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Questions With Thandi Mbali Renaldi, Founder of Online Boutique KuDu

KuDu is an online boutique that specialises in ‘beautiful homeware, decor, accessories and lifestyle goods from the African continent’. In a recent interview with founder Thandi Mbali Renaldi, we learn about the inspiration for KuDu and the company’s stance on ethically sourced products.

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How did the idea for KuDu come about?
The idea for KuDu came about slowly, over the course of a couple of years when I started to become more disciplined about seeking out stylish African items for furnishing my home. Discovering that it can still be hard to get hold of these internationally, I resorted to filling my suitcase with my purchases on trips home to South Africa, as I couldn’t buy the items I was looking for in Europe.

Friends often asked me where I was finding all these cool things and where they could buy them. That is when I decided to go ahead and curate a store specializing in beautiful decorative and lifestyle products from the African continent.


Is there a meaning behind the name ‘KuDu’?
The Khoikhoi were the original inhabitants of South Africa and ‘Kudu’ is their name for a species of African antelope, the male of which has distinctive twisted horns. Kudu are beautiful animals and they are only found on the African continent. It is also an easy name to spell and remember!

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‘Africa is Beautiful. Africa is Home’ is KuDu’s mantra. Can you elaborate?
This has several meanings. Africa is often misrepresented in the media and portrayed in a negative light. That first sentence, ‘Africa is beautiful’ is a reminder that the continent is also a valid positive source for finding inspiration and beauty, both natural and crafted. The second sentence, ‘Africa is home’ has several interpretations. There is scientific evidence to show that modern humans migrated out of Africa a quarter of a million years ago, so in layperson’s terms, we are all Africans! Lastly, when you purchase from KuDu you are adding an element of modern African style to your home.


How does Africa inspire you?
The informal economy is an element of African life that I find inspiring. There is always someone selling something outdoors; either at a traffic light, on a street corner or under a tree. You can charge your phone, get a haircut, have your passport photo taken, your shoes mended, buy a beautiful handwoven basket or do your weekly fruit and vegetable shop, all without ever setting foot in a shopping mall. Entrepreneurship is everywhere!


All items sold on KuDu are carefully curated. Is there a set guideline as to what products are sold in boutique?
I am trying to move away from the received idea that many people have about the ‘African look’ as it has often been presented. There is not one style that can be ascribed to an entire continent.

I look for items that are mostly handmade, or produced in limited quantities in workshops. This is in line with consumers seeking goods with a story, produced according to artisanal principles that have been made with care and attention. KuDu has a strong preference for working directly with artists and producers, or with cooperatives. We are strict about quality and aesthetics. KuDu is embracing New African Style, as opposed to the ‘Out of Africa’ or ‘colonial safari’ look that many associate with African décor and interiors.
The products curated by KuDu need to look as good in a sitting room in Stockholm, as they would in a house in Brussels or an apartment in Nairobi.


The current collection features a lot of eclectic and unique items. Are there any standout items to look out for? Do you have a favourite?
I do have some favourites but I do not want to single any out! All the products we stock come from suppliers that I respect enormously.

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A lot of KuDu’s items are ethically produced. How important is it to infuse ethical manufacturing into your business practices?
At KuDu we treat others in the way we would wish to be treated. We build relationships with suppliers and organizations whose work and ethical stance we admire. We have met with almost all of the producers personally, we have found out a lot about them and how they operate. We are in favour of labour laws that protect and promote the rights of workers. Most of the products we source are made with either natural or upcycled materials utilizing traditional skills.


What can we expect to see from KuDu in the next few years?
The next collection of products is already in the pipeline and it will be very different to the launch range. I would like KuDu to evolve into the first stop customers go to when searching for stylish products for their homes. Kudu will continue to find new sources of inspiration from Africa and interpret these for a modern international marketplace.

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At the moment, you are currently working with Southern based producers. Are there any plans to work with producers in other parts of the continent?
KuDu has launched with a collection of mostly Southern African products. However, I fully intend for KuDu to be a reflection of the different design styles and to be found across the continent. I already have my eye on a few producers that I would really like to work with and am looking forward to making contact with and learning about creatives in other parts of Africa.


How can readers learn more about KuDu?
Go to kuduhome.com and browse, buy or learn more about us and our products.
Visit Facebook for KuDu’s social media activity.

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