Black-owned beauty: It's time to Swiitch to brands that are made for people who are Black Like Me

A clarion call: Black-owned beauty business phoned... they need your support. Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
A clarion call: Black-owned beauty business phoned... they need your support. Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
  • Values-based consumerism has been informing the way products are marketed to us by companies for the past few years.
  • The conscious consumer's decision to spend money on certain brands is therefore often influenced by a brand's ethics; environmental, social justice, political, and even health.
  • With two pandemics facing us - Covid-19 and racism - it's as good a time as any to put values-based consumerism into practice by supporting not only the black-owned beauty businesses listed below, but black business at large.

"The entertainment business is still very sexist. It's still very male-dominated, and as a woman, I did not see enough female role models given the opportunity to do what I knew I had to do. To run my label and management company, to direct my films and produce my tours - that meant ownership! 

"Owning my masters, owning my art, owning my future, writing my own story."  

"Not enough women had a seat at the table, so I had to go and chop down that wood and build my own table... then I had to invite the best there was to have a seat. That meant hiring women, men, outsiders, underdogs, people that were overlooked and waiting to be seen." 

These are words from Beyoncé's Class of 2020 commencement speech, that kicked off another week of continuing to amplify black stories and elevate black business, content, and talent. In this speech, the 24-time Grammy Award winner also highlights a largely known, but lesser acknowledged fact (by respective gatekeepers) about how many have been overlooked due to gender bias and racial disparities. 

The former kind of exclusion is one we briefly unpacked in a 2019 W24 article questioning why the beauty industry is still so male-dominated. The article praised the appointment of Revlon's first-ever woman CEO and president, Debra Perelman, in the brand's 86-year history.

"But despite these triumphs, women are grossly underrepresented in the beauty industry's top leadership - a multi-billion dollar industry made primarily for women - yet, we are the consumers that feed this industry on a daily basis," I wrote in this article.

"Case in point, two of the largest beauty companies in the world, Estée Lauder Companies and L'Oréal, are run by men."

After putting a few women-run beauty companies in the spotlight, I then concluded that "it's clear from the [listed] beauty bigwigs, that profit and success are inevitable when women are in top leadership in an industry created for our enjoyment and benefit. Besides business acumen, instinctive knowledge of what your consumer wants is a key player of this ever-booming industry. It's therefore strange how so many beauty brands are still predominantly led by men." 

But there's another elephant in the room, and it's white. 

The cosmetics industry, much like her fashion counterpart, is still predominantly white and still upholds Eurocentric ideals of beauty. From colourism to hair politics to brands only realising in 2017 that they need to offer more than two brown shades of foundation, there's evidently been a desperate vacancy that only black women can fill... and that vacancy is ownership. 

In all my time of collecting magazines, up until it became a no-brainer that beauty editors ought to be black in a majority black country, I used to skip the beauty sections without missing a beat because those pages neither had any products made for me nor women who looked like me (and I'm light-skinned - imagine how much longer dark-skinned women have been failed). The black hair section at your local Clicks or DisChem was no bigger than a spice rack in your kitchen. And only a handful of cosmetics companies have finally formulated sunscreen that doesn't leave grey residue on dark skin. Not to mention our beloved nail salon letting us down amid Schoombee Gate.

READ MORE: As we conclude Africa Month, we add 33 South African brands to our list of must-haves  

The work of the likes of Beauty Revolution and Beauty on TApp is therefore not in vain, as these platforms have introduced South African women to an array of brands owned by black women and women of colour. And they remind us that there are always black alternatives to what we're loyal to, although we shouldn't consider them only as mere alternatives but rather go-to cosmetic fixes from here on out.

So in the same way we megaphone local art, fashion and talent, we will also continue to shoutout black-owned beauty brands who give meaning to the phrase, 'for us, by us':

Connie Mashaba - Black Like Me 

Connie is the director of hair care brand Black Like Me, which she and husband Herman Mashaba launched in 1985. Looking back, naming a company 'Black Like Me' pre-1994 was a bold statement to make. Reputable entrepreneurship publications have hailed Black Like Me a model of solid African entrepreneurship in its over 30 years of existence and consistent innovation. 

Her strategy for success, according to Entrepreneur Magazine, is based on three principles: 

"Give people what they want; do not take customer service for granted; and do not be static – when you stagnate, you die."  

