For all those who love the taste of chillis and want to buy products that are organic, fair trade produced in Swaziland, and supporting local farmers and producers, then Black Mamba is a gourmet chilli product brand to watch.
LoA found out more about this great Fair Trade chilli product range from its co-founder Claudia Castellanos Roques.
What does your company do?
Black Mamba is a fair trade brand of gourmet chilli products from the Kingdom of Swaziland made with organically grown ingredients and no artificial flavours or preservatives. The range includes chilli sauces, pestos, and chutneys. Black Mamba partners with a local NGO called Guba, that trains small farmers in permaculture and organic farming. Black Mamba then buys at negotiated prices all the organic produce grown by these farmers to manufacture their products. Products are currently exported to South Africa, the UK, Germany and Australia.
"Black Mamba is a fair trade brand of gourmet chilli products from the Kingdom of Swaziland made with organically grown ingredients and no artificial flavours or preservatives."
What inspired you to start your company?
I am originally from Colombia, and came to Swaziland in 2008 to work as a volunteer for a handcraft business called Gone Rural to help with capacity building in marketing. From that experience I fell in love with Swaziland and decided to stay and do more development work with women. In 2010 together with my now husband we started Black Mamba. He was obsessed with chillies and I was convinced I could replicate the business model focused on women that I saw worked very well for many handcraft businesses in Swaziland. Another passion I have is the environment, and I thought by creating a business following my ideals, I could not only bring positive change to communities by working with women, but also by respecting and protecting the environment by using organic ingredients, promoting the use of permaculture practices, and using environmentally friendly packaging material such as glass. My personal motto, stolen from Gandhi, is "Be the change you want to see in the world". And I thought I could be that change through Black Mamba.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Black Mamba's tag line is: Tastes good, looks good, does good. This very much sums up our products. They taste extremely good because they are made with organically grown ingredients, no artificial flavours or preservatives. As a matter of fact, two of our sauces, the Cayenne and the Chipotle Chilli Sauce, recently won the Great Taste Award (kind of like the Oscars for food in the U.K.). Looks good: our brand is proudly African, yet funky and contemporary enough to be perceived as a high-end and of great quality. Does good: because we care about the environment and the communities we work with, and we strive to create positive change for Swaziland.
"I thought by creating a business following my ideals, I could not only bring positive change to communities by working with women, but also by respecting and protecting the environment by using organic ingredients, promoting the use of permaculture practices, and using environmentally friendly packaging material such as glass."
Tell us a little about your team
Black Mamba has 14 full time employees, of which 12 are women (yes, we are a bit gender biased!). The management team is composed of myself, my Office Manager Phikisile (who is like my clone) and my Production Manager Bonginkhosi (aka Bongie). The production team is composed of 6 women, most of whom have been with Black Mamba from its inception, and are capable of manufacturing and packing each one of our products by hand, and make it look so professional that people battle to believe that everything, including putting labels, is still done by hand. The team is completed by our extremely capable driver Themba, and our shop assistants from our retail shop in Swaziland.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
My previous work experience was in the corporate world, and I became an entrepreneur by accident (or chance). Nothing in my background or preparation would have made me decide to become an entrepreneur. However, after my experience as a volunteer in Swaziland, I realised that the only way I could really work on development and creating real change, was through being my own boss and applying my personal ethos and beliefs in my business. Swaziland is also a perfect trial ground for starting your own business!
"Two of our sauces, the Cayenne and the Chipotle Chilli Sauce, recently won the Great Taste Award (kind of like the Oscars for food in the UK)."
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
I would love Black Mamba to continue in the path we are at the moment, growing steadily. I always jokingly say that we are on the quest of Chilli world domination. In truth though, my plan is for Black Mamba to become a cult brand, recognised in the Speciality Food market, as amazing as well as socially and environmentally responsible. I would also like for our business model to be replicated by other agri-business in Africa. I strongly believe that the future of Africa is in Agri-processing of high value, organic crops.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
On a business level, the fact that we are contributing to improve the quality of life of communities in Swaziland, that makes me extremely proud and happy. On a personal level, the fact that my business gets recognition, I love it when people say "oh, you're the founder of Black Mamba? I love your company and your products!" And of course, the fact that I don't have an 8 to 5 schedule. I work harder than any office/corporate job I had before, but I get to choose when to work. This comes particularly handy having small kids, as I get to spend time with them (and work in the evenings after they are in bed if necessary).
"I always jokingly say that we are on the quest of Chilli world domination. In truth though, my plan is for Black Mamba to become a cult brand, recognised in the Speciality Food market, as amazing as well as socially and environmentally responsible."
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Be tenacious, resilient, and persevere. Prepare yourself, thoroughly. Study as much as you can, as a woman I believe you must be twice as prepared and knowledgeable as a man. And preparation gives you confidence, and you must believe you can do it and you will do it. As an entrepreneur you will face so many people who will try to deter you and tell you that you won't make it, but believing in yourself and being knowledgeable about what you do will help you overcome the many obstacles in the way.
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Why LoA loves it….
In the world of food and drink, there is always something wonderful about celebrating a regional ingredient and turning it into a range of products that not only taste fantastic but also do good for the communities who produce them. Claudia Castellanos Roques and her fabulous gourmet Fair Trade chilli product brand, Black Mamba, is a great example of how it is possible to build a proudly African brand that is commercially viable, whilst at the same time doing great things for the community and the environment. We love it! --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa