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Sonto’s natural hair empire continues growing strong

Sonto Pooe, founded Nativechild, a natural-based hair & body care range, in 2015 after losing her hairline and taking action by experimenting with plant-based ingredients in her kitchen. Photo: Supplied.

Sonto Pooe, founded Nativechild, a natural-based hair & body care range, in 2015 after losing her hairline and taking action by experimenting with plant-based ingredients in her kitchen. Photo: Supplied.

Published Dec 9, 2021

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SOME people know what they want early in their lives and go for it, but for Joburg-based quantity surveyor turned businesswoman the journey of self-discovery took longer than many of her peers and has been life-changing.

Sonto Pooe, founded Nativechild, a natural-based hair & body care range, in 2015 after losing her hairline and taking action by experimenting with plant-based ingredients in her kitchen.

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Pooe said she went through a phase of braiding a lot and, like most black women who do braids, you end up losing your hairline.

“My hairline got damaged, and it did not matter what I did, my hair did not grow back. I set out to do some research to see what products I could put together to produce a product that would help me,” said Pooe.

That was the birth of Nativechild’s Hair Growth Caster Oil, which remains the biggest selling product in her product range, but also in retail stores including Game, Ackerman’s, Clicks, Dis-Chem and Pick n Pay.

“It (hair growth castor oil) is the biggest seller not just for Nativechild, but for the entire natural hair care category. I think it is because it is one of those products that are affordable. People do not have to spend a lot of money but will see results rather quickly,” said Pooe.

Pooe, who originates from Kwa-Mashu, a township north of Durban, completed a qualification in quantity surveying and could not find a job in her chosen career path. She landed a civil engineering job and not long after was appointed at a large firm where she was to be groomed for a managerial position, however fate had other plans.

“Unfortunately, internally I was having a conflict. I knew I would make great money, but I did not know whether I would be fulfilled. When I got married, I took that as an opportunity to say I am moving to Joburg. I am going to start afresh. I had saved money so that I could carry myself to go and study,” she said.

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From a young age Pooe, whose mother is a teacher, had a desire to be her own boss. Her biggest influence came from her close family members who own building and carpentry businesses.

She took the leap of faith, resigned, and went back to school to study hair care and cosmetics science to know how to create her products.

Pooe said nothing could have prepared her for the long hours of growing a business.

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“The whole business rests on your shoulders. I do not have off days. While employees work from 8am to 5pm, I am up at 3.30am because I need to get ahead and start before everyone else is up. I am the last person to go to bed,” said Pooe.

Pooe’s business employs 60 people and received best SED (small enterprise development) supplier award for the top performing business in its category from Clicks and in 2020 Pick n Pay also honoured her with the same accolade.

While cash flow problems have been identified as one of the key reasons why businesses fail, Pooe believes her venture was successful because she started slowly with only one product and the support of family funds which helped her avoid debt.

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“My husband went into business before me and so when we fell short, he stepped in to help. I hate debt. We did not get into debt to try and fund the business. We started with one product, once that generated income we launched the second product, and so forth. The family helped to sustain the business in its formative years,” Pooe said.

Pooe’s advice for budding entrepreneurs is to start small.

“I started with one product, the hair growth castor oil, for just two years. Keep ploughing back into the business. I did not do what other businesses do: when money starts coming in, they pay themselves big salaries. Until today I have never bought myself a car,” Pooe said, adding that the key was to allow the business to do what it was meant to do; that is growth until it eventually starts generating profits.

“I think it is important to say we are not going to splurge. We are going to invest until such time the business can carry itself,” Pooe said.

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