KUDU: Gifts and decor from Africa helping others from Salt Lake City

Story and slideshow by DANEALLE PLASCENCIA

Visit KUDU gift shop in Salt Lake City, which features handmade items including baskets, masks and clothes.

Many people always think or dream about visiting other countries, states or continents, just to learn about different cultures, food, language and traditions. But sometimes this is impossible to accomplish due to money or time constrains.

However, what would you think if someone told you that you can learn the most important elements of the African culture in Salt Lake City and help poor families with your support?

KUDU, a small business located at 2155 E. 2100 South, does just that. The shop sells gifts and decors directly from Africa. And this is possible because of Susan Clissold.

Clissold was born in South Africa and studied culinary arts there.

She moved to Salt Lake City five years ago with the purpose of just visiting her friend, but she ended up staying and making Salt Lake City her second home.

Clissold got married and she and her husband had a daughter who now is 14 months old.

Clissold credits her mother-in-law, who had just returned from a trip to Africa, with the idea of opening a small shop with handmade items imported from Africa. It seemed a logical next step for the women, who had been working on obtaining the necessary permits to sell the imported items.

After the opening of KUDU three years ago, Clissold’s mother-in-law couldn’t work at the store. The main reason was the short time periods that she was living in Salt Lake City. So she asked Clissold to take over the small business.

The store is named after the kudu, a species of antelope that comes from the savannas and is popular in Africa because of its skin and meat. Also, the horns are used as musical instruments.

The store instantly reflects African culture. The walls are painted with warm colors such as brown and beige, and decorated with masks and paintings from different African artists.

KUDU offers hundreds of handmade items imported and made from African artists.

Some of those items are dishes such as mugs, spoons, spatulas and butter containers, all of which are hand painted.

Clissold sells clothing too, such as hand-knitted scarves made by women from Swaziland. Crocodile belts, baby shoes and animal skins, which are used as blankets or carpets most of the time, are sold at the store.

Musical instruments are indispensable for the African culture. KUDU sells handmade carved drums from different types of wood that makes every drum sound different and unique, as well as kudu horns. They are as long as regular drum sticks but thicker and beige in color.

Beaded giraffes, monkeys and dolls are the most detailed items that this store offers. The bright colors call the attention of any customer who is looking for a gift, especially one for children.

Home decoration is something that Clissold includes in her store. Lampshades made of bamboo, photo frames and Zulu hand-woven baskets are some of the articles that can be added in any home.

“I have items in my house that I bought for the store and I just loved them so much that I keep them as decoration,” Clissold said .

Showing art to the customers in different ways is the main objective of this store. Currently, the store has paintings by Daniel Novela, an African artist who now exhibits his work at Adlou Art Gallery.

“I was always interested in art, even when I was back home,” Clissold said.

Clissold also supports local businesses. She sells chocolate from the Millcreek Cacao; lotions, shampoos, soaps and shea butter are some other items that come from Africa but are packed in the United States that KUDU offers.

Meanings, shapes and animals are an important element for the store.

KUDU sells animal sculptures of elephants, giraffes, monkeys and zebras, which are a representation of the African continent and culture.

Colors as well teach every single customer a meaning. For example, green represents Africa as land, red the color of African ancestors, black the color of the African race and yellow the natural resources the community uses for living.

“Africa is all nature. If you are expecting to see big buildings and streets Africa is really far away from that,” Clissold said.

African culture is based on trading some items for others, and Clissold’s mission is to help African artists by buying the products so they can have a better life back home.

Such is the case for Zimbabwe, who is Clissold’s buyer.

He lives in Africa and talks to the artists and makes arrangements for prices or trading.

“With the money that I get from working with Susan now I have a small little truck that helps me move around to get the gifts,” Zimbabwe said in a phone interview.

But Clissold’s mission entails more than selling items from Africa to people in Salt Lake City.

Her motivation is helping families in Africa to have a better way of living and share her culture with the residents of Salt Lake City. The reason is to show residents what Africa is made of and what they can find in the continent.

Clissold has big plans for KUDU. Recently she started a sale day every month to attract new customers.

Since KUDU is in a two-story building and she only uses the lower floor, Clissold plans to offer massage sessions with oils from Africa. The massages are going to be held two times per month with unique arrangements and decorations from her shop.

Recently, she ordered new paintings that are going to be low cost so anyone can afford to have one at home and help others. She will be exhibiting them sometime during the month of May. Clissold will invite all of her regular customers to stop by.

Since Clissold likes being involved in charity work she is going to be part of a Westminster College event during May. She will donate 15 percent of the sales to an organization that helps poor minority families in Salt Lake City.

“I am really excited to help. It is just hard to be part of many different charity programs at the same time,” Clissold said.

Sales at the store have steadily increased since it opened. Clissold said she has been able to help many more families than she ever expected.

“The store is like my second home, where I can teach people about my culture and help my people to have a better life selling their work. I know Africa is a third-world country and it needs more than one person to change the poverty but I feel satisfied to help just a little bit,” Clissold said.

KUDU is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information call (801) 583-5838.