Sometimes, the best ideas have been around a long time but simply need adapting or updating for a contemporary marketplace. In the culinary world, that is certainly the case for the traditional South African mafehlo (pap making whisks). Entrepreneur Nicola Bokaba, founder of Earthy Cook, saw an opportunity to start a business inspired by these traditional cooking implements but updated to meet today’s kitchen needs.
LoA chatted to Nicola this month to find out more.
What does your company do?
Earthy Cook makes hand-made, personalized and customer branded products for the home kitchen and the hospitality industry.
What inspired you to start your company?
I use mafehlo (traditional pap-making whisks) to prepare pap (polenta). My mother had a handful of them when I was growing up and I “borrowed” one when I moved out of her house. I moved-house a number of times and would lose lefehlo every time I moved. I would in turn “borrow” another one to replace the one I’d lost. I decided to buy lefehlo after one of my recent moves and was surprised at how difficult they were to find in traditional retail stores. It was then that I decided to design and make one for myself. I learned woodwork from watching tutorials on You Tube when the woodworking bug bit. After a few months of operating from a garage in a residential complex, I decided to move into a factory in Ga-Rankuwa, north of Pretoria, to make products for the home kitchen and the hospitality industry.
"Earthy Cook makes hand-made, personalized and customer branded products for the home kitchen and the hospitality industry."
Why should anyone use your service or product?
We produce hand-made products that can be personalised. Our products make great corporate gifts as well as personal gifts to celebrate occasions such as birthdays, weddings and housewarming events. We partner with companies in building brands. We can brand any of our current products in-house and offer a range of colours to meet our clients’ colour schemes.
Tell us a little about your team
We currently employ 4 people, 2 full-time and 2 part-time. We plan to work with a local college to bring in qualifying students to help meet our expansion plans in exchange for work opportunities.
"I plan on developing product ranges in metal, ceramic and glass. I also aspire to develop a braai range for the braai enthusiasts."
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I attended an incubation program that challenged us to sell products or services within a limited period with a very limited budget. I sold my daughter’s second-hand clothes next to a big intersection near where I lived. The program made me realize that with the right support, guidance and commitment, anyone can realize their entrepreneurial ambitions.
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
I plan on developing product ranges in metal, ceramic and glass. I also aspire to develop a braai range for the braai enthusiasts.
"Entrepreneurship provides the joy of seeing the realisation of what was once an idea."
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship provides the joy of seeing the realisation of what was once an idea. It provides a platform to do what you truly like and built a culture with values that align with your personal values.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
One of the most invaluable things to have is a knowledgeable, empathetic mentor who pushes you beyond your comfort zone. Mafehlo are regarded as one of the least sophisticated, even primitive products anyone can offer. A former mentor made me feel no less important for wanting to make them than if I had been a qualified plasma physicist on my way to commercialising a fusion reactor with the aim of providing clean and safe energy free from carbon dioxide emissions. Almost every successful entrepreneur I’ve heard of has recounted experiences of rejection and even ridicule in their journey. A great mentor can act as a buffer during those and other challenging times.
Contact or follow Earthy Cook
Why LoA loves it….
Some of the most successful businesses are built on the back of a personal passion or interest, or from a desire to create something from scratch that will be useful to others, or from a difficulty finding a particular product in the marketplace. For entrepreneur Nicola Bokaba, her business inspiration came from all those things. Today, she is taking her artisan talent for woodwork and turning it into a viable business that creates products that people both need and love, inspired by tradition. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa