Cape Island Suzanne Snowdowne & Karin Wood

Startup costs: ‘We started with two people and between R80000 and R100000 worth of investments.’

Turnover: ‘About R6 million annually – so going from nothing to something in a couple of years is certainly possible. We’ve gone from the two of us to about 14 employees over a five-year period and from one fragrance range to five.’

How did you two meet?

Suzanne: Before we knew each other, Karin and I both lived in the UK for a while. When we returned to Cape Town, we both had a desire to start a creative business that would empower women and feed into the community. When we met, we realised we had opposite skill sets and talents. It was a match made in heaven.

What made you settle on luxury home and body products?

Karin: We knew the feeling of hankering for home. The inspiration and concept behind Cape Island was capturing natural South African beauty and celebrating it in people’s homes. We started with a lot of interior textile stuff and we had one candle – our Clifton Beach fragrance, which is still one of our bestsellers today. It did so well that we decided to focus more on fragrance products. We now have five fragrance lines and each one celebrates a different aspect of South Africa.

Cape Island Suzanne Snowdowne & Karin Wood Photo Gallery



You also partner with various charities?

Suzanne: Yes, this really excites us. We are working with five charities that are all aligned with what each fragrance in our range represents. For example, Clifton Beach promotes the beaches and coastline, so we work with a charity called Clean Sea, which does beach clean-ups. A percentage of all the Clifton Beach candle sales are donated to them.

Is it hard being in business with a close friend?

Suzanne: We both take this very seriously and try to do everything to the best of our ability, but having a business partnership and a friendship that can withstand pressure and tricky times definitely makes for a solid business. If the partnership wavers, so too does the business. Karin: We realised early on that we have a similar work ethic and that’s carried us through a lot. We each have three children, so it’s a constant juggle. We both know we can count on each other.

Which parts of the business do you each handle? Karin: Suzanne is a creative genius. She oversees a lot of our marketing, creative design and sales, while I tend to pick up the finance, logistics and operational side of the business. Suzanne: It takes a while to build a strong team, but we are so proud of ours! We’re all women and most of us are mothers, so in that sense, the dream of empowering women has come to life.

What were your first steps in developing the brand?

Suzanne: Understanding the market. Our focus is partly South Africans but also tourists. We established a brand that effectively communicates what it is. Karin: If you really want to have a solid future, do things properly: register your company with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), register with Sars, make sure you have a basic accounting package right from the beginning. Taking care of all those practical and administrative things, reinforces your goals.

How important is being socially and environmentally conscious to you?

Suzanne: Very. One of the things that sets us apart is that our products are aquatically friendly, which means that when it enters water streams or the ocean, it doesn’t impact on coral reefs or marine life. Karin: It’s also why we’ve prioritised trying to use glass rather than plastic for most of our packaging. It’s a challenge in the hotel and tourist industry, but we’re constantly trying to innovate.

What are your favourite fragrances?

Karin: Mine is Black Gold. Developing a new fragrance involves a lot of trial and error, and it’s fascinating to see how different people are drawn to different scents. Black Gold is the one I want to smell over and over again. Suzanne: I like Safari Days – the base notes are wood and patchouli; that is what I tend to wear.

How has the pandemic affected your business?

Suzanne: We started selling hand sanitiser in 2017, so we revamped that side of the business. Thanks to our sanitiser, and soap and body products line, we were able to stay open during lockdown. Karin made sure we were accredited, and applied to the various funding schemes. We didn’t let go of any staff.

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