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‘I don’t just sell a product, I educate’

Mummy Mthembu-Fawkes – founder, Earthy: ‘I’m completely self-funded at the moment’.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: In our SME feature this week we speak to natural hair enthusiast and entrepreneur, Mummy Mthembu-Fawkes. Mummy, take us through where you started with the brand Earthy?

MUMMY MTHEMBU-FAWKES: Well, Earthy is a pretty new brand only six months old, five months old actually, and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, something that I tried doing before. It’s a trial and error type of project and now finally gotten to the right formula. It’s a business that I started purely out of frustration from my side, I always struggled growing my hair and as a result I decided it’s about time that I did something about it and do natural haircare because chemically-treated hair never worked for me. So that’s where the idea came about and then I’ve spent, although the business is only five months old, I would say it’s a
four-year project, it’s taken me about four years to master the actual product and get the formula correct finally. So it is something that I’ve been working on for quite a few years and I think I’ve now finally got the right formula.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: How is it going so far, how is it being received?

MUMMY MTHEMBU-FAWKES: I’m actually quite surprised, when I tell people that Earthy is five months old they look at me and say you can’t be serious. It feels as though it’s a company that’s been around for about four years, I’ve been very lucky, I haven’t had haters or anything like that. I’ve just been received quite well, I think it’s something that a lot of especially ethnic women have been hungry for for years and now it’s finally here and they’re like wow, I’ve been well received.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: I see you have a very healthy presence on social media, how has that worked for you?

MUMMY MTHEMBU-FAWKES: I never used to be a social media type of person, I’m actually surprised myself with social media but it has worked amazingly for me. It’s been such a great platform for my business because I don’t just sell a product I also educate, so I find that social media has helped me with that, I’m able to touch so many people, especially as a small business you need to have exposure and social media has given that to small businesses. I’m quite active now on social media, I’m still learning about social media but it has proven to be quite an effective model from a marketing perspective for my business.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: Speaking of that marketing element side of the business do you find that social media has come somewhat as a bridge to cutting costs?

MUMMY MTHEMBU-FAWKES: It has, it really, really has because when you’re starting off as a small business it’s really difficult to have a big marketing budget and be like I’m going to be on television and have this big ad campaign, whereas on social media you can just think it up and not have to take out all that money for the ad campaign, you can create your own little ad campaign and then it will be well received. I think in social media people have an understanding as well where the expectation is not too harsh, [on television] you’re expected to have this flamboyant advertising campaign, whereas on social media you can work with your small budget and still get the message across. So it has worked out really well and it’s a great medium if you don’t have the finances.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: Let’s talk funding now, which route did you go?

MUMMY MTHEMBU-FAWKES: I’ve gone my own route, I’m completely self-funded at the moment, I think I will look at funding…I’ve gone down that route and this is going to sound a little bit strange but I found that it deterred me, it slowed me down. I’m very quick, I want things done quickly, I know what my vision is, I know where I want to go with this business and I don’t want to be tied down right now to red tape and I find the red tape that I’ve had in the five months that I’ve had, my business has already gone international, which is something that wouldn’t have happened if I was still relying on other people who don’t necessarily understand my concept. It’s a very difficult concept, it hasn’t been completely received and not everybody understands the medium when you come with this idea and you say look, I’m trying to get ethnic women to embrace their natural hair and they’re like, well, everyone in the world would have done that by now, Mummy, why are you doing it? I find that having to explain myself just doesn’t work, I’m a mover and a shaker and I need to get things done. I think for me I will start thinking about funding later when maybe my concept has been proven and people can just get onboard with me because in this space it’s been difficult for me to try and still get people onboard.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: Have there been any other challenges in this journey?

