“It’s not passion, it’s madness,” says S’khumba crafts owner Brian Bernstein from behind a pile of leather waiting to be stitched. Brian and Karen, his wife, have created an immersive experience that makes their handcrafted footwear more than a second skin for your feet.
The Bernsteins are a power couple in every sense of the word. Both of them work relentlessly stitching together their range of leather shoes, bags, belts and accessories, greet customers, and hold down the coffee shop with the help of their assistant, Beauty. When you arrive at S’khumba crafts in Southbroom, KZN (an adventure in itself – they don’t participate in any social media), you may think you’ve been transported to a world thought up in a storybook, but it’s very real. A walk down the pathway through forest foliage leads to an enchanting coffee shop among the trees, and their cosy shop of handmade goods has the enticing aroma of raw leather.
Their shoes are all made by hand by the couple and include a range of thick-soled boots and sandals named after members of the family, such as The Talia and The Keren. The brand is appropriately named after the isiZulu word for ‘skin’, and have a reputation for an incredibly long lifespan. All first-time visitors are subjected to The Chat from Brian, whereby he explains the process, displays his own pair that he’s had for over 20 years, and reminds shoppers please not to squeeze the shoes. He also notes that trying on is free.
What’s truly amazing about their products is the way they age with you. When purchased, S’khumba shoes and bags will be hard of shell and light in tone. Homemade Leather Food is recommended with every purchase, as it needs to be applied to all surfaces of the leather before leaving the products in the sun to tan for a day before they’re used. Regular applications of the food is recommended for keeping products in pristine condition, but the leather will inevitably darken with time and take on the wear of the user, an item that can live and grow with you and take the on markings of your life experience.
Essentially, the more you use their products the better they will look and feel, a stunning contrast to the world of fast-fashion in which durable products are unheard of. Instead, these shoes have a lifespan that is seemingly infinite, due to the quality of their production and their ability to be taken care of by their owners.
As mentioned, the magic of S’khumba Crafts is highlighted by their delightful forest coffee shop, which has recently started to host music events on their hand-built stage. These Meisters know their niche, and play to their home-centric strengths – the lamingtons and apple pie are still made from an original family recipe and coffee is freshly brewed.
Their truly magical and enchanting experience is easy to miss if you don’t know where to look, a hidden gem in every sense of the word. Find them just beyond the Riverbend Crocodile farm in Southbroom. If you get to Pistol’s Saloon, you’ve gone too far.