Sunday, October 12, 2014

BUYING FOR RAIN - Components for slippers

I knew NOTHING about shoemaking. But I was intriqued and inspired to try it out.
One day , while on a fabric buying trip in Bangkok , I found myself in a shoemaking district with shop upon shop of intriquing stuff for making shoes.
BUT - no one speaks English !
 In fact , tourists never venture here, so one is generally stared at with amusement and curiosity. When you try to ask for help, the Thais just giggle and shake their heads.

And then , out of the mainstream , while wandering off looking for transport - I found CHAI. Yes his name is CHAI - tea .And , like a good cup of hot tea , he came to my rescue .
as you can see from his shirt - he really is batman or my superhero because he not only speaks comprehensible English, but he sat with me and guided me step by step - with drawings  - on the art of shoemaking . 

Telling me about the dye cuts I need and the materials and glues I must use , and what slopes are for. 

He  now cuts and supplies all the parts for our Rain slippers which we  manufacture back home in our Rain factory in Swellendam.

This is Chai's  very full store, where he and  I sit on rubber mats in front of the cooling fan to discuss my needs each time I visit.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

BUYING FOR RAIN - Rope Hunting in India

Oh I do so love India- the land of opposites and extremes
Beauty and decay, bedlam and peace, filth and fragrance
I am privileged enough to be able to travel to India to buy textiles and yarns for the Rain factory. 
Sadly none of which is manufactured in South Africa and must be brought from a far away land

This rope shop is one of my very favourite haunts. discovered quite by accident while making way for someone to pass me in a tiny Old Delhi alleyway, I stumbled into this Alladins Cave of ropes, strings, twines, wools, yarns.

It is a beguiling store - luring you further and further into it's cavernous depths as you discover little staircases leading up and up , and little passages leading you into further chambers filled with disorderly chaos with every imaginable type of rope and string.

A myriad of tiny rooms are packed floor to ceiling with every conceivable sort of yarn, twine and rope, and  of course there is the fetid odour of rats living side by side with the stock.

The owner is Tarun - the stout gentleman in the picture and alongside him is Prabu - my porter , who can only speak Hindi , but who carries my wares, shields me from rabid beggars, hails the rickshaws and who makes sure I don't get lost in the mayhem

After weighing every bundle and haggling over the prices , the goods are then loaded onto the local rickshaws to be transported .

I retreat to my clean cool calm accommodation with dear friend Bianca -  away from the craziness that is India 

At Rain , we use these ropes to make  window displays, bee skeps, bath mats and the various jutes and strings get crocheted and knitted into shower mitts, back scrubbers, wash gloves and tissue box covers.
Intensively handmade products with beautiful all nature fibres 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

In Sync with the Seasons

Living in harmony with Nature -
that is our credo at Rain

When nature whispers - we listen, when she floods the air with her volatile aromas, we rush to capture them. 
Our jasmine is in full bloom - filling the evening with a sweet floral melody - one which we want to capture for our perfumes. 

We are hard at work each evening , picking the delicate open flowers in order to lay them in palm butter , to perform the ancient french perfumery technique of enfleurage - used to capture the essence of flowers

This is a time consuming task and the flowers need to be replaced every single day for at least 8-12 days. One has to be very sure of a good supply of flowers before beginning 

The Yesterday ,Today and Tomorrow is also blooming at just the same time. this bush is extremely generous with its glorious fragrance and abundant flowers 

The flowers start off deep purple today, then turn lilac tomorrow and are white by the next day

The Palm Butter gently coaxes the aromas from the flowers over time . It is a lesson in patience , respecting time and nature as it gently yields its perfume to the fat medium. 

After loading the fat for as many days as you are able to repeat the process without the fat growing nasty moulds, the fat is scraped into jars to be washed for three weeks with natural sugar cane alcohol.
This washing process entails daily shaking of the bottle to transfer  the fragrance molecules from the fat to the alcohol.
After more than 6 weeks, of daily interaction , this will be ready for use.
No wonder natural perfumes are costly and precious.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hot Find - a Coal operated Iron

Welcome to Africa 

Sometimes we have electricity and sometimes we don't...... 

The reasons given by the powers that be are complex, but they go something like this :

- somebody stole the cables
- the infrastructure is on the brink of collapse, so we have to share what little power there is ( load shedding )
- the people who run the national electricity provider have stolen all the money and now there is no money to upgrade the networks and conduct maintenance
- the average salary at the national electricty supplier - Eskom-  equals what I earn in three years, but they are idiots and have destroyed a perfectly good infrastructure through corruption, nepotism and sheer incompetence 

Having been warned by people who are " in the know " to get prepared for electricty outages - I am on a mission to do just that . I dont want to be caught short !

My options - buy a bicycle operated washing machine, convert my appliances to gas, diesel, wind, wood fired, anything but electricty and all will be ok.
To this end, I have been keeping my eyes open for solutions to beat my nemesis - the national electricty supplier Eskom.
Then one day recently - while strolling through a kitchen market in Chiang Mai Thailand ........

Eureka ! I found a coal operated iron ! Not even an antique but a real brand new one !

My mind flashed back to a remote Jain temple courtyard in Rajasthan where I had seen one of these in operation by laundry wallahs doing piles and piles of white cotton sheets under a massive fig tree .

Operated with hot coals which have to be replenished from a gently burning wood fire nearby , this style of ironing seemd romantic and slow like the days gone by. I was sure my maid would LOVE me for this.

