Kate Wilson, Founder of Mulberry Mongoose, formed a team of women in Zambia’s South Luangwa to collect poachers’ snares from the bush and transform them into stunning pieces of jewellery, donating a percentage of every sale to local conservation projects. I recently bought a few incredibly special pieces of jewellery from Mulberry Mongoose and it feels amazing to know that their creation has had a truly positive impact on an important conservation region in Africa. We interviewed Kate to find out the inspiration behind Mulberry Mongoose, and the impact that it is having on the local community...
Brand of luggage and why?
Lightfoot Zambia – they train local Zambians to create stunning handmade leather bags. The bags are light, easy to carry, stunning and add value back into the local economy.
What luxury do you never travel without?
My Prada sunglasses bought for me by my husband at the birth of our second daughter. I have had them for 5 years and they come out for travel events only!
Three must haves in your carry on?
iPad, notebook and pen and my head phones.
Favourite airline and why?
Proflight, they open up the beautiful spaces in Zambia for tourism. Sharing the beauty of a truly unique county.
What shoes do you travel in?
What’s on your travel reading list at the moment?
Shoe Dog – Phil Knight.
Favourite hotel in the world?
Latitudes 15, it is boutique and filled with African art.
First thing you do in a hotel room?
Jump on the bed and have a glass of wine.
Favourite brand of sunscreen?
Top escape and any insider tips?
Liuwi bush camp, Time and Tide Africa. It is just a place to go when you want to get away from everything and be still. It is deeply relaxing and takes you to a special place. The team are so wonderful too.
Favourite restaurant from your travels?
The Blue Café, Cape Town.
Best purchase made abroad?
A cashmere poncho from Madagascar.
If there’s one museum that can’t be missed?
Jacquemart Andre - Paris.
From growing up in London to living in South Luangwa, Zambia, what inspired you to start making jewellery?
I was a headhunter in London and very unsure about who I was and what I wanted to be. I met my now husband then, he was born and raised in Zimbabwe and his passion was for African conservation. He took me on a canoe safari in Zim for my first trip to Africa and proposed. I was terrified of both the canoe safari and the idea of getting married but I jumped in anyway! Within 6 months we were living in the South Luangwa, Zambia. A whole new world where I was forced to adapt very quickly, firstly to lion outside the door, elephants blocking the road to work and snakes in the bathroom. But also to a new culture and way of life. But it awakened my actual passion. I met a great friend in my first year in the bush, Abi James who now runs Soul Design Jewellery in South Africa. She taught me to create jewellery and I fell in love with the craft. She left for South Africa the next year and handed over her small project. I took it and grew it, I got such a buzz from creating something using local materials with local women and realized I wanted to do it more and more.
You work with a team of creative local women – what impact have you seen Mulberry Mongoose have on the community?
I am very proud of our team of women. All have had huge challenges to face in life and work is a place for them to be together, share and have something solid and purposeful. I think the impact we make is on different levels which I love. My team have belief in their ability through being part of a business that has grown over 7 years thanks to their hard work. They are well respected in their community thanks to this. They know they have made over $100,000 for conservation in the South Luangwa due to their hard work. This means they are protecting the wildlife for the children and others. They are given respect for this also. We also buy as much local materials as we can to keep investing back into the local economy; we buy old coins, hand carved wooden beads, hand made gift bags and guinea fowl feathers from farmers. I am a worker and believe success comes from learning, growing and working hard. My team appreciate these values and have signed up for it. All their achievements are due to their own efforts, they aren’t being propped up which I find so important.
For every piece of jewellery that you sell, a donation is made to CSL – Conservation South Luangwa, ZCP – Zambian Carnivore Programme and CLZ – Conservation Lower Zambezi. Tell us why you are particularly dedicated to supporting their projects?
We are based in Zambia and I am passionate about this country and the people. Living in the South Luangwa for over a decade I saw firsthand the beauty of the wildlife and the value it added to so many peoples’ lives. The community who got employment from safari operations and affiliated businesses, the way they could support their families and get their kids into good schools was very special. But also tourists visiting Zambia were moved, it would affect them for many years to come; it was always a joy to see how people were touched by such a special corner of the world. And the magic of the wildlife itself. To be close to an elephant is awe inspiring, to watch wildlife from baboon to giraffe strolling past is good for the soul and a privilege. This wildlife is and the circle of life is bigger than us and must be conserved. To help by removing brutal poacher’s snare wire from circulation, instead transforming it into something beautiful crafted by local women, and then giving a portion of sales back to further protecting Zambia’s wildlife. In my mind there was no other option and I am so proud to be able to add value in this way.
