Arts & Crafts
Nick is originally a Lowveld lad while Nicole is from Pretoria. They met 10 years ago while studying in Johannesburg, where they were neighbours. A few moves followed, until the couple eventually ended up in Witbank, as both were involved in the coal-and-power station industry. Not surprisingly, they grew tired of that part of the world and realised a change was on the cards.
“Things were just not working out for us,” says Nick, explaining how he came up with their business concept. “It was inspired by my son, the world’s greatest five-year-old tree-hugger,” he laughs. “He always makes toys from empty cooldrink bottles and will tell me that he’s ‘recycling’. That’s when I decided to make bags and accessories from recycled materials.”
Nicole immediately bought into the idea. They named it Khanya Kudze, after the savannah trees found in abundance locally. “It was fitting as our range is a proudly Lowveld product.” Nick tells us he had never touched a sewing machine before November last year, yet found it came naturally to him. “I watched others and I learnt very quickly,” he smiles.
In order to kick-start the business, they needed the right manufacturing equipment. By a stroke of good luck, they met a man who owned a shoe-repair factory in Bushbuckridge – with everything they needed at their disposal.
They took the leap of faith and moved to the rural sticks. “In the beginning we only used rubber, but then we met Trevor Selke of Rogue Outdoor Gear (a leather-crafts manufacturer in Hazyview) through a mutual friend. Trevor opened his doors to us and we could see how his factory operates. He gave us good technical advice which enabled us to introduce leather.”
The dynamic duo manufacture all their products themselves. “Whatever people are throwing away, we take and recycle. We source rubber from tyre places and leather offcuts from a few people, before transforming it into beautiful products,” Nick explains.
The couple share an intense passion for South Africa and nature, reflected in the authentic African details added to their products. They regard caring for the environment as equally important.
“The amount of emissions extracted from burning rubber sends an alarming amount of carbon into the atmosphere,” they say and lament the fact that the majority of tubes aren’t properly disposed of or recycled. Where others see waste, they see potential.
“Rubber is durable and becomes velvet-like to the touch as it ages. It is also completely water-resistant. When we started experimenting with this material, it was immediately obvious that it would work. You can brand it and paint on it – it looks awesome.”
Both creative and artistic by nature, they revel in the fact that they spend all this time together while putting their skills to good use doing something they both love. “We make a great team,” Nicole says. “I cut the patterns and do the hand-stitching, while Nick will make the holes and add the fittings and rivets. As a team, we can make about 10 small bags in a day.” Apart from fabulous handbags, they also make purses, bracelets, luggage tags, keyholders and coasters.
“We are targeting tourists who visit our beautiful country and continent, as well as anyone who is a greenie at heart”
“We have many dreams for our business, and are currently in communication with other stockists throughout South Africa, even as far as Cape Town. We hope that Khanya Kudze will take off with its environmentally friendly initiative, and our beautiful creations will be shared not only here, but across Africa.”
So far, the response has been extremely positive and people love their work, including the accessories. “It’s something different, something new and trendy,” Nicole says with excitement.
The couple also hope to create a save-the-rhino range of bracelets to raise funds and create awareness for our poaching epidemic. They are keen to collaborate with other designers, artists and beadworkers to develop exciting new ranges to highlight South African arts and culture.
“It’s amazing how far we have come. If you look at the first bag we made, to where we are now – it’s like we’ve acquired a lifetime of knowledge. We have been immensely blessed and supported. People have been so kind and have also shared their wisdom and knowledge with us. We can’t wait to see what the next 10 years have in store for us,” Nick beams.
The couple’s range can be found at the flower shop inside The Grove SUPERSPAR in Mbombela, and can also be ordered via their Facebook page or on their website.