Soweto’s celebrity nail technician on how she built her empire: 'I’ve learnt to rely solely on my skills'

Phiwe Mngadi (Supplied)
Phiwe Mngadi (Supplied)

Instead of attending her own matric dance 14 years ago, Phiwe Mngadi was busy doing the nails and eyelashes of her ball-going friends and fellow schoolmates.

“Beauty has always been my passion and it’s something I’m lucky enough to have done every day since leaving school,” she tells us.

Phiwe loves what she does and with her striking blonde hair, baby pink lipstick and infectious smile she’s a walking advert for her work. She shows us around the small but luxurious room in Soweto that’s been converted into her beauty business, Plush Nail Art Studio.


Phiwe (34) has worked at beauty salons in and around Joburg to gain a wealth of experience. In 2015, she decided she was done being just another employee. She knew she had plenty to offer as a business owner and launched Plush Nail Art Studio in Soweto.

Her focus is nail art, microblading (an eyebrow tattooing technique) and teeth whitening. Her decision to keep her business in Soweto is connected to her mission to make a solid name for her place of birth.

She says she wants to shine the spotlight on some of the “most talented, hard-working and innovative black South African business owners in the country”.

“So many people have told me that I’d do so much better in Sandton or Parkmore, but I want to be part of making a name for Soweto,” she says.

Phiwe has a celebrity client base that includes Natasha Tahane, Thando Thabethe and Palesa Madisakwane.


Phiwe is determined to break barriers in the beauty industry. One of her many projects has been to develop her own color pigment for microblading. It’s the first black-owned microblading pigment in South Africa.

“The powder I use for my microblading procedure has been tested and perfected for black skin in terms of color and texture,” she explains.

She says microblading is becoming increasingly popular as it offers a more permanent option to brow fillers for eyebrow enhancement. Phiwe says her business is not just about beauty but also about truly making clients feel good, even long after they’ve left the salon.

When they return for a follow-up consultation where she assesses the microblading treatment, they can’t stop raving about the compliments they get from people and how pleased they are with their new look.

“It’s really all about how you take care of your treatment from home in order to get the best results,” Phiwe says.

 “This is why I offer a comprehensive aftercare session from my salon to all my clients.”


Plush Nail Art Studio is a one-woman show. Phiwe has no employees and prefers to focus on one-on-one connections with her clients and perfecting her beauty treatments. However, she’s passionate about passing on the skills she’s acquired and continues to acquire.

She travels across Africa offering beauty training to those who are equally dedicated. She’s been to Botswana, Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

“The first place I travelled to outside of South Africa was Lesotho. I didn’t know anyone there, but I knew I wanted to go to explore an opportunity to empower people with the skill of microblading, which I’d heard was becoming more and more popular by the day,” Phiwe explains.

“I discovered that I’m not particularly skilled at managing people, but I know I’m very good at teaching.”

Once she’s decided on the location for her next training session, Phiwe advertises the event on social media and anyone who’s interested can register.

They include people who wish to enter the beauty industry as well as those who are already in the industry and want to hone their skills.


Plush Nail Art Studio has more than 7 000 Facebook followers. Phiwe uses this platform to showcase her work and to offer her followers an array of advice.

She especially enjoys tackling myths around the beauty industry, such as that you can’t do microblading if you’re HIV-positive. “Of course, you can!” she says.

“In today’s world more and more people want a business with authenticity. There are so many expectations put on business owners that we tend to forget to be ourselves and allow for organic growth in our businesses.”

 One of the challenges Phiwe has experienced as a business owner in the beauty industry has been to remain true to herself, despite the external pressures placed on business owners to always have more than what they already have.

“When you’re a business owner the goalpost always shifts,” she explains. “Once you’ve opened businesspeople expect you to open another branch or employ more people or move locations, and the list goes on.”

Phiwe believes in perfecting what she has and remaining exclusive and dedicated to her customers. She says she’s tried several add-ons to enhance her business, including apps, websites and costly software, but ultimately, they didn’t do much for her.

“I’ve learnt to rely solely on my skills and professionalism to create the business I have today.” She’s stuck to using just social media, which has worked wonders for her business and is cost-effective.


When we asked Phiwe what it takes to build a good reputation, her answer is simple.

“One of the quickest ways to grow your reputation in any industry is to be a reliable person. This way, people will always know they can count on you to deliver. My main approach to my business is to ask whether I’m able to help each day, and also to find peace and be happy with myself at the end of each day. I think that’s what is most important.”

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