Ego Iwegbu with partners, Azania Mosaka & Linda Jangulo 

Ego is the CEO and founder of Miss Salon London and MSLONDON Cosmetics - a chain of boutique nail bars in Johannesburg and Pretoria - which she runs with TV and radio personality Azania and Linda, who has a background in business.  

Linda Gieskes-Mwamba - Suki Suki Naturals   

black beauty businesses to support

Originally from the Democratic of Congo, Linda Gieskes-Mwamba is working to ensure that Suki Suki Naturals becomes a leading global luxury beauty brand. Read her story covered by W24 in 2019, below. 

READ MORE: How the founder of a local natural beauty brand created the solution to South African women's hair and skin needs   

Mabel Ledwaba - Havilla Beauty 

Mabel's beauty company, which started from offering nail and lash services, now features products with a particular focus on developing full quality coverage and waterproof makeup. This passionate entrepreneur started her business on just R80 000, and today, the business is worth R2,5 million, boasting a presence in Botswana, Lesotho and Zambia in addition to South Africa.  

Shonisani Masutha - Shonisani Braid 

Speaking to DRUM about her hair extensions range, "the actress revealed that when she was approached by hair company, Afrotex SA, to become a brand ambassador for their hair, she wanted to be more than just the face of the hair." 

W24's Futhi Masilela praised the brand for its lightweight feel once planted as braids, in contrast to how a new set of braids can often feel weighty on your head. 

Sonto Pooe - Nativechild 

Sonto's entry into the hair and beauty industry was more than just about financial prosperity, but more importantly, it was born out of a global cosmetic crisis we're all familiar with as black women - not being adequately catered for by cosmetics brands. 

Read her story below. 

READ MORE: Meet the South African woman who wants to take on Revlon and L’Oreal when it comes to natural hair products 

Mbali Sebapu - Hermosa Flor  

Speaking to True Love, Mbali reveals she quit her job at the SA Navy in 2019 to build her beauty brand, Hermosa Flor. She expresses that her target market includes all women and members of the LGBTIQ+ community. 

Rabia Ghoor - Swiitch Beauty

Swiitch is the brainchild of Indian South African, Rabia Ghoor, who reveals on the brand's website that her idea slowly came to life in a "4 square meter area in [her] bedroom."  

"I wanted to create an affordable product the South African girl / boy felt proud to purchase and use," the brand's charismatic founder says.  

View this post on Instagram

live chat + tutorial w @ra_bae tonight at 8:20PM ???

A post shared by swiitchbeauty® (@swiitchbeauty) on

It's also worth a special mention that in the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Swiitch Beauty has pledged R50 000 in the form of cash grants to black-owned businesses and R100 000 in product to up-and-coming MUAs. A Facebook post announcing this pledge also shares the demographic stats of 50% black, 40% Indian, and 10% white members.  

Nomfundo Njibe - Chick Cosmetics  

It's been dubbed the Glossier of SA by some, and W24 was privileged to have seen Nomfundo earn the title of the inaugural Beauty Revolution Future of Beauty Summit winner this March. 

Created in Joburg in 2017, Chick Cosmetics prides itself on being cruelty free - again, appealing to the conscious consumer. 

"Driven by the love of creating, diversity and confidence, we have been described not only as crazy but also as the most innovative and fastest growing beauty brand in Africa," they reveal. 

Relebohile Moeng - Afri-Berry 

After an accident left her with over a 150 stitches on her face, Relebohile Moeng, a GIBS graduate who holds a Master’s degree in Business Management, looked for more affordable solutions to cure her scars and it was cold pressed argan oil that yielded results. 

This multi-award winning brand is a proudly South African women and black-owned agro-processing manufacturer of 100% organic skin, body and hair repair products (products stocked in Pick n Pay, Checkers Hypers, Edgars, Zando and Faithful to Nature).  

Akosua Koranteng - ANiM Naturals 

"Purveyors of high quality hair & skin products made from raw materials sustainably sourced from across Africa," reads the bio of the brand's well-moisturised Instagram page. Yes, I said well-moisturised - you can't tell me those brown hues, butters and oils aren't a metaphor for the softness of black and brown women. 

There are several more black and women-owned local beauty businesses - which are your favourite? Do you own one? Plug yourself here

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