Spotlight on Zulucow
Today's Spotlight is on Zulucow, bringing high quality, ethically sourced, cowhide and leather home accessories, bags and fashion accessories straight from Africa. Founder Lucy is native to Zimbabwe and set up Zulucow to create sustainable employment opportunities and to help develop skills of those living in rural communities in South Africa.
Her goods are stunning, I have a cowhide cushion in my living room, which you can see above and if you want to find out more of shop for items from Zulucow, you can do so here.
Otherwise, please read on to find out more about Lucy's journey.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
I had always wanted to start my own business; our young family had moved to Exmoor with my husband's work; so, I had to leave my BBC career. We had recently visited friends and family in South Africa, where we'd bought the most exquisite, ethically and sustainably-sourced cowhide rug; a gorgeous cowhide handbag and belt from a 'padstal' (road-side stall/shop). My husband is South African and I was born in Zimbabwe; I spent my childhood in South Africa.
Back in England, my cowhide bag repeatedly drew attention and I received compliments in the streets; our hide was much admired by friends.... An idea was borne: to bring these stunning, high quality unusual pieces to sell in the UK. And so, it began; researching the market, the products, the competition etc.
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises? How did you fund your business?
I started up from our kitchen table and funded the business with savings. I have consciously grown the business very slowly due to the limitations of working on my own and being a full-time mother/housewife; but this way I have learnt so much.
3. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
The most difficult part was having to do it all by myself: from working out the minutiae of importing and shipping leather goods; to pricing for retail and customers; to spread sheets and business projections; cash flow...all the accounting elements I loathe!
I also worried a lot about the responsibility of not wasting our savings; this business had to work.
4. What help was missing for you?
A mentor. I was lucky to have my husband with his business head (when he was around - his job involved a lot of international travel) and I had a great business friend, nearby, but I often felt alone and yearned for a mentor.
5. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
The most important piece of advice is to be honest and fair; to work hard; listen to people, but trust your own intuition and don't give up when things are overwhelming or don't work out the way you'd hoped. You've got to be tenacious and utterly love your business; to sacrifice your evenings and free time.
6. And what do you enjoy the most?
I love designing the bags and working with the hugely talented Zulu craftswomen and men making Zulucow's cowhide accessories in South Africa. It is rewarding to feel that in our small way, Zulucow is making a difference to their lives – providind sustainable skills and sustainable employment (in a country where there are very few jobs - unemployment exceeds 50% in rural areas.) I am going to visit Ma Beatrice, Ma Philippine, Nelly and the team in September and set up a scheme to sponsor some of their children through primary school.
7. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
My biggest frustration; is having so many ideas; yet so little time to initiate them. I’ve realised that one just can't be a perfectionist in all the different disciplines involved in running/owning a business.....I work as hard as I can, but often miss big sales opportunities due to my main role as housewife. I'm hoping I'll have more time once my second child goes to secondary school in 18 months! It’s not that hard to run my business so 4?
Nicola says " I love that Lucy's business gives back to the people in South Africa, creating sustainable employment and better conditions for those in rural areas. That in itself is a noble cause for running a business. I hear Lucy's frustration about not being able to move quicker, but in some ways, taking the time to learn her business skills properly, will set her in good stead for when the business does grow, rather than having to learn them in a hurry, and making more mistakes because time is precious. Lucy has learned a lot of very valuable business skills and when the time is right, can outsource the accountancy parts she loathes so much, but this way she will understand the fundamentals and will know her business is in good shape."
The Girl with The Green Sofa