Do you have a favourite piece of jewellery you have ever made?
I do have a few but the Original Snare necklace stands out. It has so many pieces of hand made snare beads, it’s a real statement of beauty, conservation and female empowerment. It was worn by Supermodel Doutzen Kroes which really symbolized our ability to transform an ugly poachers tool into an important fashion statement.
You collect snares placed in the bush by poachers and transform them into beautiful pieces of jewellery, donating money from each sale towards anti-poaching projects. Since Mulberry Mongoose began, has the scale of poaching changed in your region?
Sadly snare poaching is increasing despite the hard work done. Wire is easy to find, it can be cut from fences or phone pilons. It can be placed indiscriminately in the bush and left there for periods of time before it causes acute pain and a slow and painful death for any wildlife that walks into the trap.
Along with the wonderful work being done at Mulberry Mongoose, having been involved with various conservation efforts in Zambia, what are you most proud of?
I might say my 10 km fun run for Conservation South Luangwa as I am a terrible runner and I managed to do it without stopping! But separate from the conservation not for profits we support I really enjoy partnering with other organisations that add value to conservation in the world. We are lucky enough to partner with WWF and when they sell our jewellery they not only put money back into our business and supporting my team’s livelihood and the wildlife in Zambia but they also raise donations for their own critical projects. One of my happiest memories was when I went to Mexico and helped educate street children. I fell in love with the people and place.
What would you recommend to somebody considering a safari in Zambia, particularly with sustainable travel at the forefront of many people’s minds?
Firstly, please go, it is just a very special country. I don’t know if you can go wrong as there is something for everyone on all budget levels. Spend time with the people, their generosity is exemplary, and they will open your heart and mind. The wildlife is off the chart and the South Luangwa is beyond extraordinary. Chongwe River Camp holds a special place in my heart, as do the Time and Tide bushcamps and Liuwa. One of the best ways to add value to a place you love is to visit and enjoy local projects. Your impact is strong by visiting and putting money into the economy, when you further visit and appreciate the craft projects and not for profits work in that place that impact grows yet stronger.
Most memorable journey you’ve ever had?
There have been a lot. I would have to say when we travelled as a family by car to Lusaka. It’s a 10 hour drive and we were leaving the South Luangwa which was very emotional. Sadly after 2 hours the clutch of the car went. Thankfully, we were going down hill slowly and could pull off safely. We then played rock throwing with local kids as we waited for a much smaller, very rustic van to tow us to a derelict Lodge along the road side. It was done in true Zambian style, lots of laughter and joy at helping and a sense of fun at the adventure (that’s not how we felt at the time but that’s how the Zambian’s helping us saw it!). We waited 4 hours at this lodge and there was really nothing to do and only black tea to drink! Finally, we left our Landover with all our wordly belongings in it and got in a tiny taxi to do the remaining 6 hour journey. My youngest got car sick but we just had to keep going so it was quite stressful and messy! It took us 14 hours to get to Lusaka and boy were we happy to arrive. I find in Zambia you just must laugh and take the adventure for what it is.
Where do you long to go next?
I would love to go to Canada. But right now just South Africa would be amazing!
What would you like to see in the future for travel?
I would like to see environmentally friendly fuel for transport, especially planes. If we can get someone onto the moon we can achieve this and we desperately need to. I would also like airlines to ban plastic.
What do you think is the best quality in a travel companion?
I have 2 young kids so total silence to enjoy a glass of wine is the best quality I look for right now... it’s a long way off!
Finally - your ultimate travel mantra?
Open your mind and your heart, life’s joy is in its windy roads and imperfections.
Every time I explore a new destination, whether it’s on an adventure holiday in Peru or a luxury beach escape in the Indian Ocean, I return home full of excitement to share the amazing sights I have seen. Through my own experiences I have developed a love of helping others experience the great wonders of the world; truly getting under the skin of the extraordinary destinations that are at your fingertips. Getting the details right, from which hotel is perfectly located for exploring away from the crowds, to which local guide is most knowledgeable on history or culture or art, is of paramount importance to me. I am constantly seeking out new and exciting experiences and exploring off the beaten track to ensure my clients are receiving the best and most honest first-hand advice.
Take a look at my travel diaries for food for thought on your next trip...