A while back we featured a collection of gorgeous dog bowls. While all of them were beautiful, the handmade ceramic bowls from Benji + Moon looked so special and had such a story behind them that I got back in touch to find out more.
Benji + Moon, launched in 2015, is not your regular pet products company. Co-owners Karen and Hanneke being pet owners themselves realized that the market lacked good quality and beautiful looking products for pets, that you wouldn’t want to hide away when guests visit. They decided to embark on the journey to create fine objects that they wanted for their own pets, and to share them with the world. Additionally, they took the chance to find local artisans to put their ideas into reality, sourcing talent in South Africa.
All products are handmade, with a lot of thought put into every design. I think the love and passion shines through the products they have developed. Karen and Hanneke share their story with us in this exclusive interview.
NONAGON.style: What is the story behind the name Benji + Moon?
We grew up with Benji the TV dog and we both had dogs named Benji growing up, so we thought that Benji was the perfect and quintessential dog name, the dog everyone knows and loves. And we love our pets to the moon and back, so that’s the inspiration behind the moon.
What was your inspiration behind starting the company?
We have seven dogs and a cat between the two of us! We found that we always ended up hiding our dog beds and cat dens whenever people came over to visit. So we decided to create a line of products that would complement the home instead of being an eyesore. We’re also passionate about local handcraft, and supporting and uplifting the artisans we work with. Instead of buying mass produced pet products, our products are made by hand and they each come with a story.
How did you both find each other?
Our husbands have been friends since preschool so we’ve known each other for quite a while. Neither of us have kids so when we get together we always end up talking about our pets, which was the perfect starting point for the business.
Do you design these products yourself? Did you have any previous experience in product design?
We try and collaborate with the artisans on the designs as much as possible. But it all usually starts with a terrible little drawing in a notebook, so needless to say neither of us have any product design experience.
What has been the most challenging part of starting this company?
We both work full-time in other careers, so carving out the time to spend on a growing business has been very challenging. We end up stealing time during the day or working late at night.
Tell us more about the artisans you collaborate with.
Our basket weaver Khosi Khadlela is a talented Swazi weaver we met on the side of the road, she has a few friends and family members who help her weave the baskets. Our ceramist Edson Mahlangu is from Zimbabwe, he’s a part-time employee at a ceramics school. Edson is incredibly creative and we’d love to help him get his own studio one day. We also work with a project called Little Pine Tree that teaches skills to unemployed women, like crocheting, to help them earn an extra income.
Some of our other collaborators are well-known South African designers like, Ronel Jordaan, the felt artist who creates our Merino Wool felt products and Jennifer Bradley a local screen printer and textile designer. We have two more collaborations with local designers in the pipeline.
What has been the response from your customers so far?
Our customers have been amazing – they recognize the fact that our products are made by hand so when there are delays they’re always very patient. We’ve also received wonderful feedback on our products, usually in the form of photos of our customers’ dogs or cats snuggling on the beds and dens. It’s the best part of the job.
What lies ahead for the future of Benji + Moon? What kind of products can we expect next?
We’re going to slowly make our way into select pet shops over the next year and we’re also hoping to attend a few international pet expos. We’re working on a couple of new products, but they’re still in the prototype phase so unfortunately we can’t divulge much more.
What has been the most memorable incident on your journey with Benji + Moon?
Wow, there have been so many! Our first big design expo, Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair, was such an exhausting and exhilarating experience. We got to meet our customers for the first time, and hearing what they had to say about our products was an incredibly special experience. It feels like you’re showing your newborn baby to the world.
Another special moment was the day we took our first donation to CLAW (Community Led Animal Welfare) the charity we donate 5% of every purchase to. The two of us got in the car and drove over to CLAW because we personally wanted to give them the first check. These kinds of moments really make all the hard work worthwhile.
Many thanks to Karen and Hanneke for taking the time to answer my questions. I wish Benji + Moon all the success, and can’t wait to see what comes next.
Do you have a favorite pet item that your pooch or kitty can’t live without? Well, what is it?! Do get in touch, we always love to hear from you.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.