Kate Townshend

Founder, Harmless House

Kate Townshend (29) learnt to read by reading to “a rather ferocious collection of feral kittens”, just some of the many animals she remembers from her childhood.

Her mother is responsible for forming her principles, she says: “She thinks about the knock-on effects of whatever products she uses,” Townshend says, and it became a natural reflex for the daughter as well, ultimately leading to her starting her own business.

The Roedean pupil did a bachelor of science in environmental science and geography at Rhodes University; while there, she established an animal rights organisation that held a donkey clinic in a local township every second Saturday.

Although Townshend left the organisation in capable hands to return to Johannesburg, she still has six rescue donkeys who are part of her family and still gets involved in caring for horses.

Townshend’s business, Harmless House, sells products that are cruelty-free, vegan, biodegradable and “as natural as possible”, she says. “When I started the business, South Africa was really far behind Europe. That was three years ago.”

Ensuring that her products were aligned with her principles required “a lot of research, a lot of phoning around”, she says. “I rely quite a bit on certification – fair trade, organic, cruelty-free.”

She sources as much as possible locally, but some things –her compostable toothbrushes – have to be imported.

“If it’s not something I would use myself, I won’t sell it. It has to work as well as be ethical – there are some things people will compromise on for their principles, and some they won’t. Household cleaners, for example, have to be effective.”

The young businesswoman reports that the company is doing well, and she is now working closely with a company that manufactures locally to develop her own brand. Her goal is to make a real difference to consumption patterns in South Africa.

“We could be making really amazing products in this country. I hope to see consumers wake up to the impact and effect of the products they use, on themselves and the environment.” — Mandi Smallhorne