By Cate Fitzpatrick
The Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, S.C.)
Joni Vanderslice didn’t want to go to Africa when she was presented with the travel opportunity in 2009. Her husband had participated in a medical mission trip two years earlier on an island off the coast of Tanzania and wanted her to come along and share the experience.
“He had to bribe me with a safari. I didn’t want to go,” Vanderslice said with a smile as she thought back on her first trip to the country and the series of fortunate events that followed. “Little did I know that trip was a blessing in disguise.”
Vanderslice, owner of J Banks Design on Hilton Head Island, made a deep connection with the country and its people. In the years that followed, she returned a handful of times to explore Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Ghana.
“From a design standpoint, seeing the varied, beautiful and colorful fabrics, buildings, animals and surroundings stayed with me after each trip,” she said. “I love the way women mix patterns and fabrics as they cover their head from the sun or swaddle their babies on their backs.”
Last year, Vanderslice found a way to translate her life-changing experiences into something tangible.
Partnering with Kravet, an industry leader in fabrics and home furnishings, the group collaborated to create its first-ever fabric collection inspired by Vanderslice’s many trips to Africa.
The Tanzania collection is a line of 16 ethnic-inspired performance fabrics of graphically stunning patterns and textures that emulate traditional tribal designs, the country’s landscape, its indigenous people, their jewelry and their wares.
The Tanzania collection debuted in May at the Hospitality Design Expo in Las Vegas. Hospitality and residential lines will launch this summer.
“It’s very exciting that here on Hilton Head we’re able to accomplish something that large design firms in places like Los Angeles and New York are doing,” she said. “It’s a wonderful feeling when your passion and your purpose cross paths.”
For J Banks Design, the collection has a more profound meaning than just an aesthetic appeal. One particularly instrumental trip for Vanderslice led to the Valentine Project, the group’s philanthropic efforts to build an orphanage in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In support of this mission, Kravet will donate a portion of sales from the Tanzania collection to the Valentine Project.
“As I traveled to Uganda, Rwanda and Ghana looking at other orphanages, and learning and supporting people who came to Africa to make a difference, I became aware of how important the fabrics are to each individual country,” Vanderslice said. “Each country is proud of their fabric and each fabric has unique designs that are identifiable to them.”
The patterns and textures of the Tanzania collection draw inspiration from architectural wood carvings in Zanzibar, the earthy tones of the Serengeti Desert, brightly colored beaded jewelry, and the textured stripes found in native woven baskets. The collection also includes modern interpretations of traditional Kente Cloths worn in Ghana.
Karen Keating, director of design for Kravet’s contract division, collaborated with Vanderslice to interpret her designs, colors and visions to create a unified collection.
“Joni’s dedication to the collection and to the Valentine Project was very inspirational and that served as the jumping-off point for the collection,” she said. Two “clicked” almost immediately on the line’s look and feel, which made for a smooth design process, easy execution and timely turnaround, Keating said.
“Tanzania is an amazing country. It has everything from dry deserts to safaris to blue waters on the coast. The country’s vast color range is reflected in this collection,” Keating said. “The collection has a rich, neutral color palate of deep earth tones as well as bright greens and blues. It’s a very versatile collection.”
Versatility, along with durability and style, was important to Vanderslice, whose company specializes in new construction and renovation within high-end resort communities both nationally and internationally. The fabric had to withstand everyday wear and tear, and also be attractive.
“I wanted a variety of colors that would work in every market — from a resort on the coast to a lodge in Alaska,” she said. “Through our work in the hospitality industry, I found it hard to find fabric that performed well and looked good. I wanted the durability of performance fabric with a fun look because (the company’s work) is very resort-driven,” she said.
The Valentine Project
The orphans who will live at the Valentine Project will be provided with a safe, family-like environment with the goal of raising and empowering a new generation of Africans, Vanderslice said.
Construction on the first building, which will house 10 children and a “mama” will be completed this month. The project will eventually build enough housing for 30 children, Vanderslice said.
Orphans, who are typically ostracized from villages, will receive an education, attend the local church, and play with other children in an effort to build a community bond.
Sustainability and community involvement are also essential factors in the mission’s success. Through grants and donations, the Valentine Project will provide clean water, chickens, eggs and agriculture to help the children and the general community. For more information, go to www.valentineproject.net.