From a Rubbish Dump in South Africa to Birmingham NEC

I was delighted when I received a phone call from one of my South African suppliers, Lise Kuhle.  Lise’s company, Shwe, sells a range of products made out of recovered waste materials and hand printed South African Shwe Shwe material by local community projects.  Shwe Shwe is a printed dyed cotton fabric widely used for traditional Sotho (South Africa & Lesotho) clothing.  The fabric is manufactured in a variety of colours and printed designs characterised by intricate geometric patterns. Due to its timeless popularity, Shwe Shwe has been described as the ‘denim’ or ‘tartan’ of South Africa.

After meeting Lise a year ago, I knew that her products would be well received in the UK and fit with Zuza Trading’s core values, as not only are they beautiful and practical, but the process of making the Shwe products is one in which ethics are paramount. Shwe’s mission is to create jobs and reduce waste to landfill by working with various community projects and NGOs in the Germiston area to uplift the communities and provide a real change to their lives.

The purpose of Lise’s phone call was to invite me to Spring Fair at Birmingham’s NEC, the UK’s leading gift and home exhibition and by far the biggest trade exhibition happening in the country.  Tens of thousands of buyers from around the world attend the show, including the majority of the top retail brands. Lise had been selected as one of a delegation of 12 South African businesses to show at Spring Fair, funded by the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) from South Africa.  SEDA provides business development and support services for small enterprises in South Africa through its national network in partnership with domestic and international partners.  SEDA programmes, such as the one Lise is part of, are used to meet government targets and are all ethically based.

I was honored to be invited to join the team as a UK distributor, we had a fabulous couple of days and it was so great that a government funded organization in my home country of South Africa had paired Lise and I (now a South African based in Cumbria) together to showcase her products to market at such a prestigious event.  The Swhe products were incredibly well received by retail buyers in the UK, so look out for them in shops over the coming months.  

What really seemed to appeal to the buyers was the ethical values behind the products, so indications that ethical goods are a rapidly growing market were really reflected at Spring Fair. While I love my South African roots, this growing appetite for ethically sourcing of products really made me proud to be (almost) British that weekend!

Claire Shepherd
Zuza Trading