“Nguni! Nguni!” exclaimed the security guard at the airport scanner in Johannesburg as he took my Zulucow handbag out of the tray and started to pose with it! Wherever I went in South Africa, Zulus admired my ZC cowhide bag. The scanner man explained that he had an ‘ibheshu’ (traditional ‘apron’ made from Nguni cowhide to cover mens’ buttocks and worn for ancestral ceremonies, weddings and important Zulu occasions. See picture on the right.)
Zulucow has grown and with new orders from an interior design gallery: ‘Studiotex’, Chelsea Harbour, Design Centre; a strong web and local response to my new products; I decided I needed to go to SA to visit the talented ladies and men who make my patchwork cowhide rugs, Nguni cowhide rugs, bags and cowhide cushions, so beautifully. It was a brilliant trip; and very moving. I’ve grown ZC slowly from my kitchen table around the boys’ school run. I hadn’t realised that my orders (which have definitely grown considerably over the last year; although, I’m still a small concern); had made such an impact on the lives of the wonderful, fun, warm spirited, Zulu craftswomen and men who make them. Ma Beatrice and Ma Phillippene hugged me and said “Ngiyakuthanda wena” (We love you Lucy.) Crikey? But after some time chatting with them, I realised that they rely hugely on the jobs that YOU (my customers) are creating.
Ma Beatrice showing me the new travel bags she’s made for Zulucow and Bongiwe sitting on the beautiful cowhide patchwork rug she’s just completed.
South Africa suffers from crippling unemployment – officially 25%, but unofficially especially in rural areas like Zululand, unemployment reaches 70 percent. The young men and husbands leave to find employment in Joburg or Durban, but shockingly, often never return (starting up new families in the cities.) So the women need to earn an income to support not only their children and ageing parents, but, as I learnt, their extended families of up to 8 or 9 people, who rely on their monthly wages.
Case study: Thandeka (Her name means: ‘Be Loveable’) has worked at the small ‘workshop’ for 7 years. She was first trained to trim Nguni cowhides; and then to sew leather and now she skilfully helps to make ZC’s new patchwork cowhide rugs. She told me “I’m very happy I have a job and I have learnt new skills. There are not many jobs. We Zulus are very good at making things with our hands like sewing and farming.” She said it was very important for her to support her kids, build a house and buy chickens. Her 3 children, aged: 4,6,and 11, live 190 kms away. (Their fathers have abandoned her and their children.) Her sister looks after them, whilst she earns money to feed them all. She can only afford to go home to see them once every 2 months.
Some ladies just can’t make it to the sewing machines at the workshop in town, due to the demands of childcare, caring for ‘Gogos’ (grandmothers), tilling their veggie plots and tending to the chickens and goats. However, they can stitch some cushions and other items from their kraal as Ma Thandi and her sister are doing here.
The trip made me acutely aware of the importance of the jobs which Zulucow and it’s fabulous band of loyal customers is helping to create. I intend to return a percentage of the profits to these ladies, and men, (when they come!) Now I realise that these ladies rely on the income from my Zulucow cowhide rugs, bags, belts, cushions, (and due to a surge in demand this autumn already), I’ve put in some big orders for Christmas.
This December, we are returning to SA for a family holiday; and we’re taking the boys to visit Ceasar, who was not only king of the ‘keepy uppies’, but translated Zulu to English for me beautifully. He told me he supports Real Madrid; so the boys have decided to take him some footy boots, and a Man U kit to see if they can sway him away from La Liga to the Premier League! In fact so many friends have been moved by their story that we are gathering quite a pile of nearly-new footy kits, shoes and girls clothes and toys for the Zulucow workers’ children’s Christmas presents.