Feline’s feather duster fetish inspires small business

Meet Chantél van Rensburg, owner of Kitty Kuddles, who makes and sells sustainable soft toys for cats

Everyone has their reasons for starting a small business. How many can say that their business idea came from a cat? Kitty Kuddles is a small business that sells hand-sewn cat toys. Chantél van Rensburg works with cat rescue organisations and has often fostered little kittens. As a result, being able to make her own soft toys for kittens has been really handy.

But the story actually starts when Chantél owned a rescue cat called Batcat who was found on the side of the road as a kitten. Unfortunately, Batcat had a slight obsession with feather dusters and would often come home with his newfound feathery prize, much to the shock and embarrassment of Chantél.

She couldn’t return the items to their rightful owners because she had no idea where he stole them from. What if people found out that all their items were finding their way to her house? This was just too embarrassing. She returned what she could but still found the number of feather dusters increasing.

Realising that Batcat needed something to distract him, Chantél set out to look for a solution. “I love going to pet shops, I love seeing what ideas there are,” she says. Store-bought cat toys can be expensive. It was then that she thought, “I’m sure I can make this myself” and started looking for some patterns online, but evolved to making her own patterns as she went along.

She says, “I strongly believe in recycling or up-cycling. One person’s rubbish is another person’s treasure.” She put the word out to friends and family and kept an eye out online for people giving or throwing stuff away that could be used. The less glamorous part of it was that she was even doing a bit of dumpster diving, keeping in mind that what she used had to be safe for a cat or kitten.

“Then I started making these toys, Batcat absolutely loved them, which was the whole idea.” Pretty soon Chantél was able to provide Batcat with a variety of toys to play with and his feather duster stealing days came to a quick end.

Chantél continued making cat toys, which came in handy when she was fostering little kittens.
When the kittens were adopted and went to their forever homes, she would send them off with a little Kitty Kuddles toy. The idea of sending them to their new homes with something made by her was heartwarming to Chantél. Whoever was adopting the kitten or cat would get to choose a toy for their new kitty.

That’s when she realised that she actually enjoyed sitting in front of the TV at night and sewing. So now Chantél was making these toys, all the while still collecting stuff, making toys and collecting more stuff and making more toys. “My mom would say I’m a bit of a hoarder,” she jokes, “but I believe I’m very selective in what I collect.”

During our interview with Chantél, she mentioned that she had some material with her that she received from a friend. She had cut it out the previous night and intended to use it to make new toys.

All of her toys are hand-sewn. She doesn’t own a sewing machine and says that she doesn’t know how to use one.

“I sew all of these with a needle and thread. I’ve worked out what stitch works nicely – I use a double thread to make sure my toys are a bit stronger and can take a beating. People would give me stuff, and I’d be like, what can I do with this?”

It pushed and challenged her to think creatively and turn it into something that a cat would enjoy.
Soon after, requests for toys started coming in from friends and rescue organisations, and Kitty Kuddles was born.

“I had this hobby where I was making these toys, selling them ad-hoc.” She then played with the idea of doing craft markets. “Markets at the time didn’t work out so nicely for me. Sometimes I would have a great day of sales, and sometimes I would have none.” Chantél even thought to herself, “Is it worth it?” But she enjoyed making the toys and found that the process forced her to think outside the box, coming up with new ideas and creative solutions. Because of this, she decided to continue making them.

More recently Chantél has found success at markets and attends a monthly event held at Delta Park in Randburg, called The Local Market, and finds that it is a great way to gain exposure for her business.

She tells us that the best thing that could have happened was Covid lockdowns. She says that when Covid struck, she asked her brother, who works in IT (it-on-demand.co.za), if he could set up a website for her. With everyone going online during that time, it would probably be the way to go, especially since she was now sitting with a heap of toys that she had no real way of selling. So this could be the start of a real business. Her brother helped her set up a WordPress website with an online store, and she had to learn how to use it. Chantél also has friends, one of whom is a Marketing Director who gave her plenty of help, insight, and ideas, and his wife, who also has an online business, offered support and advice.

The funds that came in from sales on Kitty Kuddles could then be put to good use in Chantél’s desire to foster kittens. So she is using a hobby to pay for a passion. When it comes to marketing her small business, it’s mostly been through friends and family, as well as her connections to kitten rescue and fostering organisations. She also uses Facebook to market her business.

Sadly, Batcat, the inspiration behind the business, passed away from feline leukaemia.

Chantél rescued a mischievous kitten named Loki shortly before Batcat’s passing. He has taken on the role of “product control manager”, inspecting and trying out new products. If he approves, the toys receive the Kitty Kuddles stamp of approval. The attention to detail and dedication to quality is apparent in every handmade toy and accessory.

Loki – self-appointed “product control manager” keeping an eye on production

If you’re interested in durable handmade toys and accessories for your feline friend, look no further than KittyKuddles.co.za. Each toy is made with love and care, ensuring that your cat will enjoy hours of playtime. Batcat may be gone, but his spirit lives on through Kitty Kuddles.

Links: Facebook | Instagram: @Kitty_Kuddles_

This article was featured in Pivotl Magazine, Issue 2 of 2023. Read the full issue here.

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