Very few African women can say they have never had issues with their hair. There are struggles to find the right hairstyles, to hair breakage, hair loss, alopecia or just not knowing which products work best for their hair type.
This is why Gontse Kgokolo (32) started Kwanele SA, a haircare brand that focuses on natural hair solutions.
Gontse transitioned from having relaxed hair while pregnant with her first-born son, to an afro thinking it would be easier to maintain.
“I was looking for a change. I stopped working and was focusing on my son and cutting my hair seemed like a good decision at the time,” Gontse says.
“I was tired of always burning my hair with chemicals and I thought the natural path would be easier.”
But little did she know what she was getting herself into.
“Maintaining natural hair can be a struggle, especially in the beginning when you are still learning to understand your hair type and texture. It was difficult to comb. It was hard to manage, and I had horrible experiences at hair salons, there were not many hair products available in the market at the time,” Gontse says.
Hair salons then were advertising wigs and weaves, but she was not willing to go the weave route.
“I turned to using the conventional airbrush dryers used on Caucasian hair to try to manage the pain of pulling and breaking hair,” she says.
This method was time-consuming, and she experienced hair loss.
“I became very frustrated because my brush would break while using this method. I needed to find a product that would not be painful and would not break my hair.”
For years, the Pretoria mom was frustrated and struggled to maintain her hair, and at some point, she experienced hair loss that damaged her scalp.
In 2019, she started her hair brand, focusing on hair brushing solutions for African hair.
“I was looking to start something afresh and a haircare business seemed like a tangible business,” Gontse says.
She invested her retirement fund into starting her business and started testing brushes to see what works in the market.
“I withdrew my retirement package and bought 100 hairbrushes to see what worked best.” While doing her research, she learned that ethnic hair needed a little bit of heat, not the harsh heat from a blow dryer and she launched the Kwanele Wide Comb Afro Hair Straightening Brush.
“This brush is half blow dryer and half brush, you could say. But causes zero damage to the hair. It is a Ceramic Straightening brush made especially for African hair. It eliminates the pain of brushing coarse hair,” Gontse says.
“Many people have traumatic childhood memories of parents combing their hair with the afro comb before school and how painful it was.”
Gontse believes more brands need to start including products that work for both soft and kinky hair.
“Big brands need to keep up with the times and be more inclusive. Women have different hair textures and all should be catered for.” Gontse has since expanded her business to Deep Conditioning Heat caps and Heat Protectors.
“I’m passionate about the natural hair industry. I think it's high time women started embracing their natural beauty and working with what they have,” she adds.
Having come far in educating people about hair and believing in her dream, she convinced a friend Tebogo Ramurundu (28) to join her as a business partner.
“Since we have partnered up, we have helped thousands of women going through the same hair struggles,” says Tebogo.
“Many women are caregivers, breadwinners, businesswomen with focus on careers and need beauty hacks that are fast, to cut time and be able to invest more time in families.”
Tebogo is qualified in Retail Business Management and Gontse is a graduate with an Honours Bachelor of Business Management from the University of South Africa, and they use their skills in building their business.
“We can use both our skills in working towards a common goal because we have a passion for creating employment and embracing African beauty while doing it,” Gontse says.
She is passionate about helping others and wishes to take health and self-care education to schools in the near future.
Gontse recently donated 150 sanitary towels, toiletries, clothes to orphans in Harmaanskraal and wants to include hair education in her charity runs.
“It's important we teach young people about self-care, and embracing their natural beauty for them to grow up being confident adults,” Gontse says.