A receding hairline after years of harsh chemical hair treatments set the wheels in motion for a Gugulethu woman to turn restoring her own crowning glory into a business that helps other women do the same.
For Barbara Thandeki, 47, establishing her wig-making business has been a personal journey that started with developing a solution to her own hair-loss problem, and then realizing that her solution wasn’t just personal but could fill a gap in the market for affordable, fashionable human hair wigs.
“As a woman and an entrepreneur, I love beauty – and beauty without hair is nothing. It is our crowning glory,” she says.
The enthusiasm of fashion-conscious Gugulethu women for the pixie-style wig that Barbara made for herself after unsuccessfully trying a range of hair-restoring treatments and synthetic hair wigs, prompted her friend Khunjulwa Makaluza, 37, to suggest a business opportunity – and Khubar Hair & Beauty was born.
“Barbara wanted to teach me to make a wig for myself and I told her ‘don’t just teach me only, let’s make this a business, a living thing’,” Khunjulwa recalls. Eighteen months later, the business is profitable and the pair plan to take home-based KhuBar Hair & Beauty online and into retail spaces, invest in technology to ramp up production and eventually franchise the business.
Barbara was previously a senior procurement specialist who “felt a calling to be an entrepreneur and empower others”, while Khunjulwa recently gave up her full-time job in fashion retailing to focus full-time on the business.
“I know I made the right decision to resign my job and do this full-time. Yes, there are challenges in business, but you are in control of your own destiny,” says Khunjulwa. They credit the Small Business Academy (SBA) programme of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) with giving them the practical tools not only to manage the business but also to “dream bigger, set a vision and a plan for growth”.
“The programme has helped us to think beyond what we are currently doing, to identify what is missing in our business idea, and to know exactly how we want to grow the business and the steps we need to take to get there. We have learned about being true to ourselves and our personal and business vision,” Barbara said.
The partners are among 32 township entrepreneurs selected for this year’s Small Business Academy, a nine-month sponsored programme to support small business owners in the areas of Khayelitsha, Langa, Mitchell’s Plain, Stellenbosch and Gugulethu to strengthen and grow their businesses.
With its sponsors Distell and Absa, the SBA provides a platform for small business owners to gain business, financial and operational knowledge over nine months to grow and strengthen their businesses. The SBA creates networking opportunities and offers a mentorship programme whereby each participant is matched with a USB alumnus.
Both women see being in business as more than a means to make a living, but also a way to share their experience and knowledge, to teach and empower other women to go into their own businesses too.
“I want to grow something that will leave a legacy and empower other women. We are just at the beginning stages now but, by telling our story, we hope to inspire and empower others,” Khunjulwa said.
“This is about more than money. I pray that by growing our business, we can grow and empower other women too,” Barbara adds.
Wigs may seem like a vanity, luxury purchase, but the partners’ market research showed that even in low-income Gugulethu, “upcoming young women who want to look trendy are prepared to spend money on spoiling themselves, and they want a product that is affordable and looks good.”
“Some people say women wear wigs because of low self-esteem, but that’s not true. It’s about being able to change your style, try a new look, keep up with fashion; it’s about glamour and joyfulness, looking good for yourself.
“The other reason women buy wigs is because, like me, they have lost hair because of years of straighteners and relaxers, and not knowing how to take care of their hair properly,” says Barbara.
One of the handmade wigs can take up to five hours to make, and the women can make no more than four per day between them, but an investment in the advanced technology of a specialized sewing machine could ramp production up to 60 per day and enable them to realize the dream of an online store and retail space.
Barbara said wigs made from human hair – sourced from India, Mongolia, Brazil, and Peru – have the advantage, unlike synthetic wigs, that they can be washed and conditioned, can be styled in various ways and also be refurbished.
“A human hair wig is an investment, an asset. It can last five years or more if looked after properly. Most women own more than one wig so that they can be Afro one day and straight the next if they want to, so that also creates repeat business for us,” she said. She said while the market was 100% female at the moment, wigs for men do exist and “if there’s a market, we will do it.”