Matblac: design + craftsmanship

As a writer I know I’m supposed to go easy on the adverbs and adjectives, but it’s darn difficult especially when you see awesome, inspirational local design like this. Mathew James Neilson is passionate about design and craftsmanship. Every piece in his Matblac range is handmade by him and he’s so confident in his workmanship that if you feel let down, you can call him up and tell him yourself. (And no, it’s not a 555 number.)

What is your background and how did you start Matblac?

I studied a Bcom through Unisa as soon as I left school. Although I had only ever excelled at art and design, I felt a business degree was the only way to make any money in the future.

Around 3 years into my 3 year degree (I took it rather slowly…) I made the prototype, for what is now my core product, in my bedroom on my mom’s sewing machine with some fridge magnets and leather scraps. I had been crafty from a young age and have always been intrigued by the complex inner workings of sewing machines.

I didn’t realize it then but I had just found my life’s passion, leather is an unbeatable material in every aspect and I get to make functional art all day long!

After refining the magnetic wallet I tried out Design Indaba for the first time and the wallets were well received. A few days later I told my folks that although incomplete I had lost all drive for my degree and Matblac was my future. As you can imagine it was met with everything but enthusiasm.

I feel Matblac only really started this year when I moved into a studio in Town. It feels more real than ever and now I pretty much eat, sleep and dream design.

 Tell us a bit about the design/creative/production process behind your products?

I have limited drawing and computer skills so all my products start as unsightly prototypes that are constantly refined until I feel comfortable looking at them.

I make things I like really, and draw inspiration from anything I see that pleases my eye. The core of each item is always its function, then I play around until a design looks as great as it works.

The production process is where I feel Matblac products gain their true value. I’m a sucker for perfection and I’m still unsure whether I’m more designer or craftsman.

Any advice for other local artisans/designers starting their own line?

Surround yourself with optimistic people, If I had listened to half the negative comments I received starting out I’d be flipping burgers somewhere.

Be your biggest critic, once you’re surrounded by supportive people they may be too nice to shoot you down.

Avoid credit at all costs, rather work harder and grow slowly.

Where can we buy your products?

I stock a few stores, but I have a great online store ( and ship everywhere. Buying from the maker only adds to the personal experience of buying a handcrafted item.

Thanks Mat!


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