IndependenceIssue 1 2021

Mzansi’s Beauty Entrepreneurs

Fuelled by the rise of online influence, globally the beauty industry is growing at a rapid pace. But instead of the usual big luxury conglomerates, locally the most interesting players to watch are independent brands spearheaded by women.

Industry trailblazers

Civil engineer Stella Ciolli was flipping through a newspaper when she noticed an article that mentioned during an average morning beauty routine, a person applied approximately 515 ingredients and carried those toxins on their skin throughout the day. “It was a big wake-up call,” she says.

In 2015, she founded SKOON. in Cape Town to fill the gap in the South African market for clean, scientific beauty. Five years later, the company recently welcomed their first CEO, Thandi Mbulaheni.

Rabia Ghoor was in high school when she founded swiitchbeauty from her bedroom in Pretoria. She had noticed a lack of variety locally compared to the access that international YouTube beauty vloggers had to cult make-up brands.

Social media is turning every customer into an influencer in their own right.

‒ Rabia Ghoor, founder of swiitchbeauty


She launched with an Instagram page, two products and a promise to make things that do what they say they’re going to. In 2016, at 16 years old, she left school to pursue her business full time.

Linda Gieskes-Mwamba was working as a legal consultant when she launched Suki Suki Naturals in 2014. The catalyst came four years earlier when she wanted to grow out her afro and found that all the hair products available to her were either expensive or full of chemicals.

Using her knowledge of natural ingredients, she developed Miraculous Oil, Suki Suki Naturals’ first and most popular product to date. Made in Johannesburg, Suki Suki Naturals’ natural and non-toxic beauty products use ingredients predominantly found on the African continent.

Beauty at your fingertips

The beauty industry continues to grow with the rise of internet access.

“It’s never been easier to discover beauty, share it and shop it,” Thandi explains. “The market is accelerating thanks to digitisation, as beauty and digital are really a perfect match.”

Suki Suki Naturals

Beauty and digital are really a perfect match.

‒ Thandi Mbulaheni, CEO of SKOON.

Thandi Mbulaheni (L) and Stella Ciolli (R), CEO and founder of SKOON. respectively. Photography by Liza van Deventer

E-commerce and social media have lowered the barrier to entry for independent brands, giving them a direct channel to sell and market to customers.

“There’s been a massive surge in user-generated content,” Rabia adds. “Social media is turning every customer into an influencer in their own right. Recommendations and reviews are available and widespread for quite literally every product on the market, and Millennials / Gen Zs are really looking to experiment and try new things out.”

Prevalent in online communities is the concept of self-care, a significant trend that’s boosted the industry.

“The undeniable thing about beauty is that it makes us feel great,” Linda says. She also acknowledges the 2020 global COVID-19 pandemic as bolstering the skincare and haircare industry, seeing people adopt a DIY approach with the temporary closure of salons.

Through social media, beauty brands can crowd-source feedback during the product development phase and create products in response to real needs, earning the loyalty of customers turned brand advocates in the process. “It is critical for a brand to resonate with its brand community,” Stella says.

What consumers want

Linda, Stella and Thandi have noticed that customers want similar things from their beauty products. Increasingly, consumers are looking for clean, natural products with proven efficacy, and they’re looking for these locally. “They really know how to read their product labels,” Linda says.

“They are looking at supporting local businesses that celebrate the local ecosystem,” Thandi adds.

In the younger market, Rabia has noticed a decided shift from cosmetics that cover up to a focus on skincare. In response, swiitchbeauty has developed their first serum and SPF product.

Suki Suki Naturals is focused on meeting the strong demand for local products at home while also being an ambassador for the ingenuity of African ingredients in the global market while for SKOON., growth means the creation of wealth, employment and economic development in South Africa.

Find out what Rabia, Linda and Thandi believe to be different about this generation of entrepreneurs in ‘Generation Beauty’.

Linda Gieskes-Mwamba, founder of Suki Suki Naturals. Photography by Sarah de Pina
Rabia Ghoor, founder of swiitchbeauty. Photo courtesy of swiitchbeauty

The undeniable thing about beauty is that it makes us feel great.

‒ Linda Gieskes-Mwamba, founder of Suki Suki Naturals

Photographs of Linda Gieskes-Mwamba by Sarah de Pina
Photograph of Stella Ciolli and Thandi Mbulaheni by Liza van Deventer
SKOON. lifestyle images by Emma-Jane Harbour

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