Plain Tiger Spotlight: Ardmore

For the love of Africa

By Renee Fortune

“We are because of others” is the philosophy behind Ardmore – a brand founded in a remote corner of the KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa. If you’re familiar with African philosophy, you may know that this sentiment is inspired by the concept of ‘ubuntu,’ a Nguni Bantu term meaning ‘humanity.’ The concept of ‘ubuntu’ can be loosely translated as, ‘I am because you are.’ In essence, it captures the African worldview of interdependence and the belief in a universal bond that connects all humanity. There is no better way to describe the origins of the Ardmore brand and its role in uniting creatives and artisans from across the African continent.

Ardmore was founded in 1985 by ceramicist Fée Halsted, who grew up on a farm in Champagne Valley, KwaZulu-Natal. It was here that she met her first apprentice, Bonnie Ntshalintshali. 

Ardmore is really the story of two women from different ends of the social spectrum. From diverse backgrounds, whose passion for art and creativity united them at a time in South African history when difference was feared instead of celebrated. Fée and Bonnie became colleagues, but they were also close friends. In 1990, Fée and Bonnie were jointly awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award. It was the beginning of something much bigger than neither of them could have imagined and in the years that followed, Ardmore grew in leaps and bounds. 

Bonnie passed away from AIDS in 1999 and in her memory, Fée erected the Bonnie Ntshalintshali Museum, which celebrates her talents as a ceramicist and sculptor as well as her Christian and Zulu upbringing.

Today, Ardmore has expanded from ceramics to textiles, taking a bold step forward in the creative world and collaborating with designers and brands that have taken the brand across the world. Ardmore homeware has been recognised as modern-day collectables by auction houses, Christies’, Bonhamn’s and Sotheby’s. You’ll also see Ardmore’s iconic prints on a lavish line of scarves produced by French fashion house, Hermès, and as part of the designs of British wallpaper manufacturers, Cole and Son.
Browsing Ardmore’s collection on Plain Tiger will leave no room for doubt that it is a brand that represents and reveres Africa. Mischievous monkeys weave their way through a sea of Birds of Paradise lilies. Regal leopards are captured in an eternal moment in pure silk. And the sacred geometry of plants is splashed across table runners, napkins, cushion covers and towels. These emblems of the natural world are brought to life in silk, linen and cotton. And it’s simply beautiful. 

In support of building a more sustainable industry, Ardmore employs 70 skilled artists from local communities. There’s Zinhle, who likes to paint with watercolour effects in shades of green and black. There’s the sculptor, Somandla, who worked as a gardener at Ardmore before being offered the opportunity to sculpt, and whose subject matter celebrates the majesty of elephants, crocodiles, chameleons and porcupines. There’s Jabu, who fills the petals, leaves and animal skins that she creates with geometric designs, zigzags, chevrons and squares in earthy tones. And there are 63 other artisans just like them whose journey began at the doorstep of the Ardmore brand.

Ardmore has also launched its own Community Fund – an initiative that supports the creative development of local artisans. Through the Ardmore Arts Programme, the brand enriches young lives by encouraging and developing critical and creative thought. The Programme has been instrumental in developing the skills of learners at Thembelihle School in Howick, which educates 400 children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This work too, is simply beautiful. 

Fée’s son, Jonathan, has played an instrumental role in helping the brand make the transition from art and ceramics into homeware, a niche in which it is now thriving and in doing so, has become ubiquitous both in South Africa and abroad. 

As he explains: “Ardmore pieces are designed for people who want to add a special touch, a little spark of magic to their home. It’s a brand for people who appreciate that true luxury requires time, attention to detail and dedication. Ardmore customers have a deep appreciation for fine aesthetics and an eye for beautiful craftsmanship. They see life as a journey of discovery and they make choices that reflect their individuality. Above all, they have a love for Africa.”