Once incorrectly perceived as “unkempt” or “untidy”, natural ethnic hair has developed an allure that has inspired many women of colour to embrace it as their permanent hair style. Although a multi-million Rand industry, sisters Keke and Kedi identified that hair treatments for natural hair were scarce and particularly difficult to obtain in SA. This formed the motivation to start their very own hair care line for natural ethnic hair, aptly titled “True Curls”. Read below as Keke and Kedi challenge the perceptions given to natural hair and give us an in-depth account of founding a business dedicated to the correct treatment of ethnic hair…
Full names: Kedi Khoza and Keke Ramakatane
Current title/company: Founders of True Curls
Educational background: BA Communication Science
Current city: Johannesburg
Keke and Kedi, you both founded True Curls which offers products specifically created for natural, unprocessed ethnic hair…Could you take us through the journey to where you are now?
After many years of dealing with a super sensitive and itchy scalp and having tried relaxing our hair, braiding and dreadlocing it, we finally gave up on the limited options available to us. So now the challenge was how to deal with our coarse, dry and unprocessed hair without resorting to the unnatural options. Keke, who was brave enough to cut her hair first, went online and researched all the options and found that in the U.S they already had amazing products. She recruited me and I was sold on the idea of using those natural products and potentially becoming a distributor – I guess we were still thinking small. So I (Kedi) initiated contact with some of these companies and their local branches in hopes of bringing these products to South Africa and the answer we kept getting was a resounding NO. From that point, the solution seemed obvious: we had to come up with a solution for our hair by ourselves, something that would really work and NOT just promise to. We tested different homemade options until we were really happy with what we had and people in our circle were really impressed with our growth and the results on their hair. That was the beginning of the founding of True Curls.
True Curls specifically focuses on natural, unprocessed ethnic hair. Could you tell us which major hair care error most women make that makes you both cringe? How can this error be avoided?
The hair care error is more of a misconception that natural hair requires less attention. We have both at one time straightened our hair with relaxers and even then we took less care of it than we should have. Ethnic hair can and does grow, the trick is retaining length, which requires a healthy hair routine for the best results. Most women need to start accepting themselves and their hair for what it is. Then they need to start loving their hair and taking the time to learn how it is and what it needs to grow. Like one of our slogans says, natural hair is like a love affair that requires time, patience and understanding.
Do you have any aspirations of expanding your range to include other ethnic hair types and styles?
Well, we started this range precisely because there are almost no products specifically made for our natural “free flowing” hair. For now we have decided to focus on the “black” hair market. With that said, who knows what the future hold? As it stands, we have had requests from women with relaxed and dreadlocked hair – so there is interest already. One thing for sure is that we are always open to growth and we constantly challenge ourselves.
Ethnic hair is laden with political and societal debates. What major barrier or challenge would you say keeps you awake at night and how can it be eradicated?
The biggest challenge is how people tend to view natural hair as unprofessional. We’ve spoken to so many women who all ask us the same question (especially when we tell them that we don’t encourage using a comb on our hair as this causes breakage). That question is, “how do I go into a boardroom and expect to be taken seriously?” Our reply is always the same. The way ethnic hair was viewed in the past and is still viewed is a direct result of how we carry and embrace it. Changing the negative perceptions can only start with us and amongst us. The challenge is overcoming your own discomfort with your hair because if you’re not comfortable with it, who do you expect to embrace it for you?
We believe that our hair is versatile and beautiful and when taken care of properly, will amaze you. One can definitely look professional with natural hair and still be a trailblazer.
In founding True Curls, what would you say is the one major business acumen tip you would give to women who wish to start their own companies?
I could give you the list of documents and processes you need to have in place to get started but, really, the biggest business tip for us has been to find a problem that you are passionate about solving which people are willing to pay for and subsequently implement. Sometimes things that look better, faster and smarter really aren’t always as they seem. Instead, they risk taking you away from what worked and why you started on the journey in the first place.
