When Linda was newly natural, she could hardly find hair products that her hair liked and responded well to. This discontent led her to start making her natural hair products and soon enough, her friends and family encouraged her to turn it into a business. At the time, Linda was a practising lawyer in New York but her passion for beauty and wellness led her to leave Law and establish Suki Suki Naturals– a premium beauty company that sells organic hair and skin care products.
This article is about Linda’s fascinating journey and how she turned her discontent into a sustainable business.
How did Suki Suki Naturals begin?
Suki Suki Naturals started as a haircare brand. Suki means hair in Lingala. I am actually from the Congo. So my passion started with haircare and then three years after I launched, I decided to go into skincare. So the haircare was because I went natural back in 2010 and I was struggling with my hair. At the time there was hardly anything on the market and the products you could find were mostly available in Canada and the US. Bringing products into the country was too expensive.
I was like “I have to find a way to make this work for myself here in South Africa.” So I started mixing things and using herbs, clays, oils and powders. I eventually started sharing them with my family and friends because they were seeing that my hair was growing well and they wanted to know what I was doing.
Did you ever see yourself starting a brand like Suki Suki Naturals?
From the age of four, I was already playing with beauty products and as I grew up it just got worse and worse and worse and I had to be banned from my mom’s bathroom. Today when my aunties look at me and they see that I have a beauty brand, they are not at all surprised despite my being a lawyer.
They are like, “we could see that happening.” Sometimes you have to think back on your childhood and ask, “what was that thing that made me so excited?”
How do you keep Suki Suki Naturals authentic?
I have had my moments of, “let me take on this partnership even if they do not align with my brand. Let me check if it is going to work out” and that is where lack of authenticity can start to creep in because you think you have to make certain sacrifices to see success. The problem with going with things that are not authentic to you is that you may end up doing business with people that don’t reflect your brand image.
They are not the right custodian of your brand not because they are actively trying to bring down your image but just because you are not aligned. It is important to work with people that are aligned with you. I have had to learn to say no to opportunities that are not right for me. After all, Suki Suki Naturals is here for the long run, we are not here for just short wins.
Did you face any major challenges as a result of the lockdown?
I have been blessed during this time because my area of expertise is one where people were willing to spend simply because you are spending more time at home. Wellness and beauty are very important to people and most of them are like, “ah, I can’t go to the beauty salon, let me take care of my skin, let me take care of my hair.” I have seen a lot of amazing stories of women who have invested in their wellness.
You know when you are constantly out, you have to go put your best look forward and sometimes, that comes at the expense of actually taking care of yourself- the makeup, the weave, straightening your hair all the time- but when you are at home, you can be yourself and that forces you to cultivate what you have. So skincare has boomed and I am super lucky that skincare and wellness have boomed because that is my sector and I have been blessed with the fact that my business has been good during this time.
How did you keep the communication going with your customers during the lockdown?
Social media has always been instrumental to my brand. It has always been great at aiding communication but it has shown its power this time. What I love about social media from a business point of view is that it gives you the power to define what your voice is.
You can define what your business is about, to speak to your customer directly and that simplifies the marketing process. It helps to facilitate clear communication between you and your customers.
You run a brand that is committed to helping people take care of themselves, How do you make sure you prioritise self-care in your own life?
I try to disconnect on the weekends because my weekends are mine alone. As much as I don’t have a lot of family with me here in South Africa, I try to keep in touch with them. I disconnect by literally keeping my laptop in the office. On the weekends I don’t even want to open my laptop and my laptop hardly ever sees my bedroom.
Also, I am not a fan of answering emails on my phone, for some reason, I just don’t like it. I try to keep that balance by maintaining opening and closing times and the people and companies I work with respect that.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business?
Start today. Don’t worry about starting small. I started small. You don’t have to have it all figured out but get started.
Operate from a place of authenticity and know your “why.” Why are you doing what you are doing? Don’t follow trends, don’t follow what others are doing. Don’t enter an industry simply because you think it is profitable.
If it is not the industry you ought to be operating in, don’t bother because you are going to constantly be swimming against the tide. A strong “why” will keep you in business even if it means sleeping late, working nights, working two jobs.
There is power in the gift you have. Your gifts are what allows you to forge a career and earn a living. If you know how to sing and people are willing to pay to hear you sing, then you have a career there. Many of us are good with different things and that is not a coincidence. If you are good at something and you have a passion for it, think about what you can do with that gift to give yourself a worthwhile life.
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This spotlight feature on Linda Gieskes Mwamba is powered by Visa. Visa’s ‘Where you Shop Matters’ initiative aims to champion entrepreneurs across Africa while encouraging consumers to support small businesses by shopping local. Visa’s initiative is supporting small businesses through the Visa Small Business Hub, a merchant platform providing tools and information on how to start, run and grow small businesses.