Mummy Mthembu-Fawkes, 32, lives with her husband Lee, 36, on KZN’s south coast. She started Earthy, selling all-natural products for ethnic haircare.
While I was planning my wedding in 2012, I started experimenting with different natural haircare products to try to get my hair to grow quicker, because I didn’t want to wear a wig or weave on my big day. Nothing had the effect I was after, so I did loads of research into making my own natural products and came up with a few DIY concoctions through trial and error.
I made a hair butter I was happy with, as well as a hair oil and shampoo bar, and my hair grew quite quickly into lovely soft curls. All the women at work were curious about how I’d done it! Slowly, I started making my products for friends and colleagues, and demand grew and grew. Eventually, I was making the products until the early hours of the
Eventually, I was making the products until the early hours of the morning and becoming less interested in my day job in Joburg’s corporate world. I’d obviously stumbled upon a niche gap in the haircare market that needed to be filled, so I toyed with the idea of turning my hobby into a business. It was a risky move, but I wanted to pursue my passion and knew I’d have my husband’s support.
What happened next
First, I needed to refine my existing products before I could expand the range. I used savings to buy a host of ingredients from argan oil and shea butter to essential oils. For the next two months, I tested them out in various formulations on my own hair. The high-quality ingredients I wanted had to be imported, so were quite expensive, but I used my knowledge of business development to work out a savvy plan to keep costs low. Once I was confident in my product recipes, I bought glass bottles for
The high-quality ingredients I wanted had to be imported, so were quite expensive, but I used my knowledge of business development to work out a savvy plan to keep costs low. Once I was confident in my product recipes, I bought glass bottles for packaging and asked a friend to help with the logo design and branding.
Once I was confident in my product recipes, I bought glass bottles for packaging, and asked a friend to help with the logo design and branding.
I was really proud of my range, which included five products: the hair oil infused with argan and arnica; lemon tea-tree moisture mist; vanilla-orange and chamomile-mint shampoo bars; and my trusty hair butter.
I offer the same range today, and have added a conditioner, body scrub and a few accessories.
I launched the business online, because it was cheaper than paying rent for a shop, and built my own online store using WordPress. I also opened accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for marketing, and found reliable couriers who’d deliver nationwide.
My first clients were friends and family, but a few weeks after I launched, I tapped into a whole new group of buyers when a friend invited me to her bridal shower. It became like an impromptu marketing event, with women asking me for advice on their hair. Fortunately, I had a few products in my car, which I sold to them.
Later on, to gain more exposure with my target audience, I rented a stand at the Locrate Market in Soweto and got an amazing response – I realised how many women there were who, like me, wanted to treat their ethnic hair without chemicals.
One thing I noticed was women weren’t only interested in buying the products – they wanted to know how to use them, too, so I started doing YouTube video tutorials, linked up to my Facebook and Instagram accounts. This increased my web presence and client base, and business boomed.
When I got my first online order from a stranger, I was so excited, but nervous, too. I wanted this mystery buyer to love my products and made sure everything was perfect, right down to the packaging. It was only after that first order went down without a hitch that it felt like a real business to me.
Where I am now
Recently, my business reached the point where I didn’t need to be in a specific city to run it. This meant my husband and I could finally fulfil our lifelong dream of moving to the coast for a quieter lifestyle. I now have a lovely office at our new home where I handle the admin and finances, and I turned a room in our house into a small lab where I can still test and develop products.
I can’t manufacture everything by myself anymore, so I also outsource some of the production to local laboratories with the same ethos as me. Because of the increase in demand, I’ve hired three staff to help manage orders.
Today, I have about 40 distributors throughout the country, which I call Earthypreneurs, and they’ve started their own Earthy businesses under my brand. Including the distributors’ clients, my products are supplied to over 2 000 customers every month.
When I needed extra funding to expand, all the financial institutions I approached turned me down, so I had to think outside of the box. I boosted sales by doing hair talks, setting up pop-up stores and getting featured in a few magazines.
- Online marketing: R1 000pm
- Site hosting fee: R1 000pm
- Raw materials: R5 000pm
- Packaging: R2 000pm
- Courier fees: R1 500pm
Business in figures
- Launched: November 2014
- Turnover: 400% growth each month
- Total start-up costs: R10 500
Shop Mummy’s Earthy ethnic haircare range on her website now: www.earthy.co.za