How Zulucow helps to create sustainable jobs and ethically sourced products.

Zulu Women working, cutting leather for cowhide sustainable products

Have you ever stopped mid-way shopping online, and thought, ‘ Is this product sustainable?’. It’s such a simple question but the answer is far more complex than that.

When you buy a Zulucow Product, you are helping to create sustainable jobs and help Zulu women to survive; to put food on the table. We are so proud of our ethically sourced product range and want to tell you all about them.

What is an ethically sourced product?

When you purchase any of our natural leather and cowhide pieces, what are you actually buying? A beautiful, utterly unique, lovingly handmade item, ethically sourced from rural KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa? Yes. A Zulucow product that proudly bears and celebrates the exquisite patterning of the beloved Nguni cattle that roam the province’s hills? Absolutely.

And yet, you’re buying so much more than that.

How important is sustainability to Zulucow?

When you invest in a Zulucow product, you are helping to create sustainable employment where it’s most needed. In a country where the unemployment rate is way over 50 per cent and far worse now due to the devastating effects of Covid-19. Put simply, you are helping to buy a job, which translates into food on the table of many families. By buying a Zulucow product, you are helping to make a difference not only in the lives of Thandi Khoza (51), Gcinile Ntombela (41), Nellie Majozi (39), Bheki Ndlovu (40) and Nomzamo Nqolwana (28), who all work for Zulucow, but in the lives of their extended families and communities, too. You are helping to fight poverty.

As sole breadwinners, these talented craftspeople – three of whom are single mothers – all support multiple members of their family. With many families surviving solely on state pension and child welfare in South Africa, this support is vital. Zulucow is a small team with a big, big heart – and your purchase is helping to make that heartbeat.

How are Zulucow products made?

This is how each Zulucow sustainable product comes into being. The striking Nguni hides are sustainably sourced as a byproduct of the meat industry. Nothing goes to waste (unlike some commercial ranches in other parts of the world, which are producing cheap hides). Cattle farming has vastly increased in the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal. Many traditional small-scale Zulu farmers have moved away from cropping for sale, now running small groups of Nguni cows over communal pasture lands. The cows are selectively bred, lauded for their remarkable beauty. Their hides, which have held a significant role in traditional Zulu culture for centuries, are now adding value to these small-scale farmers.

Nguni cattle. All Zulucow’s products are by-products of the meat industry

Each hide that makes its way into the Zulucow workshop, has been carefully selected. All pieces are traced, cut and assembled by hand. In fact, these products are as handmade by our team as you can get! Bheki does most of the cutting, while Thandi, Nomzamo, Nellie and Gcinile do the sewing. It is a true culmination of expert traditional skills and modern-day craftsmanship.

Women sewing cowhide leather bag
Talented Khanyi, sewing Zulucow bag straps

Once they have put the product together, and are satisfied with its high quality, they clean it; check and pack it with Nelly. And then out into the world, it goes, making its way to an international customer base. Each Zulucow product is an individual work of art with a story to tell. Carrying with it is a tactile beauty that speaks to its provenance and the team’s 10 years of skills development. The work of their hands and hearts, their hopes and aspirations, their striving for a better life for themselves and future generations.

And that, all of that, is what you’re actually buying. Isn’t that a ethically sourced product worth treasuring?   

Nelly and her daughter (who occasionally joins her in the workshop.)