While we all sang along to Solange Knowles’ A Seat at the Table album, Olwethu Mabumbulu was propelled to create something that is for us, by us. By day, Olwethu helps people trade derivative instruments as a Sales Executive at a listed global trading company. She has gained four years of experience within the financial services industry, particularly investments and trading. The rest of the time, she nourishes her entrepreneurial appetite as founder of the subscription box startup, Heart of Brown (Pty) Ltd.
Heart of Brown offers a bi-monthly lifestyle subscription box for women of colour, which features, natural and artisan products from local, black women-owned businesses. Olwethu’s subscription box aims to affirm young black women, and expose us to products that are great for our skin and hair, and helps us highlight the importance of self-care.
Olwethu aims to make a difference in the lives of busy millennial women and lift up other fellow black entrepreneurs with great products and she shares how she plans to achieve this.
Talk us through what Heart of Brown entails?
Heart of Brown is a lifestyle subscription box for brown beauties. We curate lifestyle products spanning skin, hair, beauty, accessories and edibles based on our bi-monthly theme.
Our purpose is to help busy young black women discover the best in local products. We have two boxes: a HOB box, which costs R400 plus shipping, and HOB mini box priced at R200 plus shipping.
How do you choose the products for the subscription boxes?
This is the part of the business that I thoroughly enjoy. I’m always on the lookout for good products. Firstly, I love visiting local markets and trying new products. I also spend an insane amount of time researching about local entrepreneurs.
At any given time, I have a notebook with a running list of vendors and products I would like to feature in future. I then purchase and test the different products. If they meet the criteria in terms of the box’s vision and criteria then I will curate products that fit the theme and approach the vendors to purchase from them.
Does innovation play a role in the course of running your business?
Yes, in fact running a business successfully is a constant process of going back to the drawing board to come up with something new. In my experience, the quest for innovation has manifested in a new way to connect with local vendors, a new way to gain customers and frequently trying new products.
Also, every second month, the box has a new theme. For example, the theme for the box running between April and May is ‘’Autumn Renewal”.
Running a successful business is a constant process of going back to the drawing board Click To Tweet
Are you looking to expand beyond the South African market?
In the short term, my goal for HOB is to increase our customer base and dominate the subscription box market locally, while really showcasing and uplifting brilliant products made by independent entrepreneurs. In the medium term, I would love to expand our reach by collaborating with other African entrepreneurs and shipping our box to brown beauties across the continent.
A friend of mine encouraged me with these wise words just the other day, “we have everything we need”, I believe this is true of us as Africans. If we can leverage from one another, we can do so much towards growing prosperity within our communities.
So far, what happy days have encouraged you?
The day I registered the company was a milestone for me. Heart of Brown really started its humble beginnings as a “Eureka moment” brainstorm I had while studying for my exams late last year. I had been researching the subscription box concept, particularly prominent in North America and the UK. I had a clear vision -to localise the concept and offer products to women who are like me. Once I actually registered the company, then got the logo done it really started to click that the vision was slowly becoming a reality.
The real challenge that lay ahead though, was getting my first customers. After much trial and error, when I got that first sale I felt happiness and validation all wrapped in one. This still encourages me to keep going on a daily basis.
Tweet: when I got that first sale I felt happiness and validation all wrapped in one
What tools and skills have played a vital role to support and grow your business?
An array of online tools have proved to be time saving and invaluable to my business (the great news is that they all have free versions) -Evernote, MailChimp, Hubspot, Canva, Google Ads express, Reddit, and of course, social media platforms as well.
Skills needed to survive include passion, voracious reading, keeping abreast of industry developments, adaptability and people skills.
Tell us about the Solange Knowles song being inspiration for you
I have been a Solange Knowles fan for a long time; what I love most about her is her ability to honour her own path and not conform. A Seat at the Table, to me, is actually the pinnacle of her following her truth and this paid off. The whole album was a meditation on being unapologetic and proudly black. Having this message on rotation became a catalyst for me to ask what I can do to express my own truth.
My favourite songs on the album are “FUBU” and “Don’t Touch My Hair” these songs resonate because they empower the black community, especially black women.
What has been the greatest challenge so far in the course of the business?
As a bootstrapping business, the number one challenge is making the best possible use of a limited budget, but I’m quickly learning to be creative as I go and that is also the fun part.
You learn to let go of perfectionist inhibitions that could deter you from moving forward.The best way to contribute is to start where you are, with the skills and passions you already have Click To Tweet
As an advocate of black-cellence, what do you hope to achieve for African women through your business?
I hope African women can feel I represent and lift them up through my business. I hope my customers discover products that make them feel good about being black, in a society that doesn’t always make that easy to do so.
Beyond a business transaction, I hope the vendors I work with feel my support and love for their amazing work. In my capacity as a young black female entrepreneur, I hope I can inspire others to know that the best way to contribute is to start where you are, with the skills and passions you already have.
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