And so I arrived home with my trophy find in my luggage - my first non electricty dependant appliance. This was a few months back - my maid Samantha just graciously smiled, nodded knowingly and then put the iron on display on the kitchen window sill where it sits today - as yet unused. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wild Harvest in the Overberg

Winter time in the Cape region of South Africa, and it is the rainy season. The wild fynbos plants are experiencing a growth spurt from the season's rain, and this is when they form fresh new leaves and their veins run thick with fragrant and healing oils, their flowers emerge and growth is lush and abundant.
This is the time for wild harvesting in this area .We begin our season's harvests one fresh cool morning in July. Up before dawn, we drive to the area where we plan to harvest, enjoying the exquisite scenery en route. The aloes flower at this time too - and this is Aloe Ferox - also used in Rain products in the Aloe and Avocado range
Proteas ( our national flower ) are blooming in great swathes and there are groups of hungry sunbirds feasting on the sweet new nectar. We pick some proteas for mom as a thank you for the crunchy cranberry rusks we enjoy with the early morning coffee.
The trusty landrover has been kitted out, serviced, oiled and greased - even new shocks fitted to cope with the rough terrain and the extra load of water tanks on the roof. We are ready to harvest
The fynbos plant kingdom is the smallest and richest in the world - one of seven plant kingdoms globally with around 8000 species- 70% of these plants are found nowhere else in the world.There are 1300 species per 10 000 compared to the South American rainforests which have 400 species per 10 000 This is an exceptionally special and unique place. 

We have our factory located in this region, and are thus  privileged to be able to wild harvest our raw materials from our "backyard" so to speak.
John, our Fragrance Forager
has the distillation kit firmly bolted to the sides of the landrover with tanks of cooling water on the roof to enable us to distill the plants on site - right in the wild - fresh straight from picking
And of course, there is always time for tea and those rusks of mom's.We are up the mountain and it is chilly - nothing like a hot cuppa to warm the hands and heart

This is Joe - our KhoiSan medicine man. He knows his plants and keeps a lookout for them from the sides of the Landy as we drive - banging on the roof to alert us to stop when he spots something

The terrain requires four wheel drive - it is steep and rutted and the tracks run as mini streams from  all the underground water during this wet season
We harvest Aasbos - or Bait Bush - so called by fisherman as they use it to clean their hands after handling their bait. This plant we are harvesting in the coastal dune belt where these plants occur in abundance
It is an olfactory journey - 
with Joe handing us bushels
 of plant materials to smell
 and identify. Some of them 
are sub species and we have 
to continually refer to our
reference books as we go
The mobile office with a basket of plant books for backup.We consider 
ourselves as pruners - we never cut everything from a bush , but use a rule of thumb of no more than a quarter. Pruning stimulates new growth and it means we are harvesting sustainably

Joe and John prepare the still for operation , attaching all the pipes for the cooling water flow from the roof, connecting the gas burner and setting up the catchment flask. The guys head out with their picking baskets and secateurs and then gradually return with the plant materials to be distilled.
The drum of the still gets filled with freshly picked organic plant materials, and we sit under a tree and wait while the heat builds and the hydrosol slowly starts to drip from the tank. It is wonderful being immersed in the still calmness of raw nature , the pace is slow and there is time to watch the birds and the ants, feel the warm winter sun on our faces
We make tea and sandwiches for the pickers and we laze around waiting for the golden oil to emerge from the plants. This oil which is fresh, pure, wild and organic will be used in Rain products throughout the year
At the end of the day ,weary , but also filled up with a sense of replenishment that only pure nature can deliver, we head back down the mountain and home.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


We take a days journey up the west coast of South Africa to visit a rare and utterly unique plant called Kukumakranka - alias K4- Gethyllis species.
This plant has very strange growing habits and is the basis for many a nostalgic story from the older generation who played games sniffing them out in the sandveld when they were in fruit as their tropical fruity smell is legendary.

We are anxious to meet K4  as we want to use this fruity wild harvested plant note in our African Wild Harvest Perfume Range. We have been introduced to it by a Mr Melck - whose life's passion is the preservation and propogation of this very special species of plants

Mr Melck invites us to his farm and like all South African farmsteads - we experience warm delicious hospitality in the shape of tea and home baked apple and cape gooseberry pie

Mr Melck tells about the strange growing habits of K4. It grows ever so close to the ground and gets eaten by buck, tortoises and hares. It first gives off the leaves, then the leaves die down and one sees nothing there. then out come the prettiest little flowers - again close to the sand and delicious for animals to eat. If the flower gets eaten, it does not have a chance to fruit and seed.

and then......... if the flower was miraculously not eaten, the fruit forms beneath the ground in the shape of little bananas and pushes up out of the soil with a fragrance of tropical summer fruits and strawberries

Traditional use was to place a fruit in the local homemade witblitz for a fruity taste, or to eat the fruit fresh from the soil, or to dry the skins for a fragrant Bible bookmark

Mr Melck knows all the plants on his farm by name and number. He knows which give large tasty fruit and which have interesting colours. He has a tunnel in which is germinates all the seeds he collects and where he carefully nurtures the plants to adult hood - a period of six years before they bear.

His hope and dream is to give away 100 plants to each farmer in the district and to encourage them to take care of the plants and to ensure the survival of this rare and special species.
We have the privilege of receiving the fragrant fruit after  the seeds have been removed. We are currently tincturing them at Rain to use in a seasonal once off batch of Kukumakranka Harvest Product. Watch this space for limited edition items available only as and when we are able to get this ubiquitous fruit.