19 April 2013 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Mad Cows and Hams

The story of MAD Cows and MAD Hams is infused with the rollicking, inventive energy of its two mad-cap creators, Clare and Bianca, whose motto of ‘making a difference’ has found a home in Hoedspruit.

Clare Wilkie-Girardin and Bianca Black of MAD Cows fame

The MAD (making a difference) journey began two-and-a-half years ago when she moved to Hoedspruit and needed a new interest, says Clare Wilkie-Girardin, co-founder of the sustainable sourcing and responsible procurement business that includes a craft and coffee shop in the Limpopo town of Hoedspruit.

Cushions made from mud cloth and shweshwe

Having spent the years prior to her move running Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge in beautiful Venda, Clare had been exposed to lots of amazing artists and crafters and saw an opportunity to help market their work. Bianca Black, with a background in the art and décor business, had an extensive network of contacts in the creative and tourism sectors.

Together they came up with a concept to bridge the gap between local crafters and the consumer in an ethical and sustainable way. They formulated a business model that would pay the bills without compromising their integrity or killing the passion for South African art and crafts that they share.

As well as making a living, we wanted to make a difference; every product or project that we market has an ethos.

'As well as making a living, we wanted to make a difference; every product or project that we market has an ethos,' explains Clare.

The MAD Cows shop is filled with items Clare and Bianca have spent hours sourcing, often visiting the artists and the workshops where the goods are produced to be sure of their sustainability credentials. Products range from beaded and woven items to organic oils, wooden slabs and handcrafted lamps and clothing. 'And we’re discovering new products all the time,' says Clare.

Clare on one of her road trips to source beautiful crafts

Their latest venture, MAD Hams, takes the same concept and applies it to food.

'It was never our intention to open a coffee shop,' laughs Claire, surrounded by customers who appear to be very glad they did. When the newly opened Rock Fig Centre in Hoedspruit was looking for a food and beverage tenant, it wasn’t long before Clare and Bianca started talking about filling the gap, and in next to no time, they were on the road, sourcing small, artisanal food producers for the new coffee shop and deli.

Using small local suppliers like Wegraakbosch Organic Cheese Dairy in Haenertsburg, Fairtrade Puro coffee, jams from Hazel’s Harvest, herbs from Hlokomela and vegetables from Rag Vegetable Growers, Clare and Bianca are employing the same sourcing principles they use to find crafts.

Clare, Bianca and Lucy celebrating the launch of MAD Hams

The quirky, fun name embodies what the venture is all about: aligning the coffee shop with the craft shop, referencing the deli and poking fun at the concept of madams. 'Besides, I just love pigs,' says Clare, who has a tattoo of a pot belly pig on her leg.

Working with chef Lucy Blunt to put together seasonal menus, MAD Hams is developing tasting platters, salads and a tapas menu, and serving everything from freshly squeezed juices and smoothies to decadent chocolate brownies and divine lemon and poppy-seed cake.

This new cafe and deli is centrally located in Hoedspruit

'Simplicity works and we believe in simple food made good, good food made simple,' says Clare.

The shop itself is full of vibrant colour and beautiful art; there is fast Wi-Fi and comfortable couches, and its layout means that you can sit on different sides of the building, depending on where the sun is, at different times of the day.

While MAD Hams won’t be open at night, it will cater functions and has exciting plans to host things like movie nights and themed, one-off menus.

'I just love the concept of sharing food, and as with MAD Cows, we’ve gone with what we love,' says Clare.

This personal approach seems to work, injecting the MAD brand with oodles of personality and passion, and an authenticity that stems from Clare's and Bianca’s sincere commitment to making a difference. That they and their customers have a ton of fun on the way is simply an unavoidably by-product of the process.

For more information, visit www.madcows.co.za.

Category: Responsible Tourism

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