I first came across Wild Olive early in 2015, while getting a coffee at Jason Bakery, half a block from the Skinny laMinx store. This dramatic, black and white-painted building was a new sight in the neighbourhood, and I was intrigued.
And since having met the creative mind behind this neighborhood Apothecary (thanks to her neighbourly side-project, the Fine Living District), I’m even more intrigued. So am happy that Marioara de la Tara of Wild Olive African Artisans was willing to be quizzed by me, as this month’s featured Friend + Neighbour.
Hello Maria. Tell us about your journey and how you ended up doing what you do now?
Hello Heather! I arrived in South African in 2006, and by 2007 I knew I wanted to do something revolving around education, skill creation, and maybe also get involved in a commercial idea. I did not realise at the time of course how much I would have to learn and how hard such a challenge would be. However I love what I do, and get more and more energy doing it every day.
Who and what has inspired you along the way?
As a concept creator, I am totally inspired by Africa and its people. This fine blend between refined and raw, between exceptional and simple, between old ritual and modernity is appealing to me. African culture is exquisite, I hope people can learn to stop a bit and pay attention. By working with plant extracts and our mission is to promote our continent’s potential, I am also inspired by the richness of the Cape Flora. We have an entire perfumery line called Flora Capensis dedicated to, and created only from the Cape Fynbos, and various other species growing in the Cape.
Do you have a favourite product from Wild Olive? Tell us about your most popular product.
Is hard to denominate a favorite product. My products are like my children, I love them all. Our business started with soap and it grew on this solid foundation found between necessity and luxury. We wanted to offer something that is considered “basic”, but in an exceptional manner. We have now in total over 150 different products, but we still sell a few hundred bars of soap and candles every month, so I guess our customers love a good bar of soap and a good candle.
Some of the more popular products are Flora Capensis Parfum, Plantifolia Lignosa Body Butter, and any of the Thembela Liwani porcelain candles – his nickname is Mr. Micutzy, the Goldboy – everything he touches transforms into gold. His pieces are now in the homes of very special people from all over the globe. (Find out more about Thembela Liwani in this video)
How would you describe the vision for Wild Olive African Artisans? What does the future hold?
Wild Olive African Artisans’ vision and mission is to demonstrate what is possible on the African continent. Once we ascertained that we now have French or British based companies or even LVMH brands coming to us to have their perfume products made, we understood that we succeeded to at least prove that we are competitive as manufacturers as many others in the world. We worked very hard for this and it was extremely rough to demonstrate ability at that scale while also being as silent as possible at the same time. The silence was necessary in order to maintain our focus and strategy.
You have strong feelings about community and collaboration. Tell us more?
Our whole business is about community and collaboration. We are master African Artisans. We collaborate with those who have the same values and understanding for product development, and the effort, time and cost involved in order to achieve the exceptional.
We are grateful to have prominent individuals and businesses that chose us to develop their concepts for perfumery or apothecary lines. Through these collaborations with dermatological doctors, jewelers, private customers, fashion houses or artists and designers, we are allowing access to education and skill improvement to those who knock at our door and are keen to learn and grow themselves as masters in their fields. Collaboration and community building are essential for strong economic growth.
What are your thoughts about the neighborhood you’ve moved your business to?
I love Cape Town. I tried Woodstock as I thought that this is where all the creative people were, however our customers struggled to understand that diversity, and very seldom would agree to visit us there. So we moved to Bree Street – or just nearby, at 29 Pepper Street – close to very exciting other businesses, who have similar concepts or aspirations for their brands. We built ourselves a little home here, the Wild Olive African Artisan Apothecary and Artistic Perfumery House, and we are now able to manufacture every single element of our concept in house, from porcelain, to stitching, to cosmetic manufacturing, to our development and perfumery laboratory.
Watch the video below to get an idea of where we are situated, and all the work we do.
Any final comments?
We hope that because of its diversity, Bree Street can become a serious tourist attraction, where you can have a good meal, and good drink, and a little bit of shopping, while walking on the street, enjoying the sun and staring at Table Mountain.