What a lovely surprise: to receive an invitation to feature in ‘Urban Village LDN‘ – an online magazine for Fulham in London! I met Melinda (who writes and produces the magazine) about 3 years ago at a Christmas Fair in Fulham where we got chatting about all things sustainably and ethically made. We’ve been following each other on Instagram ever since.
Beyond the Hood
We met Lucy Land founder of Zulucow about three years ago at a Lady Margaret School Christmas Fair. We were swept up by her energy, infectious personality and the passion for her business was immediately evident and undeniable. Lucy born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa started Zulucow after a family trip to South Africa in 2013. Up until that point Lucy had enjoyed a career as a TV producer for BBC sport in London and worked as a freelance camerawoman/producer for “Racing Post TV” but with a young family it was time to rethink her working life.
During that trip Lucy told Urban Village LDN “I was struck by the distinctive indigenous Nguni cowhides I noticed for sale on the side of the road. Excitedly, I bought an Nguni cowhide rug, bag and belt home. When I returned there was so much interest and they repeatedly attracted admiring glances and compliments back in the UK. I started making calls to South Africa and found a small co-operative of Zulu ladies and so Zulucow began.”
With few employment opportunities in rural South Africa and unemployment over 50% Lucy told us about the co-operative she works with and the lifeline it provides. Zulu women are renowned for their intricate beadwork and farmers wife Linell saw this as an opportunity to empower women who are often single parents and sole providers. Linell set up and runs a work shop where the women learn how to sew and develop their skills; cutting leather and sewing came naturally to them. Eight years later Zulucow’s orders have grown hugely and Lucy is still working with the same Zulu seamstresses: Nelly, Thandi, Gloria, Ma Philippine and Khanyi. They’ve grown together, created new styles, more contemporary versions of that first roadside bag that Lucy bought and new ranges including cowhide cushions and accessories. Lucy told us “I’m passionate about Southern Africa’s vibrant vibe; captivated by its beauty, rich cultural heritage and its fun-loving people. I created Zulucow out of a desire, to try and help create sustainable employment opportunities and skills development in rural communities where poverty is rife but where creativity abounds. On a trip back to South Africa Khanyi and Gloria, both single parents and sole providers, told me how key the jobs are for them to survive; put food on the table and pay the bills. I’m proud to boast that all our products are finely crafted by a team of craftswomen who work in good conditions and are paid above the average wage”.
From the very start Lucy talked to Linell about how Zulucow could give back and support the workers, their families above and beyond providing long term sustainable jobs. Profits from Zulucow purchases have supported the seamstresses in other ways: from they start they’ve bought stationery and school uniform for the children of the workers, donated school shoes and essentials, in 2020 thanks to sales of their “Multiway Clutch/Shoulder bag” they bought food parcels for Thandi, Nelly, Nomzamo, Bheki and the rest of the team who have found it especially tough feeding their families at this time and they have even donated much needed bras; a luxury and hard to find item in South Africa.
We loved talking to Lucy about the history behind the cowhides and the sustainability of Zulucow. The hides are derived from South Africa’s indigenous Nguni cattle introduced by Bantu speaking tribes. For centuries the Zulus traditionally and to this day have bred Ngunis for their attractive colouring and beautiful markings. The Nguni are part of a rich Zulu culture with cowhides being used for shields and ceremonial clothing. King Shaka of the Zulus bred specific colour patterns in his Niguni herds to produce skins for the different regiments of his army. His personal guard was distinguished by pure white cowhides and the more common black and white Nguni cowhides were worn by lesser Zulu warriors; helping identify who was in command in battle. We loved hearing from Lucy that the hides are given different names according to their distinctive patterns which help identify them including “ flies in butter” ad “eggs of sky lark”.
Bred primarily as a source of protein to eat nothing in South Africa goes to waste with the hides a natural and ethical by product of the meat industry. The Zulus are deriving an income from the Nguni, as a result of jobs created not only in crafting but also in tanning. Lucy hand selects each hide in a small tannery and every part is used to make sure nothing is wasted; off cuts are used for key rings, purses and smaller items. “With an increased concern for the sustainability and provenance of what we buy, I’m proud to say that Zulucows range are made of by-products of a traditional food industry in South Africa. One of the core brand values of Zulucow; is that all our cowhide rugs and cowhide products are sustainable, made to last and don’t impact the environment”. Lucy told us this is not the case in Brazil where cattle are farmed for their skins on vast ranches created by cutting down the Amazon rainforest to fulfil demand for fast fashion.
Over the years Lucy has added to the product range including beautiful beaded items which she first bought from Nyvasha on a visit to Johannesburg; where her husband is from. Whilst visiting her Mother in law she saw other artisans selling from the side of the road and was taken by the incredible craftmanship of Nyvasha’s beaded animals, wall art and animal heads. On her return home they proved to be very popular items at Christmas Fairs in the UK and their sales continue to support Nyvasha and his family including his two sons Brendan and Brilliant.
Lucy told us I have bought things I loved and other people loved them as much as I did, I am so passionate about Zulucow and the artisans. I can ‘s wait to see the ladies, their children, to talk about new lines and on going work with all the seamstresses. I’m always bowled over by their warmth and their gratitude for Zulucow’s growing orders and hearing how much every little thing helps. I’m energised by people and all our products are so tactile, customers need to touch and feel them. I can’t wait to be back talking directly to consumers and telling them the story behind the products”. Zulucow will be taking part in Spirit of Christmas this year which takes place on 1 – 7 November so if you’re planning on attending do find Lucy’s stand and say hello. In the meantime you can find our more about Zulucow on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/zulucowbylucy/LEARN MORE