Winning Women – Sue Godding: Weaving her way into silky success

2013-07-28 14:00

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Sue Godding’s silk skincare products, hypoallergenic bedding and other handcrafted silk household products are selling across the world, writes Sue Grant-Marshall

Sue Godding has taken a product the Chinese discovered 5?000 years ago – silk – and has transformed it into silk skincare products she hopes will one day be rated among the best in the world.

Her Godding&Godding range – which also includes handcrafted, hypoallergenic bedding – will shortly be available in Australia and is already selling in Canada, Réunion, Gabon, Botswana and, not least, on the family farm.

This lies just outside the touristy town of Hoedspruit on the border of the Kruger National Park. It was close by, near Bushbuckridge, that the South African and Chinese governments began silk farming about three decades ago, selling silk duvets to tourists.

But the venture collapsed. Intrigued by the concept, Godding and a partner began silk farming themselves.

They soon realised our South African silk worms do not spin the volume or quality of their Chinese counterparts, whose mother-lines go back for generations. “So we imported their silk. We work only with the best,” says Godding.

She began researching the components of silk and discovered it contains, among other things, proteins, amino acids and collagens with tissue-healing properties.

“Silk is one of nature’s unique, natural nutritive materials for both skin and hair, and we found that careful hydrolysis of the silk thread results in a fine, soluble powder that can be blended into our skincare range,” says Godding.

But someone was there before her – the Japanese Kanebo cosmetic range – so Godding decided to “Africanise” her products.

She sourced oils from aloes, baobabs, rooibos, fynbos and marula berries and blended them with the hydrolysed silk powder. Hydrolysis is a reaction involving the breaking of a bond in a molecule using water.

The result is Godding&Godding’s pure, silk-enriched skincare range.

“The silk enhances the body’s natural absorbance deep down to the lower epidermal layers and into the bloodstream, providing greater rehydration, nourishment and elasticity for your skin,” says Godding in her energetic, voluble manner.

At the same time, she produced pure silk-filled duvets as well as silk pillows and covers for them too. They’re particularly good for allergy sufferers. Godding has extended her range to include pure cotton percale linen.

She’s also making pure silk scarves, scatter cushions with covers, slippers, gowns and sleepwear.

But Godding’s products were not selling as well as she expected them to, given their natural excellence.

Then two years ago, she met brand specialist Mike Frampton, who changed their packaging and branding.

“It was a bit colourful before. Now it has a muted elegance and we wrap our products in tissue paper so our customers feel special,” she says.

Today, Godding and Frampton enjoy a 50-50 partnership. The latter handles the financial and creative aspects of the business while she handles its day-to-day demands.

“People say that a partnership is a sinking ship. But I’ve always had good partnerships because it’s impossible for one person to know every aspect of a business,” says Godding.

She’s astounded by the psychology of packaging.

“Our product is exactly the same as it was a couple of years ago, yet now it’s flying off the shelves.”

Her products are selling in six countries and will soon expand into France, “because tourists to our area buy our range, fall in love with it, take it home and want to sell it there”.

It will shortly be selling in Sydney, Perth and Brisbane in Australia and is also used in certain spas in Réunion.

Godding keeps a strict eye on how the range is sold. She says: “I insist shops use our display cabinets, play certain music and have staff who are specifically trained to sell it.”

She has yet to find premises in Joburg and Cape Town that suit her requirements, so she is selling intrinsically South African products to an international market before she has truly explored her local one.

In the process, her company is providing employment for 25 women in the Acornhoek area.

“We hand-make everything. Silk is not easy to work with so I’ve trained seamstresses and they work here on the farm, 24 Degrees South Country Estate,” she says.

It’s situated close to the Blyde River Canyon and the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga and is a hive of tourist activity itself with a showroom, a restaurant and lovely gardens.

She has no intention of leading “a high-powered corporate life”, having met her game ranger, conservationist husband when she was working in a lodge.

They have two teen daughters who have modelled the garments on Godding&Godding’s elegant website, which “was created by someone in Hoedspruit”, she says proudly.

This Durban-raised entrepreneur always loved the outdoors as a child, and is a passionate South African who wants something that’s been created in Hoedspruit, “to help us all believe we can make a world-class product”.

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