We had the good fortune of connecting with Claudia Castellanos and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Claudia, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
I think it is a combination between a really strong social and environmental ethos, and a fun and modern African brand. I believe consumers need an emotional attachment to brands, and this only happens if your brand embraces values that are important to them. More than ever consumers are interested in finding out who makes their products, and if they are made in an ethical and environmental friendly way. This creates a nice story and a solid foundation. If you can add a high quality product and a fun approach to the story (which is relatively easy when you are mostly dealing with chilli products and you are named after a dangerous African snake) you have a winning combination.
What should our readers know about your business?
Black Mamba is a fair trade producer from Eswatini (Southern Africa) that manufactures and distributes specialty food products that are good-for-you, good-for-the-planet, and good for the rural communities we work with. Our range includes chilli sauces, pestos, chutneys and jams, all made with organically grown ingredients and no added nonsense. Through our partnership with the local NGO Guba, we train small holders in permaculture and organic farming and buy the fresh produce from them to make our goods. To date, 60 farmers are part of our value chain, and our direct positive impact reaches over 1000 individuals in Eswatini. We have won several Great Taste Awards in the UK for our sauces, and in our quest for chilli world domination we export to several countries including the US, the UK, Germany, Norway and Taiwan.
I arrived to Eswatini in 2008 from Italy (I am Colombian originally) as a volunteer, tired of corporate life and looking for purpose. Black Mamba was born soon after, when I saw the potential of creating a brand that would embrace my passion for rural development, combined with a fun, african approach based on the use of chillies (although the chillihead in chief is Joe, my husband).
Whoever tells you that being an entrepreneur is easy, is either lying or has rich parents! This has been a very fulfilling journey, (as I can see the positive change we are bringing to communities in Eswatini and how Black Mamba is becoming an international brand) but it has been a very difficult journey too: I thought I used to work hard when I had my corporate job, just to realise that it was a walk in the park compared to working 24/7 and becoming a jack of all trades (add 2 small kids in the mix and things become well, interesting and complicated!)
My driving force has been for many years: “be the change you want to see in the world”. I am happy that Black Mamba has allowed me to live through my driving force.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Eswatini is a hidden jewel in Africa – I always tell my friends that if they come for a visit they get to experience a condensed version of what the continent has to offer in a small, safe scale. We have stunning mountains and great outdoors with wild life: for a perfect weekend I would do a horse riding safari at Mlilwane, where you get to see zebras, all sorts of antilopes, the biggest crocs in the world and warthogs. I would then go to Hlane (another game reserve) to see lions, elephants and giraffes, and spend the night enjoying our beautiful African skies full of stars in front of a big fire. The following day I would do some retail therapy for the most gorgeous collection of handmade goods that Eswatini has to offer, including textiles and fashion items from Baobab Batik or Tsandza Weaving, world-class bags from Khokho, homeware from Gone Rural and glassware made from recycled glass from Ngwenya Glass, and I would go for sundowners (sunset) to Malandela’s, a great restaurant and pub in Malkerns. I would have a nice chilled glass of white wine and a great local meal (with Black Mamba hot sauce of course) and I would finish the evening partying at the Afro-chic and eclectic venue House on Fire, that brings amazing artists and events to our small country!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My other half and Black Mamba’s other half Joe Roques: his support as a creative director for Black Mamba has been priceless in creating the hot brand we have today. Even if he is not part of the business on a full time basis, I’d like to think of him as the soul of our brand. My shoutout goes also to my amazing team: there wouldn’t be any Black Mamba if it wasn’t for this group of Swati men and women (mostly women) that are running the show in our HeatQuarters every day.