With the upcoming New Orleans Entrepreneur Week in mind, we spoke with Shaka Zulu, the co-owner and proprietor of Golden Feather, to get a perspective on cultural entrepreneurship in the city. Zulu, a lifelong New Orleans resident whose family is deeply involved in the Mardi Gras Indians and Zulu Connection, saw an opportunity to meld his unique cultural heritage with a business opportunity.
Along with his wife and the help of agencies like NewCorp and the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, he created Golden Feather, a multi-purpose space that offers a “lecture and lunch” event, gift shop, and supply hub for Mardi Gras Indians to get the materials they need to craft their elaborate suits.
Over the past 5 years, Golden Feather has flourished and seen attention on an international scale. From a feature in Delta Air Lines’ Sky magazine in 2011 to Zulu’s upcoming trip to Berlin to present a lecture and display an authentic Mardi Gras Indian suit. Golden Feather also participated in South Africa’s One World Festival in 2013. Despite such an international scope, Zulu will always consider New Orleans his home.
Read more about Shaka Zulu’s unique business – and his thoughts on New Orleans tourism – below.
Why did you decide to open Golden Feather?
“I’m one of the chiefs in the Mardi Gras Indian tradition, and what we do here in Golden Feather – which is sort of a restaurant-gallery mixed space – is provide an experience of the Indian tradition in New Orleans. We opened the place mainly because we wanted to tell our story about our culture. It’s a tradition that started from oral history, so there aren’t many books or documentation on the culture created by the cultural bearers. That’s why we opened Golden Feather – for people to come and have an experience learning about the tradition from the people who actually do it.”
What is the significance of your location on North Rampart Street near Congo Square?
“We were very deliberate in where we wanted to be located. Congo Square is the origin of the tradition and luckily, after patiently waiting, we got that space.”
How do you balance your entrepreneurship at Golden Feather with the demands of making a suit?
“It takes a year to make a suit. I just juggle the time with sewing in the mornings and sewing in the evenings.”
Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?
“I definitely consider myself an entrepreneur. My thing is taking our culture and what we know and making a business out of it – but while keeping it authentic. To me, that is what was missing in the tradition in and of itself. You can make a life and make a business out of your culture.
We also opened Golden Feather to serve as a one-stop shop for the Mardi Gras Indians to be able to buy all of their materials to make the suits. Historically, there have only been two places here over the last 50 years where we can purchase materials, so we felt that somebody needed to open a business where they can have control of the price and the quality of materials that we use.
It’s a hard thing to do when you come up with an innovative idea – most of it was started out of our own pockets and we didn’t get help, but I really enjoy being able to do things the way I see fit.”
What do you think New Orleans would look like without tourism?
“Without tourism it would look like any other city in America. The thing about New Orleans I find is that it’s a different type of tourism – the people that come here are coming for a specific reason: to enjoy our food and our culture. You find things here that you don’t find in other parts of America. It’s very deliberate – they come here just for the culture of this specific place.”
How can interested parties plan a visit to Golden Feather?
“Booking online is the best option. We also have the capacity to work with other tour companies who are interested in our lunch and lecture series.”