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So … About Southern Industrial?


Julius K Nyerere Street is an unlikely spot for a creative renaissance.

At any given workday hour, the road is slowed with the delivery vehicles, bakkies and heavy trucks headed to the sprawl of automotive businesses, paint factories, building supply stores and sanitary ware shops that define the Southern Industrial Area.

Pedestrians cross the street at their own peril. The cabs that trundle down the motorway pick up passengers anywhere that lends itself to a middle finger and the various off-white warehouse-style buildings suggest functionality rather than creativity.

That doesn’t mean the creatives aren’t coming.

At Lazarette Square they’ve arrived with bells on.

After the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered a slew of businesses in the area, buildings that were once home to an aquatic shop and a car battery outfit have been transformed into a barber shop, Kissing Cousins Tattoo Parlour, an independent art gallery and a handcrafted leather goods store.

On the corner of Julius K Nyerere and Faraday streets, Jaybird & Blade is in the business of cuts, shaves and coffee.

On a Saturday afternoon, its dark interior is illuminated with hanging bulbs and half globe lamps casting a glow over an offbeat collection of curiosities as Wu-Tang Clan buzzes in the background.

The aesthetic is alternative. The barbers, a friendly cohort of the pierced and the tattooed who offer an hour cut and a welcome drink.

Owner Ollie Reissner says the drink, the collector and vintage vibe as well as the music calibration are all to set clients at ease because Jaybird & Blade, which moved into the area from a smaller situation in Klein Windhoek in May, is more than just a barber shop.

“The idea when I opened this place was to create a space of networking, community and of trust that had all the traditional aspects of barbering,” says Reissner.

“Everybody gets an hour cut. Everybody gets enough time to wind down and enough time for the barbers to do their job properly. That’s why you get a beer and Jägermeister is on board,” Reissner says.

“Obviously, the longer you come, you go from client to patron to friend and that’s what we’ve seen here.”

The new Jaybird & Blade is around the corner from the new The Project Room, which is still dealing with some minor issues of a change in location.

“We still get people looking for Taurus Batteries so we direct them to where it was,” says owner Frieda Lühl.

The Project Room moved from Jenner Street in Windhoek West to Julius K Nyerere Street in July this year.

“I like that southern industrial is so central, that totally enhanced the clientele of The Project Room. So many young people come and say this is wonderful, it’s so accessible,” says Lühl.

“We’re down the street from the older creative hub, which is Grüner Kranz. The Namibian Arts Association used to be there too. There’s also the Namibia Book Market, StArt Art Gallery used to be there. The Wolfshack is there and they give platforms for musicians and host karaoke nights. So there’s a lot of creativity going on around here.”

Lühl made the move to lean into the need for some expansion and to separate her personal space from her professional one.

“The rent is good too. For a gallery, you always use a lot of square metres and selling art is not so easy,” says Lühl, whose space accommodates a crop of exciting new and veteran artists while also hosting LGBTQIA+ film screenings, creative workshops and artist-led walkabouts.

“Because it was meant to be a coffee roastery, it came painted black and we’re kind of into it. It’s sort of our signature now and we really like how it works with so many exhibitions.”

A little further down the way, one can follow the yellow brick road to Leon Engelbrecht Design (LED), where the eponymous owner presides over a gorgeous handcrafted leather goods showroom, store and manufacturing space.

LED moved operations from their shop at Maerua Mall to Lazarette Square on Julius K Nyerere Street in January.

“First and foremost what this space offers me is the possibility to grow the manufacturing side,” says Engelbrecht over the bang of rivets being hammered onto a tote bag.

“People can really get an instant appreciation for what they’re buying,” says Engelbrecht, whose sought-after bags, bowties and fine leather pieces are showcased astride his newest venture into textiles.

“I feel that my creativity can blossom here. I am already taking on bigger projects that I couldn’t in the mall and I’m also attracting different people that we can collab with,” he says.

“What really sold me on this area and this building is these double volume windows. You don’t get this in Windhoek, firstly, and the feeling of space I got when I walked in made me realise that this could be something very cool.”

Cool.

Perhaps that’s the word.

As a crop of older millennials and innovative entrepreneurs make their way to the Southern Industrial Area, it is getting cooler. And not only at Lazarette Square, but also on Bell Street, where Bellhaus Atelier & Galerie and The Forge are the creative new neighbours.

The Bellhaus, which opened in March, is a quaint, independent working gallery which takes its name from its location on Bell Street. A site of art supper clubs, drawing sessions and sophisticated vernissages, Bellhaus was founded by Marcii Magson and Andrea Behnsen.

“Since we opened Bellhaus, people of all walks of life have been coming back to the Grüner Kranz to see how it has developed and where it is going,” says Behnsen.

“We think it’s fantastic because the creatives are coming together to work for a greater goal and that is turning the city centre back into a creative hub. More creative outlets and food stalls are in the pipeline to attract even more people,” she says.

“We hope to add value to the bigger picture of turning Windhoek back into the creative powerhouse that it used to be when we grew up. So watch this space.”

Space is an idea that recurs in the stories of all these entrepreneurs.

Space to grow, to manufacture and to build community.

Up the road from Bellhaus at The Forge, a utilitarian gym founded by author Rémy Ngamije and his writer brother Ange Mucyo, space is the beginning of everything.

“We’re breathing new life into old spaces,” says Ngamije, who transformed an old paint factory into the kind of no-nonsense gym that has a quote by Seneca painted over its entrance: “There is no easy way from the earth to the stars.”

“Our goal at The Forge is to make and remake yourself time and time again through fitness and the fact that we could do this with the building as well maybe holds a little promise for the larger urban environment in Windhoek,” Ngamije says.

“We need to allow young people to reconceptualise space, to hear them out, hear their plans and allow them the space to express themselves.”

To hear Ngamije declare it, is to believe in it.

And as the Southern Industrial Area continues to open its doors to diverse creatives, one can only imagine what spirited new business will next call a spacious warehouse or an empty supplier store home.

[email protected]; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram; marthamukaiwa.com





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