Drive through the small town of Lions River, in the bucolic Midlands of South Africa, and you’ll pass a cluster of quirky buildings beside a railway line.
There’s a large, former railway storage shed that’s been converted into an art gallery. There’s a double-decker bus that’s been converted into a cafe, and a series of storage containers that have been converted into hide and leather goods stores.
The compound and all the businesses in it are run by Molly Malloy ’06 and her husband, Glen du Preez. And that’s just the start of the couple’s business ventures: they also run a small game lodge and sell smokeless fire pits that du Preez invented.
At some point, the entrepreneurial couple might scale back. But for the moment, Malloy says, “we’re still in the ‘more’ phase.”
Malloy grew up half a world away, in Stamford, Connecticut. As an economics major at Amherst College, she was convinced she was headed for a career in finance.
Her finance career lasted just two years, however. Eager to travel, she quit her New York City job and joined a professional sailing crew. “If I’m completely honest, I thought I’d do it for maybe six months,” Malloy says of sailing.
She loved the work so much that six months turned into four years. Yacht racing and transporting sailboats from one mooring to another took Malloy from New England to Costa Rica, Europe, and the Caribbean. Along the way, she met her now-husband, a South African.
On Malloy’s first trip with him to South Africa, the couple came up with their first business: partnering with a Lesotho-based nonprofit to sell local arts and crafts.
That business didn’t last, but their second idea, selling cow hides, did. “My husband’s family has farmed Nguni cattle, for [maybe] 100 years,” Malloy says. She and du Preez worked out of his family home.
They later moved to the Midlands, a scenic area full of farms, wineries, and wedding venues, and she and du Preez have been growing an array of small businesses ever since.
Perhaps their favorite business, Malloy says, is the Platform Gallery. Their gallery has featured work from about 50 local artists over the past four years, and displays everything from bronze and metal sculptures to paintings, drawings, and photography. Much of the artwork is inspired by South African wildlife, and many of the buyers are either local or visitors from South Africa’s major cities.
The space, a 100-year-old storage shed with high wooden beams, sets the tone for the display. “So many galleries these days are just pristine white walls, and you walk inside and you feel like you have to whisper, like you can’t really talk inside,” Malloy says. “We wanted to create a space that was the antithesis of that.”
Malloy has always loved art and art history, and enjoys both curating the gallery and helping artists find buyers. “There’s nothing better than being able to call one of our artists who’s also become a good friend and tell them that one of their pieces has sold,” she says. “It brings joy to everyone.”
Malloy and du Preez are also using the gallery to give back. Last year, they held a charity art auction, Art for Conservation, in partnership with the Boucher Legacy, a wildlife foundation headed by former South African cricketer Mark Boucher. The foundation focuses on rhino, wild dog, and pangolin conservation.
The auction raised about $150,000, Malloy says, with part of the proceeds going to conservation. Malloy and du Preez are planning a second event in spring 2023, this time potentially involving a golf day and appearances by South African sports celebrities.
“Our hope is to try and get close to double the amount of funds raised from last year,” Malloy says, “which obviously isn’t a small thing…but we like to dream big.”
Looking back, Malloy sees a connection between her adventurous adult life and her decision, as a teenager, to switch high schools after her sophomore year to play varsity field hockey and ice hockey at Taft. That decision, she says, was “one of the most insane things I’ve done in my whole life.”