Start-ups: Selling to the British Museum….and Blackpool Zoo

Zuza Trading is one of Cumbria’s most unusual businesses.

Owner Claire Shepherd established the business to support community projects in South Africa by exporting their handmade crafts around the world.

Sales of the gifts support income-generation projects in South Africa to enable the crafters to better the quality of their lives and to ensure that they are able to earn a sustainable living from their artistic creativity and craftsmanship.

Zuza Trading

The business is thriving thanks to support from the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub, with large orders being placed by Blackpool Zoo, the online retailer Culture Vulture and the British Museum among other European brands.

Claire, who was raised in Durban in South Africa, moved to Cumbria with her husband Stephen from Edinburgh in 2010.

She said: “I worked in the Scottish Parliament as a special adviser and Stephen was in IT working for a bank.

“We thought it would be wonderful to move to the Lake District, so we bought Ouse Bridge House, a guest house at Dubwath overlooking Bassenthwaite Lake.

“It was just after the 2009 floods in Keswick and Cockermouth. Everyone thought we were absolutely mad to give up good corporate jobs to do this.”

“It was just after the 2009 floods in Keswick and Cockermouth. Everyone thought we were absolutely mad to give up good corporate jobs to do this.”

Claire was still a frequent visitor to South Africa to see her mother.

She said: “In 2013, I was there for four or five weeks. I came back with some artisan products and was overwhelmed with the response. People were saying they were really different and I thought, ‘Here’s a business opportunity’.

“I began importing Christmas decorations and tealight holders predominantly. We sold items at a couple of Christmas markets locally and received positive feedback.”

Zuza Trading was then born – Zuza is an African word meaning ‘help and obtain’ – and Claire turned to Cumbria Chamber of Commerce’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub to get it off the ground.

Zuza TradingGrowth Hub adviser Kate Armstrong, a marketing specialist, helped her develop a marketing strategy and obtain a grant to cover some of the costs of developing the Zuza Trading website.

Claire also took full advantage of the breadth of training offered through the Growth Hub, attending workshops and courses on topics as diverse as web site content, Facebook for business, digital marketing, mindfulness for business, and exporting, as well as attending women in enterprise networking events.

She said: “I wouldn’t have taken the first steps if I hadn’t had help from the Growth Hub.

“I have friends in business in other parts of the UK and they can’t believe the level of support that I’ve had. I’m an accountant by profession but didn’t have any idea about marketing or retailing.”

Zuza’s biggest breakthrough came last year.

Claire said: “We went to two big trade fairs and that prompted interest from a number of well-known brands. It can be a slow process, as the big companies’ procurement lead times are sometimes set years in advance, but we did get an immediate follow-up email from the British Museum.

“The retail buyer at the British Museum said they loved our products and would be interested to work with us to supply items for their shop to coincide with a high profile exhibition of South African art, ‘The Art of a Nation’, in winter 2016.

“We received a significant order for over 12,000 items and the exposure for Zuza Trading was enormous.”

“We received a significant order for over 12,000 items and the exposure for Zuza Trading was enormous.”

In turn, the placement of Zuza’s products in the British Museum  led to another tie up, this time with  online and national catalogue retailer Culture Vulture, which is based in Oxfordshire, but operates a distribution centre at Lillyhall, Workington, in Cumbria. Zuza will supply products for its Christmas collection.

Claire’s aim is, of course, to have a viable business, but her primary concern is to acknowledge and promote the unique and talented crafters based in South Africa and for consumers to pay a fair price for products to reflect the craftsmanship that is involved.

The craftspeople drawn from areas blighted by high unemployment or with a high proportion of single mothers or people living with HIV and AIDS. The work provides them with a sustainable income.

Products include animal ornaments and key rings, bowls, candlesticks, tealight holders, shoes, bags, covers for tablets and mobile phones, storage containers, toys and Christmas decorations. Many are made from recycled materials, such as used telephone wire or old billboard adverts.

Last year Zuza was awarded ‘approved supplier’ status by the British Association of Fair Trade Shops (BAFTS), a seal of approval that Claire is proud to display.

Looking ahead, she plans to place more of Zuza’s products in wildlife parks and museums, following recent successes.

Her aim to offer a contemporary flavour of Africa to customers who are looking for something ethically sourced and a little bit different. Demand is taking off and Zuza’s products will soon be found in overseas markets, as well as in the UK.

If you are thinking of starting your own business or social enterprise, then Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and our partners are here to help with a free business start-up programme to point you in the right direction.

Our comprehensive package of support includes:

  • Free meetings with a business adviser to review and develop your business idea;
  • Free training covering business planning and self employment, an introduction to marketing/market research and sales forecasts, promotion and sales, an introduction to planning and managing finance, taxation and bookkeeping, using the internet and social media;
  • Free help to develop your business plan and get your business up and running;
  • Free membership of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.

For more information, call us today on 0845 226 0040 or click here to visit the Cumbria Business Growth Hub web site.

The £1.7m Business Start-up Support (BSUS) project is creating almost 700 new businesses and nearly 1,200 jobs. It is also supporting around 250 young businesses and generating more than £92m GVA. The scheme is part funded by five of Cumbria’s six district councils and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).


The funding that supports the Growth Hub comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP. 

The BSUS project is receiving up to £1,112,686 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.  The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.

© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce