporary dancers with disabilities, but he didn’t stop there.

In 2008, Zaid founded I Scream & Red, a registered social enterprise that helps differently-abled people from disadvantaged communities have confidence by teaching them to design and sew products using upcycled materials.

The initiative now has more than 40 creators across Cape Town. We spoke to Zaid to find out more.

Why did you start I Scream & Red?

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time sewing items with many different women who were my best teachers and became a self-taught designer. 

Later in my career, I designed costumes for people with disabilities who were performing in contemporary dance pieces. During my sewing trial and errors, dancers would be waiting backstage for their clothing to be fixed. I started bringing sewing machines to work and teaching the dancers how to sew.

My affinity and love for conserving the Earth was established when I was a Boy Scout and has remained deeply embedded in my work.

What does I Scream & Red do?

We train differently-abled makers to create upcycled products using sewing and art therapy. We primarily teach people to make bags, but we are expanding into wall planters, handmade gifts, clothing and accessories.

All differently-abled makers produce items collectively for I Scream & Red while working on businesses that help grow their own independence. The project aims to integrate people with disabilities into communities, one stitch at a time, and connect consumers to the greater circular economy.

We offer sewing and embroidery workshops across Cape Town, which we share on social media. We also offer one-on-one private training as a way to generate income and subsidise sewing therapy workshops in under-resourced communities.

Where do you get your materials?

The materials we use come from a wide range of places. Most are discarded or rejected fabrics from billboards, flags or banners from companies or events. The seatbelts that we use for straps come from written-off vehicles in scrapyards. We create from whatever we find.

What drives what you do?

We believe that the Earth has given us enough and that we should use what we already have and not extract more. While our products challenge the waste cycle, they also challenge the status quo, bringing into focus questions such as whose skills are valued and who gets to participate in the economy.

Fundamental to our business is the empowerment of physically disabled individuals from disadvantaged communities in Cape Town. Society’s negative perceptions of differently-abled bodies coupled with the legacy of racial exclusion, compound their challenges, making them among the most vulnerable groups of people.

Our projects marry creative therapeutic methods with skills development, fostering social networks for crucial long-term stability. Economic participation is key to resilience and inclusion.

What are your most popular products?

We have a range of products like backpacks, tote bags and slings. We also offer services to whomever needs something made, such as clothing, curtains, covers and more.

The bags for our Flouwer Love Project are made from upcycled flour packaging paper, repurposed fabrics and reclaimed seatbelts. These are materials that are accessible to makers in under-resourced communities. 

The price of the bags range from R80 to R220 depending on the attachments chosen. Photo: Supplied

Where do your makers come from?

We offer workshops and training in several communities around Cape Town. Most of our makers are from Mitchell’s Plain, Langa, Vrygrond/Capricorn, Bontheuwel and Athlone.

We create space for individuals to undertake creative, dignified work in a nurturing and communal environment… Quite often, our makers find us.

What do you find challenging?

Financial resources are our biggest challenge. Our skills training and self-empowerment workshops have operational costs that are difficult to cover, so we rely on donations.

How can people get involved?

We need people to volunteer their time, people who can project manage, make deliveries, collect donations and help fundraise. We need your care, creativity and uniqueness to make our project more effective. Come to a workshop, buy a bag or donate to I Scream & Red.

How big is the team?

We are a small operational team of four people. We have more than 40 makers across Cape Town and continue to train new makers. Even if they do not pursue sewing as their main career, our objective is to get these makers to a point where they are independent and believe in pursuing their own dreams.

Where are you located?

We operate from Muizenberg in Cape Town, but our makers work from home on flexi time and produce all our products in a pressure-free environment.

What are your success stories?

People want to hear that our makers have ‘made it’ or are successful designers. But all our makers are success stories. They grow and thrive.

Zama, for example, was initially independently sewing tracksuits and fulfilling client orders for us. He later pursued a car wash business. He gained the confidence to pursue this because of his participation in our training, which helped build his self-belief. This is success: transforming people into independent citizens.

What awards have you won?

  • Mail & Guardian Top 200 South Africans
  • Biz Community Youth Month Elective 2016
  • World Design Capital 2014 Product Winner
  • KFM Business of the Week 2016
  • FNB’s Lifestyle Top Achievers Award for 2016 and runner- up in Cape Talk’s Sage Business competition

What’s your pet hate?

Littering! It makes my blood boil.