No, this isn’t a movie set. This is Pangea Sculptures – a unique company selling magnificent metal sculptures f rom its North West showroom and transforming hundreds of lives in Africa in the process.
Pangea (dictionary definition: the ancient supercontinent comprising all the present continents joined together) is located in Ormskirk and the experience of stepping inside its showroom is half natural history museum, half static zoo; animals large and small, all handmade in Kenya and Zimbabwe from recycled materials, such as large oil drums. We visited Pangea to meet founder Ian Unsworth and discover the incredible story behind these wild showstoppers.
Inspired by a trip to Africa
Ian’s just got back from another trip to Africa. His passion for Pangea and its purpose is palpable. He recalls how a visit to Kenya and Zimbabwe to see his elderly uncle sparked the idea for the business and connected him to worthy recipients of his inspiring benevolence:
“My uncle had lived in Africa for over 40 years and I hadn’t seen him in decades. He was 97 and I felt this might be my last chance. Whilst I was there, I saw people at the side of the roads selling these fantastic sculptures. The next day, I got chatting to the artists and without hesitation, I bought a container’s worth of animals and had them shipped back to the UK.”
They sold to family and friends in a matter of weeks.
“I thought, I’ve got a business here!” laughs Ian. “I used to jointly own a successful food company and I decided that I wanted to use the money I’d earned to help other people and felt the people of Africa were the most in need.”
He flew straight back and put supply contracts in place. The company was formed in 2014 and the showroom opened its doors one year later.
All profits go to the artists
An incredible 100% of the profits are ploughed back into a 550-strong (and growing) workforce in Africa.
“I didn’t just want to send people a cheque,” explains Ian, “that’s not sustainable. This is. We’ve supported the creation of a school in Nairobi, built workshops, bought safety and welding equipment, and constructed toilet facilities.”
To date, over $1million has been put back into the artists’ communities and the turnover so far is in excess of $5million.
During the pandemic, Ian told his workforce to carry on with production and that Pangea would keep buying. Yes, he now has a few extra animals in storage, but most important to him is that his African team were kept busy and didn’t struggle. He even financed the construction of a new workshop extension during this tumultuous period.
“The goal was never to make money. I’m in a fortunate position” says Ian.
A sight to behold
The Pangea team is small but mighty. The seven of them share their space with a magnif icent metal menagerie housing everything f rom crocodiles and fighting bulls to lions and monkeys.
As well as animals, there are flowers too and also the ‘Superheroes’ range made from old car parts (an 8ft-tall Optimus Prime Transformer, anyone?). There too are exquisite figurines made f rom stone sourced high on Mount Nyangani, miles away from the artists’ homes. They camp out for weeks, chiselling daily to bring back what can be up to a tonne of stone. The figures themselves can then take up to a year to create.
In total, there are over 400 design lines available – all handmade – and with over 3,000 items stocked in the Ormskirk warehouse, you’ll never wait long for your product to be delivered.
If any showroom was made for Instagram, it’s this one. The team even allows little ones to sit atop the life-size beasts and have a photo taken.
The prices are wonderful too – there’s a Pangea piece to suit every budget; from £30 up to £20,000.
The most popular?
“Definitely the 6ft giraffe,” says Ian, “it looks great in the corner of a room or on the patio. A fantastic talking point when guests visit, for sure!”
“We do bespoke pieces and Amazon requested a 17ft x 8ft bull. Our artists created it and it just about fitted into a 40ft container!”
You can hire the sculptures out too; think weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. Again, the prices are competitive and will make any special event truly unforgettable.
Ian really has created something wonderful with Pangea Sculptures.
Operations in Nairobi in Kenya and Harare in Zimbabwe are growing. Over 25 workshops are currently creating works exclusively for the company.
You can read the biographies of the artists on the Pangea website, many of whom come from a long line of sculptors. It’s a rich heritage that we are now lucky enough to have access too.
“Our next step is wholesale, selling smaller pieces direct to retailers,” reveals Ian, “and then, later this year, we will be launching global worldwide distribution. So, for example, a New Yorker can order a life-size elephant – online or by speaking with one of the team – and have it delivered to their doorstep!”
Make a visit to Pangea
There has never been a better time to visit the showroom.
“The team recently launched Pangea African Aid,” reveals Ian. “We are asking visitors to bring in their new and old clothes, iPhones, laptops… anything but money… and we are shipping them direct to African communities in need.”
These communities are evidently extremely close to Ian’s heart. On his last visit, he arranged a gathering of every single artist, support worker and some of their families. He and Sales Executive Mark Moss ordered a KFC meal for every attendee – 670 in total. Ian also hired a photographer, so that he could capture images of him with each and every person.
“Some of the kids had never even seen a can of coke,” says Ian. “We hugged, shook hands, it was such a memorable day. It summed up our ethos: work hard, have fun, help others.”
To think that all this generosity, beauty and wonder came from one single trip to Africa to visit an uncle:
“He passed away a couple of years ago,” Ian tells us, “but he got to see what I was doing and he was really proud of what I’ve achieved.”