When times get tough – which they will in any business – the passion and drive and pure enthusiasm about your product, your brain child, is what will keep you going, keep you strong and focused. Running a business can be hard, especially at this early stage, so you need something bigger to hold onto – the passion; why you started it in the first place.
Give us a glimpse into the relationship between branding, business acumen and hard work – which do you think has been most necessary for the success of True Curls?
Branding was a big thing for us. We wanted our brand to say what we will not always be present to say ourselves: professionalism, clean, pure, sophisticated, quality, simple and true. Hard work is exactly what it takes to stay alive as a business. We are always pushing hard, dedicating time and love to this. We go to bed with True Curls on our minds and wake up with it as well. It’s a constant desire to be better.
In terms of business acumen, we didn’t come into this with bucket loads of entrepreneurship knowledge and business information. What we had loads of was passion and perseverance. We are constantly learning, correcting our mistakes and where possible, avoiding repeating them. We’re learning to laugh at ourselves – between tears sometimes – and make the most of this journey.
As sisters and business partners, what obstacles have you faced whilst working together and have you been able to overcome them?
Keke and I have the best working relationship. Yes, we disagree and argue about things but the thing that makes us amazing is that we can refocus each other. For instance, when one of us is feeling overwhelmed or upset about a supplier or situation, the other is calm, focused and leads with strength. It’s easy to get bogged down with the crazy stuff so having one person who can keep reminding you why we are doing this helps. We complement each other well: when one stops, the other picks up. And honestly being sisters doesn’t mean we don’t get on each other’s nerves but it means we don’t walk away from problems. The main thing that keeps us going is our shared vision for True Curls. We are both very clear about where we want to take this company, and because of that, it makes it easier to overcome any challenges we face.
What is a typical work day like for the two of you?
A typical day starts with following up on suppliers and scheduling deliveries. Once that is done, we then have to check on our social media page and websites and answer questions and give advice (this really can go on all day) and take new orders. We also do a lot of research (I doubt that will ever change) because we are always looking for ways to improve our product, customer experience and overall processes. When time permits, we brainstorm new ideas and campaigns of making sure that True Curls stands out from our current competitors. We also try and come up with new and better ways of working so that our business is as efficient and works better and smarter.
What is most fulfilling about running your business, True Curls?
It goes without saying, having an idea and seeing it flourish into an actual business has to be one of the most fulfilling things in life. To have someone trust us enough to try our product, come back and say it worked and that it did exactly what we said it would do, is priceless. There is no greater joy than to have our customers tell us their success stories, tell us that they love their hair and they are now converted. This shows us that we are definitely headed in the right direction and that True Curls was not a mistake.
Advice for aspiring business owners?
Don’t let outside pressure rush you into making mistakes. Trust yourself and get advice where needed but mostly make sure to keep evolving as you learn.
Morning or night? Night
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order? Thuli Madonsela. I’d order lamb shank with creamy mash and seasonal veg.
I wish I knew how to… Turn back the hands of time and if not that, then I’d be ecstatic with reading minds. Lol
African women are…Ba tshwara thipa ka bo haleng. The direct translation is ‘they can hold a knife on the blade side’. This means they are strong, courageous and fearless.
South Africa is… a powerhouse waiting to happen
Worst money mistake…owning a credit card! lol
Best investment… in myself and the blossoming dream: True Curls
Motivation in 3 words… Champion your dreams
Morning or night? Morning
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order? I would probably want to meet with Basetsana Kumalo and I’d order…Baked cheesecake (always on the hunt for the best tasting one).
I wish I knew how to… convince my daughter that broccoli can taste good. I am still trying different recipes for the winning one.
African women are…heroes. We have within us the ability to change the world, to change our future and create the world we all dream of by instilling the best traits in the future generations. There is no one better to teach love and selflessness than an African woman.
South Africa… is a diamond in the rough. We just need to keep working at getting it to shine in all its glory.
Worst money mistake…spending without a budget.
Best investment…True Curls, it has awakened my love for creating.
Motivation in 3 words… Believe you can.
Cover image taken by: Nima Dadkhah