Mabel Ledwaba | From a bedroom salon to a successful beauty empire

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Mabel Ledwaba is the founder of Havillah Beauty.
Mabel Ledwaba is the founder of Havillah Beauty.
Supplied to TRUELOVE

When it comes to the beauty industry in South Africa, we have seen more brands which are black owned shine. From skincare brands to haircare brands and even make-up lines, more black females are making their mark – and one such woman, is Havillah Beauty founder, Mabel Ledwaba.

Growing up in the township of Atteridgeville in Pretoria at a time where black people in her community were only exposed to a limited number of beauty treatments such as relaxers and curls, a young Ledwaba found herself wondering whether there was more out there for black women.

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This prompted the teenager to pursue a career in the beauty industry. She started off by turning her bedroom into a beauty parlour which operated from Monday to Saturday when she returned from school.

Today, Mabel runs a successful make-up brand which has employed 17 permanent staff members and is now worth over R2.5 million.

She tells TRUELOVE all about how she turned her passion for beauty into a successful business.

Where it all started

Ledwaba’s bedroom salon offered clients different hairstyles and when her business became popular, she decided to further her studies and enrolled for a course in cosmetology.

A few years later, her qualification afforded her the opportunity to work for big cosmetic companies, where she had the task of growing sales in the black female market.

“I gave them that township feel of doing hair in a white salon," she says. "I remember I was the highest paid because everyone got paid on commission, and everybody wanted me to do their hair. That, as well, taught me business skills. I saw the professional side.

And that’s when the idea of Havillah Beauty came about.

Mabel Ledwaba
Mabel Ledwaba.

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Starting Havillah Beauty

Having gained a lot of experience during the years she worked in the beauty industry, the beautician decided to start something of her own and officially launched Havillah Beauty in 2008 after receiving R80 000 worth of capital from her husband.

And even with having enough money for her business venture, she soon realised that there was much more to business than funding and making the products.

“It was very difficult to break into the beauty industry considering the fact that many brands that were available on the market were big international brands that people had grown to love and trust. People also had less knowledge about beauty products and these products were just seen as a luxury. So, we had to find our own niche within the beauty industry and be ready to grow with our clients without necessarily poaching from other brands."

But Ledwaba persevered and now, 11 years later, her brand offers a wide variety of makeup and skin products for both men and women. Havillah Beauty products also cater for skin problems such as acne and pigmentation also known as ‘dichubaba’ in South African colloquial lingo.

“Our makeup range consists of high-definition concealers and foundation with great features including 24-hour coverage, SPF 30 and waterproof,” she says before adding that Havillah Beauty also now offers hair products.

“In 2018 we started manufacturing artificial dreadlocks weaved from synthetic hair pieces; the dreadlocks are beautifully handwoven and look like real hair. Through this project, women in rural Free State are able to put food on the table,” she adds.

Although the products are all manufactured in Germany, Ledwaba says that her company is responsible for mixing the colours to ensure that they are suitable for African skin.

Havillah Beauty
Model holds the Havillah Beauty foundation.

Finding opportunities during a crisis

The coronavirus global pandemic coupled with the multiple levels of lockdown saw many businesses shut down, but for Ledwaba, this crisis was a chance for her to reinvent her business and fill a gap.

“The pandemic did not affect us at all. In fact, we saw a gap and took advantage of it. When the first lockdown hit, we  knew that people were stuck at home and were glued to their phones. Ladies needed to shop and so we started a campaign called ‘quarantine glow’ – where we sold skin care on high discounts and promised delivery when restrictions were lifted,” she explained.

 “Luckily we fell under the essential commodities category and so we were able to trade. Then we accelerated our strategy because we knew ladies couldn’t spend their monies in the shopping Malls so we capitalised with online sales.”

Havillah Beauty
Havillah Beauty products.

What the future holds for Havillah Beauty

­“I want Havillah Beauty to be able to serve women all over the world. To be able to create products that continuously give solutions to skin problems that black women face,” Ledwaba says.

“We want to create a legacy for both Havillah and our agents. We have since created opportunities for many for many women around the country. There are over 3000 agents in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana and Zambia that independently sell Havillah Beauty products and we want that number to grow,” she concludes.

Advice for entrepreneurs

“I learnt that you must never be afraid to break new ground and not fear rejection because, as difficult or even scary these two are, they will make you even stronger. Never expect that it is going to be easy and that you are just going to be accepted when you are entering new ground. I learnt that you need to have a thick skin and stand behind your brand. It's easy to lose hope but you need to persevere and never stop,” she says.


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