MUMMY MTHEMBU-FAWKES: Wow, I’ve had too many challenges. I think every day in my business is a challenge, from not having enough support…I come from a heavy corporate background where I used to have a team reporting to me and I used to have these massive budgets and if there was a problem I would just scream at marketing and be like marketing, why didn’t you do A, B and C? Those things were so much easier and then what I found is that with my business you struggle a bit more, you’re the call centre agent, you’re the salesperson, you’re the marketing person, you are in procurement, you’re the one that’s handling the finances and those come with their own challenges. As much as I consider myself a savvy person in business, you don’t know it all, you cannot know it all and I think that’s where most of the challenges come from. Of course finance that is a huge challenge and exposure that’s another one because in a big corporate you just bring out your budget and you say next month we’re going for this ad campaign, we’re going to be on radio, we’re going to be on TV, we’re going to be there, there, there, we’re going to do these events, we’re going to do these activations and everything is going to work out. In your small business that is not the case, you cannot just randomly think I’m going to do an activation next month because that’s going to cost a lot of money. So I think finance, exposure, assistance that’s where the challenges come about and that’s mostly where my challenges are.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: On a more positive note you mentioned going international, that is a great milestone, tell us about that?

MUMMY MTHEMBU-FAWKES: It is, I think that plan for me was going to be in a year, I was planning to go international maybe in a year or two but like I said, everything that I do in my business is quite fast, it’s very, very speedy and we did a pilot two months ago in London just to see how people are going to perceive the brand, if they’re going to understand the brand. It was quite small but I did have an audience, people did come through and there are a lot of South Africans in England who were eager and excited and appreciative of the brand. They were like we will support you and we will get the word out there. It was a pilot, like I said, I wanted to trial it first and see what the reception would be overseas and it’s been good. So the plan is to be fully in England and that will be the next point for Earthy, the UK is our next step and possibly the US.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: Amazing, where do we find your products?

MUMMY MTHEMBU-FAWKES: Okay, so at the moment I’ve got an online store, it’s www.earthy.co.za, you can purchase the products online and we deliver anywhere in South Africa as long as you are in metro. I sometimes do pop-up stores, so I will have a pop-up store possibly once a month because remember I don’t just sell a product, I also sell myself, if you can call it that, where a lot of people want to engage with me, learn more. So I do the pop-up shop so that there is an opportunity for them to ask questions and we can engage, and I teach them different techniques as well. So that’s where they can find me and I’ve got a YouTube channel as well, where people can go and watch my videos, where I talk about the product, not just the product but the whole transitioning for the ethnic women to say, okay, fine, what do I do with this hair? So those are the platforms that I currently have.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: Lastly, what advice would you have for an upcoming entrepreneur?

MUMMY MTHEMBU-FAWKES: I think the most important thing is work ethic. I meet a lot of entrepreneurs and what I’ve found to be lacking mostly is the work ethic, a lot of people have these million dollar dreams with a minimum wage work ethic and they don’t understand that there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. So I think the first thing that I would advise is be prepared for the hard work, it’s going to be much harder than what you anticipated. Whatever you thought was going to be hard take that and multiply it by 150. That’s how difficult it’s going to be, especially in the first year or two or three. Another thing is I think you need to feel the fear and do it anyway. A lot of people look at me and think you’re so bold, you just attack things and I’m like the most fearful person in the world, I wake up every day and fear everything. I could fear that this cup is going to break, I have fears all the time but I allow myself to feel that fear and I still do it anyway. I think it’s one of those things like a lot of people say don’t have fear and it’s like, well, that’s normal, we’re human, you’re going to have fear but you need to feel it and go ahead and do it anyway. Take risks, dare to be different and a lot of people who are entrepreneurs they always try very hard, they think too much. They think they want to do this thing and then they say they’re going to do this technologically enhanced thing but you don’t have the technical know-how. Always look at your current situation, think about when you wake up in the morning, what are the things that you use on a daily basis, somebody has a business that provides for your daily life. Look at that as yourself and say what do I use, as Tumi, every single day, maybe there lies a business idea. So keep it simple that’s what I’d say and have a passion for it.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: That was natural hair enthusiast and entrepreneur, Mummy Mthembu-Fawkes, the owner of the brand, Earthy.

To view the interview with Tumisang and Mummy Mthembu-Fawkes, please click here

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