Groundcover is more than just a leather shop selling shoes and handbags it is a place where commitment to staff and community is taken seriously.
Situated along the scenic Curry’s Post road the historic shop selling the sought after genuine leather goods may be all you notice if you pop in on a sunny day. Smiling Thuli, the sales lady usually offers customers advice and a smile. The smell of tanned leather is likely to leave a deep impression and if you look out of the window you will see a herd of Nguni cattle grazing on the hill.
But around the corner, the busy leather workshop is a hive of activity as this is where the shoes, are manufactured, up the wooden and Nguni hide stairs you may find Amanda McCarthy checking her emails and trying to sort out customer queries.
Groundcover was her husband Justin’s vision and together they worked very hard to build the brand and establish the workshop and shop, tragedy struck when he was killed in a tragic bicycle accident a few years ago, Amanda was left to make the business work.
It may have been a temptation to pack up and leave, but for this Midlands stalwart, Amanda felt she was too deeply connected to the land and to the families who have built up the business with her, the business had become them, Amanda McCarthy was not going anywhere.
One of her beliefs is that her staff’s children should get the best access to education possible and often you may see the Groundcover delivery vehicle stopping off at the local schools in Howick fetching the children after school.
The staff at the shop and at the factory may not be paid enormous salaries but the friendly attitude and perks make up for a traditional setting; they know they are valuable members of this industrious little company. Amanda said: “We grew up in the Apartheid era and we knew it was wrong for certain people to have access to all the benefits.
We felt that we really ought to make a difference, so we left the country after University and joined a cultural development project in Lesotho, where the idea was to teach the local people how to make leather goods.
“Our idea was to empower people by sharing skills. We had a wonderful time and at that time we focused a lot on hand-stitching and giving people skills they could adapt.
“When we decided to come back to South Africa and we decided to settle in the Midlands, we thought Groundcover would be a vehicle to teach people skills to create their own micro-businesses, but our focus moved to uplifting our immediate community. Our staffers needed housing and their children needed schooling and so our focus changed.
Some people make shoes to make profits, but we like to think that we make shoes to build community. They employ 25 people and they sell their shoes through other outlets.
Amanda said they liked to make decisions together with their staff and if someone was off sick, the others pulled their weight, because they knew if they got sick they would also be supported.
A strong part of their ethos is after-sales service and shoes can be re-soled. One of the initiatives that Justin started was to make shoes for those people who battled to find shoes because of their strange feet. Podiatrists refer clients to their shop to get comfortable shoes made up.
Amanda said their shoes were supported by locals because they knew the shoes were made by a local business “with heart”. She added: “The process has become more mechanized but we still make sure we stick to the principles of good leatherwork.”
The little historical sales shop is a tourism drawcard. It is an Oregon pine and tin house. They bought and re-assembled it on their property in 1994. It originally came from England as a house kit over 100 years ago and was ordered by a colonial farmer who needed a home. It arrived in Delagoa Bay and was transported to Creighton by ox-wagon to the Smiths who owned it originally. The McCarthy’s bought it 80 years later and it re-assembled it as their shop and showroom in Curry’s Post.
Another beautiful feature at Groundcover is the exquisite sculpture in the garden of the Grimm’s - Elves and the Shoemaker done by Karkloof sculptor Abbo Hall. It is a fine and detailed permanent sculpture that captures some of the magic of the story and of the labour and dedication that goes into making fine handmade goods.
The latest addition is The Barn Owl, a beautiful artisan Coffee Shop situated in front of the Groundcover Shop. It also does cakes and light lunches. Lately, it has broken into the niche market of small weddings, ideally suited to this with its beautiful location, and attractive interior.
More about Groundcover Leather Company.