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Buying hope…

‘The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little bit extra.’

These are the words that greet you at the doorway to Claire De Sylva’s quirky little work space in the heart of Durban North. It may be small, but it’s jam-packed with lovely things that carry a strong message… one of kindness and hope.

On a mission to spread love across the country, Claire, a 35-year-old single mum, has taken a concept she’s been dreaming about for almost 20 years (inspired by her mom and the 2010 soccer World Cup) and turned it into a project designed to uplift, inspire and promote local entrepreneurs, and at the same time educate people about the value of shopping local.

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When we meet Claire, she’s rocking her signature look in a spandex South African flag dress (she has a morph suit too) which she usually wears on what she calls #flagfridays. She’s grinning from ear to ear, and armed with fresh coffee. As she takes us around, there’s no denying that this truly is a special place.

Tucked at the back is her private salon (she’s been a beauty therapist for the past 16 years)  are shelves of products… from artisanal food and décor to gifting and clothing and more… the handiwork of around 35 local entrepreneurs, known better as Claire’s Concepts, which launched officially on 1 May as a boutique store on Mackeurtan Avenue.

There’s also a corner coffee shop and grazing bar (Rise and Grind) where shoppers can grab a healthy, freshly made snack off a constantly evolving menu.

‘I don’t think people realise what it means to shop local. It’s the kind of shopping you can do without having any regrets because most of the products on these shelves are made by newly established entrepreneurs who are still finding their feet… small businesses born out of the struggles of lockdown, so you are not just buying the product, you are buying hope and you are supporting the survival of people who depend on it more than you might imagine.’

When Claire speaks of how it all started, there are throwbacks to a positive message from her teacher on her last day of school; to our vibrant flag and the spirit of South Africans who united in 2010 when we hosted the FIFA World Cup; there’s the year she spent running around with a toilet seat around her waist to raise R180 000 (in partnership with Conloo) for sanitation in the uMzinyathi District (a rural area with no running water); the four Comrades Marathons she’s run for CANSA and the Gratitude Cycle, whereby she helped people declutter, upcycle and reorganise their personal spaces and lives as part of a healing journey after she had hip surgery in 2019.

‘I am so passionate about being unique and creative, and I’ve always been a jack of many trades because I don’t believe you have to be good at just one thing. Helping people along the way is simply my greater motivation.’

We share a quiet moment, as Claire looks fondly at the two small tattoos on her left arm – her mother’s signature and the words ‘Be Still’ that remind her daily to have gratitude and to find calm in everything she does.

‘My mom, Swazi, is the real inspiration behind what I do. She was murdered when I was 15 – a loss that changed my life profoundly. It forced me to be courageous, to be a visionary, and to dream big.’

In memory of her mum, Claire keeps a vase on her reception desk, against which rests a photo of her mum (a constant reminder never to give up) and one of her brother Andre and her biggest fan, her father Dennis.

‘Mom had the most incredible entrepreneurial spirit. I remember her making quiches at 3am because she loved to cook and feed and share; she came alive in the kitchen as well as when she was doing things for other people. We were not wealthy, but there was always food on the table – soul food… made with love.‘Dad pops into the shop almost every day to say hi, and usually always grabs something from the deli for dinner. My son Jake (14) is my foodie guinea pig. He loves to sample all the artisanal foods that come in, and has even started his own Instagram hashtag #jakeyapproved where he gives whatever he samples his stamp of approval.’

And how does she source all her proudly local products? She doesn’t. Word of mouth has travelled and locals looking for the perfect platform to try and market their homemade goods have heard all about Claire’s initiative, so she’s been hard at work making room for them all.

‘I think a lot of people think I’m nuts, but I’m on a mission and I can’t imagine doing anything else. If we can visually create the ‘gees’ of SA we will connect better, tolerate fairly, love more and live more harmoniously…  #letsmakeitbettertogether.’

Claire says she will never forget the day she left school and was given a little note by one of her teachers that read: The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little bit extra. ‘I kept it for years, read it often and, with my mom in mind, I told myself this was how I wanted to live my life. I truly believe I am now living my life’s calling. Who would have thought such a small piece of paper would have made such a big impact?’

Claire is gearing up to launch her own online store aimed at the international market, more so for expats, with her mission being to spread love around SA with products made by South Africans and carefully chosen for South Africans.

Details: 079 031 0506, clairesconcepts.com, [email protected], FB: Claire’s Concepts or IG: claires_concepts

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