Groundcover Leather Company was founded in 1990 by Justin and Amanda McCarthy.
A family business located on a farm in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands of South Africa, Groundcover is the expression of a lifelong passion for leatherwork and a search for a meaningful livelihood. From small beginnings we have grown into a sensibly sized, sustainable enterprise and have become well known as makers of original, finely handcrafted leather footwear and accessories. Thanks to the quality of our product, the skills and dedication of our artisans, our old-fashioned customer service and our brand’s association with ‘goodness’ in every way, we have been able to thrive in the face of tough economic conditions and the worst effects of globalisation.
The single most important reason for our success has been the people who make up the Groundcover family. We have been working with one another for a very long time. Together we share vast experience and depth of skill, which, along with our small size, has allowed us to remain creative and innovative, and to master a variety of constructions and techniques for different types of footwear.
On the 2nd of July 2010, Justin was tragically killed on his mountain bike while training for a bike trip to the Himalayas. Don Tully, with a lifetime of experience in the leather industry, has taken over as the Manager. He fitted into our ethos and way of thinking with ease, and now is a most valued member of the team.
Groundcover has always strived to be a progressive and socially responsible enterprise. In keeping with our small business ethic of ‘thinking globally and acting locally’, we choose to focus our corporate responsibility efforts on our immediate community and environment.
Most of our workers have been recruited locally, and many live on our farm. Our relationships are based on respect and mutual trust, and we enjoy a very informal working environment. Over the years, we have assisted local entrepreneurs to establish leatherwork, building, maintenance, taxi, trading and music businesses.
We believe that the education of young people — our future workers and leaders — holds the most promise for social and economic transformation in our community and our country. This is therefore our priority area of investment.
We subsidise the cost of school fees, books and extramural activities of our workers’ children, and provide them with school transportation. Amanda runs a homework and study class for 15 primary and secondary schoolchildren. Many kids are excelling in their studies and in sport, with two now enrolled at tertiary institutions. Amanda is also the long-serving chairperson of the Currys Post Educational Trust, an initiative of local residents that helped establish, and now manages and raises funds for, two primary and two pre-primary schools in nearby communities.
We take our duty as stewards of our 160ha farm very seriously. Since we arrived we have been clearing our valley of alien vegetation, and have planted hundreds of indigenous trees. As a business we recycle our waste and take active part in our Conservancy’s efforts to keep Currys Post clean, safe and wildlife-friendly.
We take our duty as stewards of our 160ha farm very seriously.
Since we arrived 22 years ago, we have been clearing our valley of alien vegetation, and have planted thousands of indigenous trees. We take an active part in our Conservancy’s efforts to keep Currys Post clean, safe and wildlife-friendly. As a business, we have always strived to minimise our waste.
Since the beginning, we have offered our customers the opportunity to swop their shoebox’s for a free keyring, allowing us to re-use the cardboard boxes over and over again. Most people are happy with this exchange, and we send them on their way, with their shoes (and keyring) packed in a brown paper bag.
We have a shoe recycling box in our shop where you can drop off your old shoes. Where possible, these are patched up and distributed to people in need.
We have placed bins outside our shop and factory to separate glass, paper, plastic and cans. These are collected monthly by Wildlands Trust and taken away for recycling. Our organic waste is composted for our veggie garden. We live our philosophy of “Think globally, Act locally”
With the exception of our imported Italian soles, all our raw materials are sourced from local suppliers to minimise the carbon emissions from transport. We have put solar water heaters on all employees’ houses to save on electricity usage.
We have also installed a ram pump in the valley, made by local engineer Dillon Beyers from G-Force pumps. This is presently pumping 15000 litres a day using no electricity.
The Groundcover Shop
The intention behind the Groundcover shop is for it to stand alone as a ‘working model’ of sustainability.
The building itself is recycled, having originally been shipped from Germany to South Africa over 100 years ago to a farm in Creighton.In 1992, it was dismantled and trucked to Groundcover where it took over a year to reconstruct.
We are beginning with the installation of rain water tanks. Harvesting rainwater lessens the burden on our natural water reserves, and will supply our shop with all its’ water requirements in the summer months. The surplus water will be used for irrigating the surrounding gardens.The grey water from the basin and bath will be fed through a pebble bed directly into the landscape.We plan to take our lighting in the shop off the grid, by placing solar panels on the roof. We will have a back up connection to Eskom for rainy days, and a meter to monitor energy use, so that we can adjust sizing of the system. The long term goal is to take the whole shop off the grid. This will be an ongoing process going forward
Groundcover operates in a pristine environment, and we strive to compliment this environment by leaving a legacy that protects our land, water and people.
Many centuries ago, a very special breed of cattle arrived in southern Africa. They were named after the Nguni people who migrated with their herds from the north central and eastern regions of the continent, crossing the Zambezi around 600 CE and settling in much of present-day South Africa.
Evolved from the Sanga longhorn cattle — as depicted in 8000-year-old rock art in Lybia and the Sahara, and later in the Egyptian pyramids and in San rock art — the Nguni are a very hardy breed. On top of their slow, epic journey through Africa, they have had 1400 years to adapt to southern Africa’s extreme environmental conditions.
Nguni are a favoured breed among the indigenous peoples of the region. They feature prominently in the culture, folklore and traditional economy of the Zulu. Each of the different Nguni skin patterns, for example, is identified in Zulu with names relating to daily life or the natural environment, such as “lark’s egg”, “sugar bean” or “dregs of the sorghum porridge”.
Wars and conflicts during the colonial period, and the introduction of “improved”, European breeds (along with their diseases), decimated the indigenous herds. Fortunately, the Nguni’s many attributes — including disease resistance, high fertility, easy temperament and adaptability, quality meat and beautiful hides — together with the special place they occupy in the lives and cultures of our peoples, have all contributed to their survival and growth as a species.
The Groundcover Herd
In 1999, we sold our Sussex cattle and bought a registered Nguni herd from a breeder near Phongola. Our reasoning was simply that we wanted beautiful and hardy cattle. Little did we know that the demand for Nguni as a sensible production animal — as well as for Nguni skins and fashion accessories — was going to skyrocket within a few years.
Today we have around ninety breeding cattle, which we trade at an annual breeders sale in nearby Mooi River. We have collected outstanding animals of different patterns and colours. As a result, ours is perhaps the most photographed, painted and admired herd in the country. We are members of the KZN Nguni Club and are proud to be involved in the preservation of this remarkable breed.