Mulberry Mongoose integrates a thriving, ethical fashion business, wild animal conservation, AND support of the local economy all into one. That’s why I wanted to interview Kate Wilson, the founder of Mulberry Mongoose. They’re located in the African bush in Zambia.
When I recently bought jewelry from Mulberry Mongoose, I received a great note from Clera Njobvu, who shared,
“I made your jewellery with a family of elephants walking pass our garden and now this jewellery will pass our beautiful wildlife as it journeys to the airport on to you.”
Be inspired by Mulberry Mongoose
As an entrepreneur, I am awed by Kate’s story. I’m inspired by her path to making Mulberry Mongoose a reality. Kate connected all her core values to courageously create a business that supports her, her family, wildlife conservation, and the people in her community.
Because this resonates with my core values, I was super eager to finally “meet” Kate! This blog is a short version of our chat.
You’ll get tons from the blog but be sure to watch the video. Feel Kate’s delightful energy, hear her stories and be inspired by her commitment!
Mulberry Mongoose – Creating beauty from brutality
Kate’s highly skilled team converts poachers’ snare wire from lethal wildlife traps into meaningful jewelry. And so wonderful, Mulberry Mongoose is credited for making over $120,00 for Zambian conservation.
[In Kate’s words (edited for brevity)]
We all have a path. Sometimes, we have to leave the path we think we must do to find our real path.
I got engaged to Dave, now my husband, from Zimbabwe. Dave and I met in London. I was in recruitment then. And I was working very hard, but had absolutely no idea what inspired me. So I was a bit lost.
Anyway, I didn’t know what was about to happen. Dave, my husband, brought me to Zambia. But it wasn’t just Africa, it was the middle of the African bush.
Fast cars to elephants
I literally exchanged fast cars, high heels, and, office desk, to trying to get to work with elephants in the way, scorpions on my pillow, and a snake on the roof. My life completely changed. As you can imagine, it was overwhelming. I was extremely intimidated.
Dave made no bones about the fact he had to be in the African bush, fighting for the African bush. So, I understood this trip was a one-way ticket.
But a magical thing happened. I met Abby, who lived in the African bush. She was also from England, and we had a similar sense of humor. She was my salvation in that first year as a slightly lost soul.
Abby taught me to make jewelry. However, she left at the end of that year. I was gutted. But she handed me this box of jewelry, and this small jewelry project. Something was building within me.
Then I found a job working for a wonderful company called Tribal Textiles, also in the South Luangwa. I enjoyed sales, connecting with people. I was energized. Tribal Textiles employs 100 people who hand paint textiles in the middle of the bush.
The jobs we create in rural Zambia, and many places all over Africa, are so important. They don’t just save one person’s life, they save 12 people’s lives. Because one person generally funds another 12 people off their salary.
Plus, to create something beautiful that people love, and makes them feel happy, was a light bulb moment. I realized, “I totally dig this concept.”
At the same time, every Sunday, I was making my jewelry, and getting better. I realized it was my thing.
A brave transition
But I had to make an extremely brave transition. I needed to take the jewelry further, and really make it my own. And that was when I sat down and said, “Well…” All of us are looking to feel fulfilled and happy in life, and it’s scary and difficult.
Actually, I was lucky to be in the African bush, making these difficult decisions. In the African bush, financial pressures are reduced. For instance, you’re not surrounded by commercialism, so you don’t need lots of money.
There’s a slowness to life, a beauty to the African bush, and being so close to the wildlife. As a result, you can just focus.
The South Luangwa
People don’t understand the South Luangwa and how special it is as a wildlife destination.
Elephant walks through our garden daily
An elephant walks through our garden most days. With kids growing up in the bush, I’ve got a photo of my little daughter Sienna and an elephant about 20 meters away from her, just walking by slowly. She was safe, because this elephant was just casually, always casually walking through our garden.
But you really do have to check if you’re leaving your house. Be sure to look both ways in case there’s an elephant.
