A community initiative by comparison platform Hippo.co.za has enabled a local small business and team of out-of-work seamstresses to support their families through South Africa’s extended COVID-19 lockdown. The five women, all from Mitchells Plain in Cape Town, have been hard at work handcrafting plush toys based on Hippo.co.za’s popular mascot.

Despite its long-standing popularity, this is the first time Hippo.co.za has created a toy of the beloved character used in its television advertising campaigns. “The character really resonated with consumers and we were getting many comments on social media referring to how loved it is. There were also many requests for a toy, so the next logical step was to give people their personal toy as a reminder to make good choices,” says Hippo.co.za CEO Bradley Du Chenne.

For Hippo.co.za, good choices meant collaborating with a local small business and the team of seamstresses to manufacture the toys.

“The COVID-19 lockdowns have impacted us severely,” says Francois De Flamingh, founder of local design studio Creatarium, which contracted the seamstresses to work on the project. “It was especially hard on the seamstresses, who were completely dependent on the film industry for income. This project was incredibly welcome as it enabled the seamstresses to work, and to work safely from home.”

“We are a proudly South African brand, and we wanted to give back to our own communities – especially considering the effects of COVID-19 and lockdown on small businesses,” Du Chenne says. “It would certainly have been more cost-effective to outsource the creation of these toys to an international manufacturer, but this project was not a profit-making exercise. We want to spread brand love, not only to our consumers who have shown interest in our Hippo character, but also to local businesses who need the support in this difficult time. The intention is certainly to keep supporting local in everything we do.”

Lead seamstress Hazel Adams describes the project as “a very, very big help” to the seamstresses and their families. “It made a huge difference,” she says. “These little hippos really put food on our tables. Four of us are pensioners who work in the movie industry, and the fifth lady is a private nurse, so when everything closed down, there was no money coming in. When we got this work, it helped us a lot.”

Adams, like many South Africans, was personally impacted by the pandemic. She tested positive for COVID-19 during South Africa’s initial outbreak and was hospitalised for five weeks. “I thought I was going to die,” she says. “I went into a coma three times. But I got through it, and now I’m making these hippo toys.”

The toys are attracting interest, especially in the neighbourhood in which the seamstresses work. “People love these hippos,” Adams says. “People will look through the window while we’re making the hippos, and they say, ‘Can I have one of those?’ The toys are handmade, so each one is unique.”

The materials used to make the toys are locally sourced, in line with Hippo.co.za’s choice to support local business. “This project is part of a much bigger brand purpose for Hippo.co.za,” says Du Chenne. “We want to encourage good decision making, and ultimately this translates to empowering people to take charge of their lives, improving not only their financial standing but also themselves. The project allows us to do that, not only for consumers, but also for small businesses and the seamstresses who have been impacted by COVID-19. This is not just a passion project for us. Empowering others is part of our brand ethos.”

[Credit: liquidlingo Communications]