FROM KITCHEN TO GARAGE TO RETAIL

I was working for a major South African bank, studying my for my Masters Degree with grandeur plans of becoming a CEO of one of the departments. Not only was I just going to be a CEO, I was going to out perform my colleagues because I was what we call a work horse! I was thought the rule of working hard, going to school and becoming a billionaire. That is all I needed to do – go to school work hard! Right! Got it.

It was hair being so dry that propelled me into this journey. I had been growing my hair for about 15 years and struggling with extremely dry hair. My dreadlocks were gorgeous, but I had always wondered why they had to be dry; why they were not more lustrous and soft like they were whenever they had water in them after a wash. I would shampoo them with shampoos that were available to us back then and my hair would be more dry. I would then add a product that was “made for dreadlocks” and they would remain a comfortable dry. I lived with the comfortable dry gradually got worse over time. My wondering mind started to demand answers. I needed my hair moisturised.

I started doing research on products that would deeply moisturise all this hair. I experimented with conditioners and shampoos that were definitely not created for natural hair, let alone natural hair. My hair was big Big and thirsty for moisture. In restrospect, I now realise that it is a good thing that I washed it so often. Water was always the one thing that left my hair feeling softer. I researched about products that already exist and was met with relaxers, hair dye and hair products that would strip natural oils from hair. That is just how hair care and skin care was produced back in the day. I became a tourist in the retail stores… looking at shelves and wondering where in the hell the products “made for my hair” were hidden. It took me a while to understand that non on the shelved had been made for me.

I moved my reaseach a notch up to online searches for deeply moisturising ingredients. I was looking for raw ingredients that would deeply moisturise my hair and low and behold, there was a natural hair revolution taking place right below our noses! It was American based and slowly moving to South Africa, and well, to the world. There was research being done and a new awareness about chemically laden products offered to the black woman. There was a resistance toward chemical products starting to happen.

I moved my reaseach a notch up to online searches for deeply moisturising ingredients. Raw ingriedients that would deeply moisturise my hair and low and behold, There was a natural hair revolution taking place right below our noses!

“GET COCONUT OIL”, “GET RAW UNPROCESSED SHEA BUTTER”! These words ran through almost all the natural hair blogs I read back then. Since there where no products available on our South African shelves, the only way to start growing natural hair was with raw natural moisturing ingredients and water. If you had the resources, you could import the new and wonderful products from the USA. Shea Moisture comes to mind. It was clear to me that there was a HUGE gap in the market for professionally formulated products for natural hair. When I say proffessionally, I mean locally formulated, locally produced products that are retail ready. I was now knowledge hungry and wanted to get a hold of anything that I could “test” in my hair. Remember, I needed all that moisture!

Most South African hair bloggers suggested suggested Shea Butter, but one in particular mentioned a place. I purchased processed coconut oil from a daily store. Then I went hunting for that unprocessed shea butter. I was certain that the amazing properties that had been described by so many blogs would surely be the key to problem. I bought it from a gentleman in Kempton Park, Johannesburg. He assured me that is was straight from Ghana. I had never been so proud! I rushed home, opened it and well… that smell was unreal! It was a strong, raw smell; pungent. I did not let that deter me. I did not care… I had to have this Shea Butter feel in my hair.

He assured me that is was straight from Ghana. I had never been so proud! I rushed home, opened it and well… that smell was unreal! I was a strong, raw smell; pungent. I did not let that deter me. I did not care… I had to feel it in my hair.

The Shea Butter was hard and so I had to melt it slightly in order to manupulate it. I am certain that I put in some coconut oil for some extra nutrient, you know how the story goes. I mixed it into a soft consistency with my electrical mixer and it felt gooood. Man! It stank but felt so so good to the touch. My brother in law walked into our home, maybe 3 hours later and exclaimed” “What is that smell!! Ah! smells like poo”. In the most embarrassed, shy, BUT defensive way, I said: “Dont worry about it, you would not understand.” My husband was also around, pulling a face, feeling embarrased for me and just looked down as if to say: “My love, what are you doing now?”. Hilarious to remember those reactions now, but it was not so hilarious back then.

My house stank for 3 days after discarding the first mixture. A whole 240 rands gone. I was never brave enough to put it in my hair. How could I possibly walk around smelling like that. I had to settle for the amazing Shea Butter that was processed, without a scent. Thank goodness it existed. When I went to collect this batch of Shea Butter, I was met with a sign that read “Would you like to created your own product” – something like that! I said hell yes!! YES! I reached out to the company immediately and they declined to help. They were full` to capacity, and referred me to my first formulator. We had our first meeting and walked straight into Dischem Pharmacies to look at the different products on the shelves. Nothing Nothing Nothing for my type of hair, for natural hair.

We researched, formulated and tested for two years. I was the sole guinea pig for the entire period. Whatever was created had to be perfect! It had to work! It had to feed my dreadlocks the most amount of moisture any product could have ever given. This process was cash intensive. I was able to fund it with my corporate salary. Retrospect: “Oh so corporate salaries are good for something.” This process was my third project; the project I was most passionate about. Remember, the Master’s degree was to make me a CEO in one on the departments at the bank? Expect, I had now moved to a new company (a story for another blog). I was still very driven in corporate and worked extremely hard to grow into a leadership positions. I am obssessed with growth (another story for another blog).

This process was cash intensive. I was able to fund it with my corporate salary. Retrospect: “Oh so corporate salaries are good for something.”

Nilotiqa was launched in February 2016, on my Grandmother’s birthday. I spoke about her at the Nilotiqa launch party, stating that she was a huge role model for me. I had watched her grow her hair and marvelled at how she enjoyed her hair length. She would walk into our warm kitchen while my mom my doing my hair and say “look at how long my hair is now”. It is amazing that she used glycerine and water as her go-to for moisturising hair. I wish she could see the products that have been created by her granddaugther. That very first launch party, the reaction to the products, the feedback let me know that Nilotiqa was something special.

I started off selling the products from an online website and farmers markets. Farmers markets helped me meet my market face to face. Social media and the website enabled me to engage my customer, instantly understand their needs and offer them products that they had never felt. Meeting new customers may be uncomfortable for me, but is one of the best experiences I always have.

I found that it was difficult to sell online because:

  • Prices of delivery for products were very expensive. A products was R100 and the delivery cost was R150.
  • A sceptical audience that had tried many products that did not work for them. They wanted to feel and touch the products.
  • Orders had to be dispatched from my corporate work space, which was looked down upon.

The more people that used Nilotiqa, the more orders I received. I used to watch. TV at 2:00 am and fill products. We received requests to lower the delivery fees, which was impossible at the time. I knew that I had to get these products into retail. I had to get the products closer to my customer. I had to make this amazing hair care accessible to my customer. The first retailer to take us on was the Clicks Group. I first enaged Clicks in 2016 and we laucnched in 2018. A more than worthwhile wait.

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