Made with Meraki

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Photo: Camilla Blomfield; Freshshoots Photography

From a gloomy haze of grief to a sun-kissed kitchen that’s become a filling station for uplifting fragrances and heavenly spoils, Hillcrest creative Kate Cole-Bowen lives gift box by gift box to make people happy.

Two years ago, if you’d have known her, you’d have found Kate, mother of two and interior designer by profession, in a world of sorrow. She’d navigated the end of her first marriage, followed, thanks to Covid, by a retrenchment after a stable career in corporate, and then the worst … the loss of her partner, Craig. But, with Craig’s favourite words ‘better together’ as a nagging memory in her depressive fog, she picked herself up and turned her grief into creative expression.

Photo: Camilla Blomfield; Freshshoots Photography

“I have always had this burning need to have my own business and help others. I love to make people happy. To make them feel special and needed. That’s what Craig did for me. Next to my sons, James and Matt, he was also my biggest cheerleader in life,” says Kate, whose creativity was nurtured in her childhood home.

“I remember as a kid, my dad would often be in his workshop and my mom in her sewing room or the kitchen. My grandmother gave me my first sewing machine – a beautiful antique Singer – and with my mom’s help I made my own clothes from an early age, says Kate.

In 2014, a few years before she’d met Craig, Kate started a fledging business she called Home-Industry, as a creative outlet for herself and her employee, Virginia Malinga. The duo made fabric necklaces and personalised silver pendants.

“I’d travelled internationally with my company, was exposed to other cultures and saw so many beautiful products which would form the basis of my inspiration to build an uplifting gifting business for life’s special occasions. Then, unfortunately, my world collapsed with divorce, and it was one thing after the next and my business got left behind,” says Kate, who was uplifted after having found love again with Craig.

“I shared my dreams and he shared his – to build a business with the ethos of uplifting gifting, where the giver and receiver both experience joy while supporting local businesses and crafters.”

The pair planned and strategised and stuck with the name Home-Industry, because it had meaning to Kate.

Photo: Camilla Blomfield; Freshshoots Photography

“The name took me back to my youth and the old home industry shops we used to pop into. I admired how the community was involved in proudly supplying their best products – from baked goods to crocheted items. I loved the authenticity of the experience, but wanted to add a design element to it,” says Kate, adding that the couple even had their own mantra.

“Meraki – it’s a symbol for doing something with soul creativity or love; leaving a piece of yourself in what you are doing,” says Kate, who was later shattered by Craig’s sudden death during the pandemic. “We were such a lovely match because he had the financial acumen and decades of retail experience while I was more creative.”

In spite of her grief, Kate realised she needed to throw herself into Home-Industry. Craig had always said it was her calling.

“I didn’t want the business or our dreams to end with his life,” says Kate, “and it also answered the terrible question of what should I do with my time. Craig was gone, my kids had left home, and I didn’t want to have nothing to do. I needed to get out of my sad slump so I used my creativity to express my grief – a kind of cathartic release of emotions.“

Not only did this help Kate navigate her grieving process, find confidence and realise her purpose, but it also became a way for her to honour Craig, who she feels is still very much a part of what she does.

“Even though he’s not physically here, he’s prepped me, in a way. So, I’m very fortunate.”

Photo: Camilla Blomfield; Freshshoots Photography

Among woven baskets stuffed with green plants and succulents, a collection of happy memories in black and white on the calming grey walls, and wooden furniture, Kate’s products are stacked and packed on every flat surface of her home. From jewellery and accessories, to home fragrances, décor and pantry items, she believes that gifting is an art form.

“It’s not enough to put pretty things inside a box,” she says. “There must be purpose and meaning behind the items to make the gift special for everyone – from the maker to the giver to the receiver,” says Kate adding that the bigger purpose of Home-Industry is to make meaningful products that last, while supporting women who need a secondary income while working from home.

“The quality of the product you get is better because people put love and attention into the small batches they’re making. The hands behind most of our products belong to grannies, students, mothers, ceramicists, art lovers, alchemists, wood workers, artists and crafters,” all whom, says, have a common love of making beautiful products.

“Craig and I used to have this philosophy that everything is just better together. There’s so much creativity in South Africa, and we have to all help each other out,” says Kate.

Sustainability is another important focus of Kate’s. Her latest range of scented pouches is made with fabric offcuts from designer textile houses.

“We’re using their waste and preventing it from going into the landfill.”

Although Kate’s main trade resource is her online shop, she understands the value of a brick-and-mortar store, supplying a few outlets in Durban and Cape Town with a limited range of her products.

“The jewellery and scarves do well online, and the scatters and smellies sell better in-store because people can touch and feel and smell them.”

Photo: Camilla Blomfield; Freshshoots Photography

Kate’s design trade experience was formative and has directed her taste, giving her an advantage when selecting unique products for her business. She loves home decor shows and is a self-confessed Pinterest junkie.

“I’m at the career stage where I want to deal with nice people. The heart of the maker comes through in the product, so I try to surround myself with positive, like-minded humans who naturally add value to what I do. People want and need that connection,” says Kate.

Admittedly, Kate is a workaholic and battles to do nothing. But, when she does take time out for herself, she enjoys spending time with close friends and family and cooking over a glass of wine or bubbly.

“I love a house full of people, but I can just as easily escape with my two daxies, a pile of magazines or a good book. Travel is definitely on my bucket list, as it inspires me and gets me out of my comfort zone. I’ve always been able to promote other people’s creativity and battle to do the same for me, so this is my challenge but, the tide is definitely turning, and I think it’s going to be an exciting year ahead.

Details: Follow Kate on FB or IG: ilovehomeindustry, e-mail [email protected] or visit home-industry.com  

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