Exclusive: The design duo take inspiration from Cape Malay culture for their 2018 collection


Erin-Lee and Chad Petersen summon up childhood memories of being surrounded by Cape Malay culture for their latest Research Unit collection, entitled Masala. The husband and wife team behind the Cape Town-based bag brand have drawn on the sights, smells and tastes of the community’s cuisine to inspire their choice of sweet and spicy colours. Canvas and leather bucket, tote, shopper and moon bags come in shades of turmeric, coriander, rice, masala and saffron. “Chad and I both grew up exposed to the city’s Muslim culture and dishes such as curry and koeksisters, so this is our way of telling a tasteful story about our Africa,” Erin-Lee says. “We seeded out ways to dye and deconstruct our canvas, thereby creating layers of fringing while retaining the dynamic nature of our products.”

The duo originally established Research Unit in 2011 and it has gone onto win multiple accolades, most recently the 2017 Nedbank Transformation Award. They’ve collaborated with likeminded souls including Lukhanyo Mdingi, Mami Wata and corner store and gained an enviable reputation for their understated yet luxurious designs. "Research Unit is about redefining the way the world sees African high-end goods. For us, high-end is not about a price tag, nor is it determined by exclusivity or elitism. We believe in creating a product that is void of the usual African gimmicks to provide something that is innovative, well-made, timeless and personal,” says Chad of their ethical manufacturing process. “It is about how a product makes you feel. It is about the story behind it and the little handmade imperfections that make it perfect in every way.”

The Masala collection is online and at Research Unit’s V&A Waterfront store now

Photography Sarah Hugo-Hamman
Styling Lukhanyo Mdingi 
Models Loren Humphreys and Shuaib van der Schyff 
Assistance Kirsti Nagel 

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Published on 17/05/2018