From being the captain of a 70ft super yacht in the Mediterranean, to opening a fashion retail business at the height of a pandemic in a town where she knew nobody, Groundcover Ballito owner Franky McCarthy is an all-or-nothing kind of girl.
A few weeks ago, Franky decided, on a whim, to enter a 30km beach trail run with some of her friends because she was looking for something exciting to do. Not only did she end up winning the race, but she has now decided to enter the Comrades Marathon too.
That’s just the kind of person Franky – who opened up a Ballito branch of her family’s 32-year-old leather business, Groundcover, during lockdown – is. Bold, adventurous, ambitious.
Born and raised on a beautiful farm at Curry’s Post in the Natal Midlands, Franky and her three siblings grew up learning the ins-and-outs of the leather shoe business. Groundcover was started by her parents, Justin and Amanda, in 1990.
This is much more than just a leather company though, says Franky. “My parents were opposed to the apartheid regime and decided to live in Lesotho, which is where they bought a leather-making kit and started making leather sandals to trade with local farmers. They lived a simple life in a hut with mud floors. When apartheid ended, they returned to South Africa.”
The business has never been about making lots of money, Franky says. For her parents, Groundcover was always about growing communities, creating jobs and improving the lives of the local farmers and farm workers.
“We were a family of four kids, but I always felt like I had hundreds of siblings because my parents treated all the farm workers’ children like their own. We all went to school together and my parents were always trying to find ways to help the local community.”
When Franky’s dad tragically passed away in a cycling accident in 2010, her mother took over the business. “Our mom was always responsible for the home and all of us kids, but then she had to take over running the business as well. It was demanding. I think she’s done a fantastic job, though,” she smiles.
Franky finished school the same year her dad died, and she decided to go overseas. She went to Canada where she spent a year working as a snowboarding instructor. “I wanted to do something completely different. It was a hard year and there were a lot of memories at the farm.”
When she returned to South Africa, Franky went to Cape Town where she spent three years studying advertising. Then she decided to go sailing.
“I got my skippers and yacht masters’ qualifications and worked my way up to being captain of a 70ft catamaran in the Mediterranean. It is a tough industry because there aren’t many female captains,” says Franky, who even took part in a few races, including the famous ARC race from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean.
After seven years of yachting (on and off), Franky came home for good at the beginning of 2020. “I decided it was time to settle. I had heard a lot about Ballito from my yachtie friends, but I didn’t know anyone here.”
One day, during lockdown, she and her mom took a drive to Ballito and found themselves at the Litchi Orchard in Salt Rock. “It was all closed up, but I leant up against the window of this shop and told my mom, ‘This is where I’m going to open a shop’,” she laughs. And that’s exactly what she and her sister, Holly, did. “It was probably the worst time to start a retail business and we literally had to do everything ourselves, but I loved the idea of living in a small beach town with a close-knit community and I really have found my home here. I’m never leaving Ballito now!”
Groundcover’s ‘build-a-veldskoen’ concept allows you to design your own vellie from scratch!
Although Groundcover is extremely popular in the Midlands, Franky says it’s taken a while to get the brand known on the North Coast. “People don’t really know our story, our history and what we’re all about. They don’t know that this is not just another leather shop. If you buy a pair of our shoes, you can literally resole them over and over again and wear them forever!”
Groundcover has a wide range of shoes – from the old-school farmer vibes to the trendier, more modern ‘vellies’, as well as boots, sandals and the ever-popular wool moccasins, which Franky says are still their biggest sellers. They also have beautiful leather bags and other leather goods.
The build-a-veldskoen concept, which they came up with during lockdown, was a great way to show people how easy it is to customise your Groundcover shoes. “You can literally choose your own soles, laces and leather and even the shape of the shoe to ensure it suits your foot.”
When she’s not working, Franky enjoys being active and spending time outdoors. She runs, does yoga (she is a qualified teacher and has numerous yoga retreats around the world), free dives and scuba dives. She owns a few properties, one of which she is currently renovating herself. “It’s hard work, but I’m loving it. As you can tell, I’m very much an all-or-nothing kind of person,” she says.
Details: Groundcover Ballito, The Litchi Orchard, Salt Rock,
@groundcoverballito, 076 239 3884, www.groundcover.co.za
Text: Leah Shone | Photographs: Chris Allan Photo | Shoot location: Springvale Country Estate