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Changing lives one stitch at a time

The Taunina Family


Tracey Chiappini-Young

After completing her Business Science finance honours at the University of Cape Town, Tracey decided to indulge her creative self and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Twelve months later the fashion world breathed a sigh of relief as she returned to  finance  as an investment manager at HSBC, BOE Asset Management, and later Quaystone Limited.

Tracey got one step closer to her dream of making a difference at the helm of the CIDA Empowerment Fund, an investment fund which finances the tertiary education of underprivileged South African youths. As founder and author of the how2help national series of books, she motivated the involvement of professional individuals in community development. As Executive Director of the TSiBA Fund, Tracey continues to build an endowment fund to secure sustainability for TSiBA Education, which she describes as “one of the most extraordinary academic institutions in the world”.

Tracey is a Chartered Financial Analyst, and has a TRIUM Executive MBA from the London School of Economics, NYU Stern and HEC Paris. She sits on a number of company boards, including the Mr Price Group and the TSiBA Fund. With a rich background in investment and business, Tracey brings a wealth of experience to the company.

In 2011, together with Karen Jansen, she set up Taunina to realize a dream of transforming lives by giving people dignity, pride and a self-belief.

Tracey is a Capetonian who loves travelling, yoga, reading, hiking, and languages. An obsessive reader, her favourite books include Elegance of a Hedgehog by Muriel Burberry, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and Times Arrow by Martin Amis.  She’s married to a “wonderful, tall, dark and not-so-mysterious man” called Neill and has “two of the most beautiful daughters in the world”: Maya and Neve.


Karen Jansen

Born in the United States to a Brazilian mother and German father, Karen credits her multi-cultural upbringing for sowing the seeds of Taunina in her heart at a very early age. Imprinted by the economic differences in her trifurcated childhood, she made it a goal to one day understand what caused these differences and to help alleviate the extreme social inequities she experienced as she attempted to move with grace between her three worlds.

Karen is an American and Brazilian citizen. She is pleased about the positive changes in Brazil, yet is still concerned about the extreme poverty that continues to exist. Through Taunina she wishes to expand Taunina’s “trade not aid” business model in Rio de Janeiro, adding to Taunina’s global family of artists and further spreading opportunity to those who need it the most.

Karen received two Bachelor’s degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Business Administration and French) and a Master’s degree from TRIUM (Global Executive MBA from the London School of Economics, NYU Stern, and HEC Paris) where she studied the socio-economic-political forces that shaped the extremes of her childhood. It is here that she met fellow dreamer, philanthropist, friend and Taunina co-founder Tracey.

Having spent 10 years working in corporate America as a management consultant, Karen is pleased to apply her business skills in a new and meaningful way. Karen is responsible for Taunina’s global operations, including helping each collection piece find its new home and make its way around the world.

Karen is married to an eternal optimist named Don Ruse. They live in Austin, Texas, with their baby daughter Olivia. Karen has been to almost 40 countries, is fluent in three languages, plays the piano and treasures the rare opportunity to get lost in a book.


Katherine Meldau

Katherine has worked in a hospital and a jewellery store, but it is in her role as administrative mother hen at Taunina that she has found a real passion. She met Tracey at the CIDA Empowerment Fund, an investment fund which finances the tertiary education of underprivileged South African youths.

Katherine is inspired by the quantifiable difference that Taunina makes – not only to the artists involved but also to everyone whose lives are touched by Taunina’s handmade treasures. She’s the glue that keeps the company together: Juggling a multitude of tasks and keeping the team focused, her organisational skills are invaluable.

Katherine is married to Warren and shares her home with four dogs, four cats, four birds, three chickens and fifty fish! Her favourite pastimes include gardening and anything to do with animals and nature. Passionate about being ‘green’, she tries to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible.


Gracé Schutte

Gracé (pronounced Gracey) is not only our graphic designer, responsible for keeping the Taunina look and feel spot on, she’s also a champion at arranging photo shoots, organizing events, sourcing props, managing staff and coming up with product development ideas.

A great multi-tasker, she steadily ploughs through never-ending lists of things to do with inspired creativity, a level head and a cheerful outlook.

Asked how she manages to arrive at work every day with her sense of calm can-do attitude, she says she owes it to her morning ritual: “I wake up and my husband makes us coffee. We then sit together on our favourite couch and watch the waves crash onto the beach with a beautiful sunrise backdrop. With every wave, the colour of the water changes as the sun rises. Some mornings the sea is rough and some days it looks like a mirror. I’m amazed that the sea has so many personalities.”

Gracé claims she is inspired by life and the people around her. She loves finding ways of making the world a better place, ‘even if it is just for one person, just for a while’.

Born in Pretoria, Gracé has spent most of her life in this country, save for a two-year stint in Helsinki, Finland where she completed her Masters Degree in graphic design and another three years in London and New York as a freelance designer.

Her wish for South Africa is for us to learn how to truly accept one another – and forgive the hurt and pain of things that cannot be changed. “Tolerating one another is something one hears a lot when you live in South Africa, yet I feel like the word ‘tolerance’ also has a negative connotation. If we were to love one another, and not just passively tolerate one another, we’d do things that are not only good for ourselves but also good for others, then the world would be a much happier place.”

A deep thinker, Gracé says her weekends are best when she spends extra time with those she loves. “Meaningful friendships and happy, fun, laughter-filled days is what makes a weekend great for me. It’s that simple!”


Mzoxolo Jilaji

Fondly known as Mzo at atelier Taunina, he is the only man amongst the ladies and he admits he loves being surrounded by all these beauties every day of the week.

With his eagle eye for detail, Mzo is Taunina’s quality control expert, checking each aspect of every item from finished bears to printed brochures. He keeps the atelier performing in top gear, making sure threads are ordered before they run out, packages are delivered on time and that each bear is photographed for its passport and packaged to his liking. Importantly he ensures the kitchen is stocked with refreshments and 90% dark chocolate – at all times.

Mzo was born in a small rural village called Upper Gwadu, close to Idutywa in the Eastern Cape. Of his cultural background, he says: “Being a Xhosa means a lot to me. There are so many cultural rituals, traditions and customs that make me proud of my heritage. It’s a difficult thing to explain, but I feel it deeply.”

Mzo came to Cape Town in 1997 to join his mother and father who were working here. “I went to Thandokhulu High School in Mowbray, where I matriculated, made good friends and played a lot of soccer. In 2004, I started working part-time with my mother, who was making handbags for Mielie. I was a finisher, stitching the bags together until I was promoted to production manager. In 2011 I joined Taunina.”

Mzo is married to Zusiphe (means ‘Give us love’ in Xhosa). She’s also from the Eastern Cape, but the couple met in Cape Town at a church gathering in Hout Bay. “I fell in love with her because I learnt that she is a person who is respectful and respected by others. Our wedding was a traditional Xhosa celebration where we both wore our cultural outfits, called umbhaco.”

Mzo has two children, Oyintando (‘Beloved One’) and Hlumelo (‘New Growth’). “I feel so happy to have a family,” he says. “When I come home from work, they’re all there waiting for me, and even if I’m knocking on the door, they shout: ‘That’s Tata (father in Xhosa), that’s Tata.’ They make me feel so special and everything I do now, I do because I know I am a father and I want to care and provide for them.”