How the humble Rooibos tea bag is taking over Paris

Gracious Dube creates designer purses from rooibos tea bags.
Gracious Dube creates designer purses from rooibos tea bags.

Gracious Dube has transformed the humble teabag into a sought-after fashion accessory in Paris.

The Zimbabwean-born 33-year-old mother from Hout Bay in Cape Town is on a winning streak with her designer purses made out of Rooibos tea bags. Dube’s creativity took flight when she moved to South Africa and got involved with a company called Original T-Bag Designs in 2006.

Her items are sold at an up-market boutique‚ Ithemba Design Ethik. To make her fashionable purses‚ which are lined with silk‚ Dube starts off by drying and ironing about 45 to 50 Rooibos teabags. Once done‚ they are varnished and either glued or carefully stitched onto the silk.

Some purses are also decoratively painted to add to the unique look. 

“I love drinking Rooibos and it was while drinking a cup that I came up with the idea of creating a purse from tea bags. Initially‚ I tried making it with lots of different tea bags‚ but the Rooibos tea bags were ideal. Not only do they give my purses a beautiful rich colour‚ but they also tend to be a lot stronger than other tea bags‚” Dube said.

Her success is beyond her wildest dreams‚ as her Zimbabwean parents were initially skeptical of her aspiration to be an artist.

“What I learned from this is that unless you start‚ no one will take you seriously. My parents used to think it’s a useless dream until I started doing it. Now everyone is involved. My mother and son always stay up with me while I work‚ our bond is stronger‚” she said.

Dube said she was now able to make ends meet through her passion.

“I’d like to think that this is just the beginning of a burgeoning fashion business. I have so many ideas buzzing in my head and can’t wait to try them out.”

Dube was spotted by French fashion designer Carine Khalil at the V&A Waterfront during a holiday in South Africa.

Jill Heyes – a former art teacher – trained Dube in various art mediums and encouraged her to trial new product ideas as a way to boost her income.

Adele du Toit‚ spokesperson for the SA Rooibos Council (SARC) said Dube’s products were exquisite.

“It’s wonderful to see how artists the world-over are incorporating Rooibos tea bags‚ leaves and even boxes in their art. It’s also a great way to upcycle and gives Rooibos tea bags a second life.

“The concept of painting on or using tea bags in fashion is truly unique and forces artists to work on a canvas that isn’t blank‚ but is instead imprinted with odd colours and textures. The creative possibilities are endless‚” said du Toit.

The teabag purse sells for around 26 Euros‚ or about R376.

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