As part of the activities related to the FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme, SANBio is profiling female bioscientists, bioentrepreneurs and organisations working in the bioinnovation space.
Ms Hape Marite is the owner and Founder of Black Hair (Pty) Ltd, a company whose mandate is to promote good, healthy hair and skin while also ensuring that a black woman wears her hair with confidence. Black Hair products are specifically formulated with organics to be gentle and less abrasive to the skin. Ms Marite emphasises that Black Hair is a movement aimed at making women aware of the cancer causing chemicals contained by hair relaxers.
The story of Black Hair was initially inspired by the health effects of relaxers. According to research, some of the toxic ingredients in relaxers include sodium hydroxide, guanidine carbonate, thioglycolic acid and lithium hydroxide which all cause scalp bruises and burns. Relaxers are mostly known of their high pH which also adds to their caustic characteristic. These chemicals also deplete the natural sebum secreted by the skin thereby leading to dryness and flaking of the skin, potentially leading to many problems such as fungal infections.
Black Hair Was officially launched in December 2015 and the motivation was the bad experiences the founder had had with chemical hair products. She says she used to chemically treat her hair as well, but soon it started thinning and breaking and her skin flaking. In 2012 she decided to take on her natural hair journey out of exhaustion of getting her skin blistered by abrasive chemicals. This led her to research natural ingredients that are good for African hair. It is not until she made a Facebook post looking for a hair twin (someone with similar hair texture) that she discovered just how hungry women were for a hair product that actually addresses their needs. This response stirred her passion to go on doing more research with the hope of one day being able to come up with a prototype of a product matching the market need. These years of research paved a way to the birth of Black Hair range.
Initially, Black Hair products were sold as a means of residual income and just to share with a small group of people, but in September 2016 there was a dramatic growth in sales so much that the founder was juggling between being employed and producing and selling her products. In December she finally quit her job to work full-time in her company.
The company is making a major contribution in poverty alleviation through job creation. There are part-time wage employees who make part of the production team. This helps improve their lives, as well as those of independent distributors who make direct income from sales. The company also contributes to creating awareness of the health hazards caused by the use of chemicals in hair relaxers.
However, the establishment and operation of the company has not always been smooth sailing. Currently demand for their product is gradually growing, but they do not have the capacity in terms of machinery to service the growing demand: the employees are still using small hand-held mixers. “We are hoping to obtain financial resources which would go towards building capacity through machinery that can produce more. Further challenges are found in the packaging material; the current one is not exactly where I want it to be, although it has greatly improved from what it was. We need the packaging to be more attractive for it to be competitive in foreign markets,” Ms Hape adds. In the next five years, Ms Hape would like to see Black Hair products in major retail stores across the continent and she has already had successfully negotiations with them. Now that the groundwork has been laid, the plan is to serve the growing demand flexibly.
Ms Hape encourages women to step up and take leading roles in business: “Our biggest setback is to not believe in ourselves, so wear your confidence in everything you do. Do not be afraid to fail; failure is part of the process. Crawl, walk, run, fall, get up and lead!”