Silencing the vuvuzela one plug at a time
Blow them? Ban them? Love them? Loath them?
On and off the field and across the world the hammering drone of the vuvuzela is raising more intense emotions — and a greater range of them — than when ones favorite team gets knocked out of the FIFA 2010 World Cup.
Now Durban interior designer Liesl Heath is doing something about it.
Since last week she has been taking the guts out of the vuvuzela’s discordance and turning it into a whisper with her cleverly branded ‘Shu-Shu Zela’ earplugs.
The idea for the earplugs only came into being last month when Heath went to buy tickets for the World Cup 2010 quarter-finals and a couple of other matches.
When she told her mother that she was going to some of the games, her mother immediately said: “If you’re going to any of the matches, you’re going to have to get earplugs.”
It was then and there that Heath for the first time seriously thought about Africa’s revenge on the soccer world (my words, not hers), and her entrepreneurial light went on.
She thought ‘vu-vu’, and in contrast ‘shoo-shoo‘, she says. She places a finger in front of her lips when she says ‘shoo’, emphasising the whisper.
“Shoo quickly became ‘shu-shu’ and then ‘Shu-Shu Zela’. As soon as I had the name, I knew I had to get my idea off the ground,” she laughs.
Heath went to her computer and googled ‘ear plugs’.
If she was going to market earplugs, she wanted them to be quality earplugs.
She bypassed the cheapies she saw that were made in China and settled on a range made in California from low-pressure polyurethane foam that expands inside the ear canal. (You squeeze them, shove them into your ears, and they grow back to fit.)
Among other things, she liked the colour of this particular earplug.
That color and style aesthetics were important makes sense when you learn that Heath’s interior design firm supplied and manufactured the soft furnishings for the revamped Oyster Box Hotel at Umhlanga.
“Bright yellow, with touches of pink,” is how she describes her earplugs, explaining that to her, “the yellow is very much the South African colour synonymous with soccer and the pink is in support of our raising money for Hospice.”
Ten percent of all the proceeds from all Shu-Shu Zelas sold will go to Highway Hospice, for which Heath and her mom have a personal affinity.
For the product logo, Heath contacted a friend in Australia. “I asked her to send me a design showing a person blowing a vuvuzela alongside an ear with a red cross through it,” she says.
Her friend sent her two options. “We agreed we liked the smiley face, which seemed to apply to all races and nationalities.”
With that, everything fell into place, says Health. Although it was an 11th hour operation.
The product — 50,000 sets of yellow and magenta earplugs in little bags with instructions in five languages arrived in Durban on June 5, “which gave us very little time to get the product to all the pharmacies.”
But family members rallied, helping with sales, marketing and distribution in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth, as well as Durban.
Heath reels off members of her team, which include her sisters, a husband, a friend and his gardener, her domestic worker, Princess, a niece, an uncle, a cousin — and, of course, her mom.
I first spotted Heath, 42, and Hartmann, 70, on the promenade at North Beach. They were cutting a dash in their white bibs that shout the Shu-Shu Zela brand. (“We chose bibs and not T-shirts because they go with soccer,” says Heath.)
It was the morning of the Swiss versus Spain match at Moses Mabhida. The pair were clearly having fun selling their little packs at R10 a shot and posing for pictures with soccer tourists who were clearly taken by the novelty of the concept.
They had permission to sell along the beachfront. They have subsequently received permission to sell from a table outside Joe Cool’s.
To their knowledge, they’ve had no exposure in the local media. But they have had interest from overseas.
“On the day of the Germany vs Australia game we were filmed for German TV and on the day Spain played Switzerland, we were interviewed for a Swiss radio station. And my sister-in-law was filmed to by people who said they were Spanish TV,” says Heath.
“It’s difficult to say who, from what country, has bought the most earplugs to date,” she said in answer to my question.
“It’s still early days as we have really only sold here in Durban for the two matches. Certainly, of those two games, we sold when Germany played Australia.
“South Africans have been very supportive,” she adds. “They’ve seemed the most aware of the potential damage the vuvuzela can have on our hearing. Spain were probably the least supportive. Perhaps they’ve not had publicity in their country about the effects of the vuvuzela?”
I was at Moses Mabhida Stadium when Spain played Switzerland. The Spanish were banging drums and shouting with gusto. Maybe they reckon their hearing is robust and that they can give as good as they get.
This week there were reports from Britain that the grocery store chain Sainsbury’s had sold 43,000 vuvuzelas at a rate of one every two minutes. Also, that the All England Club had added vuvuzelas to the list of items, including rattles and klaxons, not allowed into the grounds at Wimbledon. (Can anyone really imagine vuvuzelas at Wimbledon?)
Heath says she can’t predict whether her Shu-Shu Zela success will extend beyond the World Cup — or overseas.
But while the cacophony of the vuvuzela continues, she will be along for the ride. “It’s given us the opportunity to meet the foreigners and share in their excitement. We are having so much fun.”
When we spoke, Heath and her mom were looking to the Netherlands vs Japan match and beyond — literally one game and one noisy blow at a time.
© Wanda Hennig, 2010