Category / Woodstock Biz

Happiness in a Handbasket

Posted on 10 February 2014 by Stefan Blank

ILW met up with Ute Kuhlmann, Woodstock resident, local activist, and writer/producer to talk about her just published book ‘Happiness in a Handbasket’, which features local products with many of them made/sold in Woodstock.

The book includes over a 1000 local South African products from food & drink, clothes, shoes, bags & jewellery, baby and child, personal care products, office equipment, household appliances, everything for beach days and the outdoors, to wheels and deals.

The book is linked to a website where all the info is searchable.



ILW: Tell us a little about yourself.

UK: I am a ‘Made in Germany’ product from the 70ies. I first came to South Africa 16 years ago to study and promptly fell in love with Cape Town and my now husband – although not necessarily in that order. So instead of working as a lawyer in Germany, I moved to Woodstock. When I got hired as commissioning editor for legal books at Juta & Co, I managed to combine my passion for books and the law. I also learned everything about publishing, which is handy if you decide to self-publish a book. ‘Happiness in a Handbasket’ is a labour of love and was paid for by my work as a freelance publishing consultant.


Ute Kuhlman on the right with first sale

not made in China_wp

Not made in China

local celebs at launch_wp

Launch at the Woodstock Exchange

ILW: Where did the idea come from?

UK: Buying local is how I channel my OCD. It’s an anti-depressant, too. When I buy a local product, I support a South African job and do my bit for Mzansi, lower my carbon footprint because the stuff didn’t have to transported around the world, and go home with a lovely product. Buying local is as much a habit as a conviction and I wanted to share my insights about where to find the good local stuff, hence the idea for a ‘shelf-help guide’.

ILW: How much of the book covers Woodstock products and how do you feel about the current resurgence in art and crafts in Woodstock?

UK: Almost 10% of all the Western Cape brands profiled in ‘Happiness’ are manufactured right here in Woodstock. Woodstock and Salt River have a long history of textile manufacturing. Since cheap clothing imports flooded South Africa, half the local garment workers lost their jobs. Creatives took over the former industrial spaces in Woodstock and now we see some manufacturing returning, albeit on a much smaller and more upmarket scale.

Local design and craft (be it fashion, furniture or organic products) is very innovative and of great quality. Cape Town isn’t Design Capital 2014 for nothing and buying those design products is an excellent way to create much needed skills, support small business and keep money in our economy.

And yet living in Woodstock is an everyday reminder that the majority of people do not have the disposable income to buy artisanal goods, even given their superior quality. That’s why I included many conventional brands/products sold at supermarkets, chemists, clothing chains and department stores in the book. It’s at those big retail outfits and with our everyday purchases that we need to vote with our bucks for local products. If we buy local, they will stock it.


Lekker local liquor


Baby Skincare


Even the cat is local

ILW: How does the book work?

UK: Happiness profiles over 600 brands across 10 chapters, which are colour coded and neatly illustrated. The chapters cover food and drink, clothes, shoes, bags and jewellery, all things baby and child, personal care products, office equipment, household appliances, everything for beach days and the outdoors, sleeping and means of transport. Natural or organic products are listed as such, as well as information on labour conditions. For the curious, it explains how labelling rules work, and there are short inserts that provide interesting background facts. You can look things up by brand or keyword and there are tables which give a quick overview of which products are local and which are imported. And it’s the perfect size for fitting in your bag, so you have it along when you are hitting the shops.


ILW: I believe there’s a website linked to the book?

UK: Indeed. We are lucky that the choice of local products is growing every day. allows anyone to list additional local products for free. The site is basic and focuses on searching and linking local buyers back to the manufacturers and their stockists. The site is continuously updated and also works on any mobile device in case you are at the shops and have forgotten to bring your book.

Happiness website

The happiness website


ILW: What’s the response been so far?

UK: The response has been, as they say, ‘overwhelmingly positive’. People who bought the book contacted me to say that they find it a great resource, engagingly written and that they are reading bits and pieces to other people or showing off at dinners with their newly acquired knowledge.

ILW: What’s on your wishlist for this year?

UK: I’d be thrilled if ‘Happiness’ inspires people to make 2014 their ‘buy local’ year and that we can grow into an awesome resource. Of course scores of ‘Likes’ on our Facebook page would also be nice.

And happily I need a new handbag (every girl’s excuse, I know), so there is a Woodstock shopping spree on the cards. I know just where to look.


Visit the website for more information and to add your own product. You can join the facebook page here.

Happiness in a Handbasket is available from Blank Books in Woodstock, from the Ethical Co-op, and from the Book Lounge.


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