When 23-year-old Cameron Munro, an advertising and marketing student from Cape Town, left for New York City on a study break, little did he know what the future would being. Thanks to a mutual friend, he met 24-year-old American Justin Rhodes and before long the two were shacked up together in a NYC loft. Almost two years later with Cameron’s visa about to expire, the two faced a dilemma. How could their relationship survive across two continents?
Luckily, Cameron persuaded Justin to move to South Africa with him. Justin, who has degrees in international politics and business, and intended to pursue an environmental law degree and career, gladly put his plans on hold. Now, five months after moving to Cape Town, the two are not only still in love, but creating a stir with the organics lifestyle business they’re starting, Bliss Organics.
You haven’t been in South Africa very long. How does it compare to the perceptions you hade before coming here?
Justin: Having never been to Africa before I was a little apprehensive about moving to a new part of the world. The impression of Africa as portrayed by the American media is that of a continent full of crime, disease, poverty and famine. But upon arrival I found South Africa to be a country alive with possibility and breathtaking natural beauty. Cape Town has opened its arms to me and I find the people genuinely welcoming. It is truly a majestic corner of the world. So it has far exceeded my expectations!
Is living in Cape Town much different from living in New York City?
Justin: Obviously it is yes, but there is an intimate vibe in Cape Town that is hard to find in New York City. Of course I miss the electricity and buzz of New York City, but I’m at a stage in my life where I feel ready to settle down a bit and pursue my ideas. And Cape Town is the perfect place for this because there is so much creative energy and natural environment to draw inspiration from.
When you arrived, you moved in with Cameron at his parent’s place, Was it hard to settle in, firstly as the “boyfriend” and also as an American?
Justin: It was hard for me initially, because Cam only came out to his parents a week before I arrived! So he basically came back from the States and had two weeks to tell his parents that he was gay and that his American boyfriend would be arriving soon to live here. And of course he left it to the last minute! I remember what a big obstacle ‘coming out’ to family members is, but fortunately Cam’s family and friends have proven to be open and accepting to his, and our lifestyle choices.
What is the biggest difference between gay life in the USA and South Africa?
Justin: I think the biggest difference is the ability to gain permanent residency here through a life-partnership agreement. Cam and I have joined in civil union here and that allowed me to obtain residency. This is something that would never have been possible in the USA. South Africa should be applauded for its progressive attitudes and should serve as a constitutional model for other countries worldwide.
“But the gay scene here is building and I still see lots of opportunity for growth.”
How would you compare the Cape Town gay scene with that of New York?
Justin: It’s obviously much smaller, but I enjoy seeing the same people all over town because it allows for closer relationships to develop. There is something comforting about familiarity. But the gay scene here is building and I still see lots of opportunity for growth. And it’s representative of a larger theme happening within the country as a whole, where people are beginning to ask for more. South Africa is jockeying to become a world player, and this begins with the citizens striving to ‘create and design outside of the box’. Cam and I want to tap into and be a part of this momentum with Bliss Organics.
What inspired you to start an “organics lifestyle company”?
Cameron: Justin used to work on a close friend’s organic farm outside New York City during university holidays. After I persuaded him to move back to South Africa with me, we started thinking about business opportunities. We used to enjoy buying all-natural products from the health boutiques in New York, and when I mentioned that there was a lack of companies manufacturing fresh, funky, high quality organic body and skincare products, we started thinking about how we could fill that gap. And since we’re both passionate about living a healthy lifestyle, an organic-based lifestyle company was the logical thing for us to do.
But what made you think that your concept would work in Cape Town, let alone South Africa?
Cameron: The ‘green revolution’ is quite a popular movement in the USA amongst people in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, and we were convinced that we could bring that momentum to South Africa, and especially Cape Town. It’s a young, vibrant city filled with outdoorsy, eco- and image-conscious people.
So, you’re targeting a specific type of consumer then?
Cameron: Definitely! We’re appealing to a more informed, discerning customer who takes the time to read exactly what is going into and onto their bodies.
Justin: We believe that if there’s a bunch of words on the label you can’t even pronounce, you don’t need it in or on your body. So we’re committed to making organic products that are not only fun to use, but will also leave you feeling good.
And the future?
Cameron: We want Bliss to be an organic interactive experience, so our website will have a comment box where our customers can suggest new product ideas. There are so many gaps in the market at the moment, and we want to fill it whilst keeping up with our customers.
Justin: Initially we’ll be launching a new product every two months that will be completely different to anything else available on the market.
For more information on Bliss Organics, visit their website at www.blissorganics.co.za