Kelebogile Cilo on how ditching a toxic work environment encouraged her to start her own business

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Kelebogile believes feeling beautiful from within reflects on the outside with or without makeup.
Kelebogile believes feeling beautiful from within reflects on the outside with or without makeup.

She owns House of Elle Glance (HEG Cosmetics), a makeup and cosmetics company based in Pretoria.

Now the 34-year-old beauty entrepreneur's products will soon be available in major retail stores, she tells Drum.

Kelebogile Cilo, who registered her makeup line in 2010 while still working in a corporate environment, has also partnered with actress and motivational speaker Mona Monyane.

It was in 2011 that she started realising her future might not be in corporate, so Kelebogile used her salary to fund her business. 

“I still had my nine-to-five job when I registered my business, but I was still not sure which direction to take or what the next step would be,” she says.

Seven years later, in 2018, she officially launched her branded products.

She started off with 13 shades of liquid foundation, cream foundation, and press powder. Then moved onto highlighter and lighter and lip glosses. At the time, she hosted 40 women to try out her new products in a workshop. 

“The challenge with being a new brand is that you are compared to a well-known and existing cosmetic company. People do not trust that a black South African woman can give a good-quality product that is beautifully packaged and offers value,” Kelebogie says. 

“So I started doing one on one sessions for women to engage with the brand. In an industry where it’s all about the physical, I realised women needed internal pampering as well,” she says. Kelebogile took the opportunity to use what she loves – self-motivation, wellness, and mentoring – to market her product.

“I also use it as an opportunity to talk about wellness and skin. The products can cover the mark but what is going on the inside. I coupled my passions for people and mentoring. As women, we need to stand together in the bad times. Some use it as a coping mechanism and when you keep covering up, we learned there is a balance. When your skin looks good, you feel good. I view makeup as art, It shouldn’t be viewed as a crutch.”

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The businesswoman has been doing makeup as a hobby since high school. When family and friends were attending events, they relied on her to glam them up.  

“I never thought one day I would make a business from doing people’s makeup. I was doing it as a hobby, and I enjoyed looking good and making people feel good.” 

Kelebogile gets her love for cosmetics and beauty from her grandmother, Refiloe Matemane, and mom, Caroline Mongalo. 

“I chose to go the cosmetics route because of my mom and grandmother. They are the true definition of ladies. They taught me about self-hygiene, grooming, nails, and makeup. I had a natural love for making people look good, so everything just worked well together. I wanted to help people who had insecurities about the way they look and feel.

“I wanted to instil the values taught by my mom and grandmother onto them that a lady always carries li balm, tissues and wipes in their bag and that self-love starts from within before you can use any makeup,” she says.

While in university, her cousin was the first person to spot her talent and gifted her with her first makeup kit.

"She believed in me so much that she bought me my first makeup kit and I used it to make an extra income by doing people’s faces,” Kelebogile says. 

“I did make up for weddings and events, and word got around.”  

As a self-taught makeup artist, she experimented with many products and thought of the idea of having her brand.

“I did the research, and I found a mentor who assisted in importing the products and mixtures and who became my supplier,” she says. “He helped me to develop my brand, the name, corporate identity, packaging and worked with me in positioning myself as a feel-good product for women and not just a cover-up solution,” Kelebogile says.

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Born and raised in Soshanguve, Tshwane, Kelebogile got her Honours in Business Administration through correspondence at the University of Greenwich in the UK.

While still studying, she worked double shifts on weekends as a waitress to make ends meet. She then moved to works in retail as a shop assistant at Jenni Button where she learned about image consulting and branding before moving to a corporate environment working as an account executive at various IT companies.

“I did a bit of PR work which was very cut-throat for me, so I left and worked as account executive n the IT environment," Kelebogile recalls, adding it was not easy working in a male-dominated environment.

“It is tough, there is a lot of backstabbing and women are looked down upon. It was difficult for me to come back to work from maternity leave. Once you become a mother in an environment like that, you are considered a liability even when you deliver,” she says.

“So, I have decided to focus my energy on making sure I grow my business.”

Kelebogile’s products will soon be available in major retail stores.

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