Fit, physical profit

2011-08-13 13:57

Let’s face it, it’s not every day that one comes across a billboard ­displaying an exceptionally fit and muscular black woman clad in a racy bikini.

Therefore when I saw one late last year along busy Ontdekkers Road in the West Rand near Clearwater Shopping Centre, two things came to mind: Photoshop and steroids.

The billboard was advertising the opening of a new slimming and endermologie wellness clinic due to open in Horizon, also in the West Rand. Curious, and perhaps desperate and sceptical at the same time, I decided to check it out.

With the help of a friend from ­Facebook, I got in touch with ­Lebogang Mathebula. My first ­reaction: tuck my tummy in.

Soft-spoken and demure, Mathebula is the founder and owner of Urban Health Concepts, which in just a year and a half has grown to boast two clinics with five more in the pipeline by early next year.

Complementing the business is Urban Wedding Concepts and ­Urban Kids Parties, which also does baby showers.

In its first year, the group made R3.5?million in turnover – not bad for a start-up.

I meet Mathebula on a cold Thursday morning at one of her wellness clinics in Northcliff, ­Johannesburg.
Thursdays, for some reasons, are her quiet days at Northcliff, she says.

Most of her clients at the branch are shoppers at the mall and employees of the SA Revenue Services next door to her.

Located at the recently renovated Verdi shopping centre on the corner of Vincent Avenue and ­Beyers Naude Drive, her store is by far the trendiest: chic with white walls, matching furniture and a touch of green.
You can’t help but give in to the oasis ambience when inside.

Her staff of four experienced and trained ­beauticians are warm and friendly.
“I poached most of my employees from a place that I used to go for my facials and nails before I opened my own stores. I wanted people I knew and whose customer service I had experienced.”

She has an equal number of ­employees working at her Horizon branch, which is her busiest. There, the clientele is slightly ­different: predominantly white or Afrikaans, and affluent.

We settle in her cosy office at the back of the stores.

Dressed in a stylish grey winter suit with knee-length leather brown boots, Mathebula is surprisingly conservative-looking, given that many people in excellent form?– as she is?– tend to flaunt their figures.

Her waist-long braids are tied in a sophisticated bun in the nape of her neck and she’s wearing this year’s must-have shade of eye shadow: blue, which by the way, takes real guts to wear or even pull off.
A few minutes into conversation with Mathebula, one soon realises that there’s very little that she believes she cannot do or achieve.

Raised by her grandparents in Naledi, Soweto, it is her grandmother who had the biggest effect on Mathebula, particularly her ­personality and drive.

She used to visit doctors in Lenasia where she would pick up their white coats, wash and starch them, and take them back the following day. Her grandfather was a taxi driver.

“In no time, my grandmother had started a dry cleaner and a ­grocery shop.” To reflect her change in social status, she says her grandmother would be seen walking around in beautiful dresses and flamboyant but exquisite matching hats.

“Our neighbours would tease her on the streets but she didn’t care. She loved looking good. And I guess I take that from her.”

Wanting to give her the one thing that will always stand her in good stead, her grandmother sent her to a private school in Bedfordview.

The school was expensive, which meant that luxuries such as pocket money and trendy clothes had to be sacrificed.

“She would sometimes send me to go fetch bread and milk from Malebese (the name township residents gave to the non-governmental organisation African Children’s Feeding Scheme which provided peanut butter sandwiches and milk at very low cost to help poorer children access a nutritious meal) and my friend would tease me and say I go to an expensive white school yet I can’t afford to buy food.

“My grandmother would say: ‘But what type of school do you go to?’ This helped me get perspective.”
A chubby girl throughout her early years, Mathebula became a sports fanatic in high school.

In 2004, out of curiosity, she ­entered the FHM Homegrown Honeys competition and was the first black woman in South Africa to win – an achievement she’s proud of.

The following year, she met and married her husband Thami Mathebula.
“I had called MTN with an ­enquiry and he answered the phone. He later called me saying he liked my voice and asked me out.”

Four weeks later, the couple got married.

Mathebula is the first to admit that launching Urban Health Concepts could not have happened at a better time.

The rise in the popularity of ­cosmetic surgery means clinics such as hers are an alternative for those whose pockets aren’t deep enough or those who prefer non-invasive beauty treatments.

From chemical peels that improve skin tone to cellulite and stretchmark treatment, Urban Health Concept is a one-stop shop for all things relating to beauty.

But Mathebula is determined to raise the stakes. If all goes well she hopes to be the first black teacher and owner of a Bikram Yoga studio following a gruelling nine-week programme in Los Angeles offered by the master himself, Bikram Choudhury.

The 26-pose yoga done in ­40-degree heat lists Hollywood celebrities Jennifer Aniston, ­Madonna and George Clooney?– who just seem to defy the notion of ageing?– among their devotees.

“I’ve seen it transform people’s lives, where old people who used to suffer from severe diabetes and arthritis no longer have the sickness. This is what I want to make accessible to many black people.”
I poached most of my employees from a place that I used to go for my facials and nails before I opened my own stores. I wanted people whom I knew and whose customer service I had experienced

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