And one night, my husband went outside, and there was a lion in the garden. It’s not a normal occurrence.
But it’s good for the soul, and it inspired me greatly.
I named the business according to my values. The business was a total expression of my beliefs.
The banded mongoose – looking out for one another
Everyone must love the banded mongoose! Basically, they’re small. They’re a bit like a cat, with shorter paws.
But what’s so special is they live in groups. To survive in the bush, you need something, ’cause it’s a pretty dangerous place. So they band together, work as a team, cohesively, to survive. But really, the way they survive is by looking out for one another.
I feel that way about our business.
We employ local Zambians who desperately need employment. We invest in our team. They work incredibly hard, and they’re extremely impressive.
The animals and land
We give back to conservation with every sale. We’re now hitting $120,000, which, for a company of seven workers since 2013, is not insignificant.
We represent conservation organizations like The Thin Green Line Foundation in Australia, who support rangers. ‘Cause when rangers die, families are left without income. The Thin Green Line Foundation supports those families. They do a lot for the rangers themselves, too. And they gift Mulberry Mongoose as the perfect product to sell and to gift to support them.
And I’m proud of the fact we work with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). At a very young age, I started sponsoring WWF. I felt so desperate and so fired up about the whole plight of tigers! It was in me. They stock Mulberry Mongoose, too.
Converting harm into beauty
Poacher snare wire is a very harmful tool. We take it out of circulation, we stop it from being dangerous, and we turn it into a symbol of something positive. We transform it.
Mulberry tree – fruit and beauty
The mulberry is a beacon of “Look, we’re going to create something really beautiful that you really want to wear.” (The sweetness of life – Maribeth’s addition.)
You don’t want to scare people into doing good. You want to uplift people. All the great people of the world have uplifted, you know. People do good by making and wearing our jewelry.
Mulberry Mongoose turns poacher snare wire into jewelry
Snare wire is brutal! This is a terrible tool of destruction for wildlife.
Snare wire gets laid like a trap around watering holes, places where wildlife congregate. The limb of the wildlife get trapped, either a neck, or a foot, or what have you. And then it snags, and then slowly tightens around the wildlife, and slowly maims and kills them.
It’s the biggest killer of our iconic wildlife – leopards, lions, wild dogs, elephant trunks get taken off, giraffes, everything.
Poacher guns versus snare wire
If you see a poacher with a gun, you know something’s up. But it’s difficult when you’ve got a piece of wire. It’s much harder to locate the poacher. Poachers can go to any fence and cut this wire up.
Brave wildlife rangers across Africa and across the world risk their lives to go on patrols to collect this wire. They’re in danger of being killed or shot at by poachers. But they’re also in danger of being killed by the very wildlife they’re trying to save. Sadly, that does happen.
Jewelry that does good and feels good
When you wear Mulberry Mongoose, it gives off an energy. And what’s so nice about that is then, the story of conservation, of Zambian employment, our amazing team, gets told.
You say something positive with our jewelry. You can feel good yourself wearing beautiful jewelry, and the value you’ve added to the world. I love that.
Originally from England, Kate Wilson founded Mulberry Mongoose, a jewellery company with heart, based in the remote South Luangwa Zambia. She hired and trained seven local African women and 1 local gentleman to create high quality, contemporary jewellery.
Her team are highly skilled in converting poacher’s snare wire from lethal wildlife traps into meaningful jewellery; a unique process they aptly call creating Beauty from Brutality.
Mulberry Mongoose is sold internationally and is credited for making over $110,000 for Zambian conservation. National Geographic, Departures and Marie Claire have all covered their story and celebrities including President Bill Clinton, Supermodel Doutzen Kroes (Dootzen Crows) and actress and conservationist Natasha Mago (Mahgo) have worn their jewellery.
Through creating and growing Mulberry Mongoose, Kate channels her passion for ethical fashion, commercial drive, creating local employment and investing in African conservation.