When she struggled to find hair care products for her natural hair, Mugethi Gitau decided to create some for her hair. It has turned into a promising business
By Hustle East Africa
Mugethi Gitau’s hair is long and kinky. As we settle for this interview, it’s not hard to notice its afro textured curls and tresses.
Kinky African hair, common with women of African descent, carries cultural and social significance. As magnificent as it looks, it’s one of the hardest to manage. Mugethi prefers to keep her hair natural. Like most women with natural African hair, she struggled to find the right products for her hair.
“Six years ago, I used to straighten my hair, then I cut it and decided to go natural.”
In her mind, she believed that taking care of natural hair was as easy as it was for straight hair. But that wasn’t the case.
“To my surprise, I found out that there were no hair care products for natural hair in the supermarkets, so taking care of my hair was a big challenge.”
She says that she was surprised to learn that most people rocking natural hair were getting their hair care products from abroad, sometimes relying on their travelling friends to get their supplies.
“It was an expensive and time-wasting affair. I saw it as a problem. We are Africans and this is our hair, so there’s no way straight hair should be our default,” she says.
Sensing a gap in the personal grooming industry she took it up as her challenge to look for a solution.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and Mugethi knows this too well.
Once she researched on the problem, she also realized that most people had a negative attitude towards natural hair, and that few stylists were interested in working on it.
“I realized that there was an attitude problem. Those with natural hair could be told they hadn’t combed their hair. Others could be told it’s unprofessional.”
She decided to formulate a product for African hair.
To create her first product, she could experiment with various raw materials, making small portions of hair products and trying them out on her hair.
Before long, she had a working recipe.
“I realized that natural products were going well with natural hair.”
Starting out, she was keen on providing hair care solutions for natural hair. But her research revealed that hair oils were also good for the skin. That’s how she diversified into body oils.
“In my interactions with people, I also came to realize that lots of people were sensitive and allergic to most brands on supermarket shelves.”
To test their effectiveness, she could give out her first products to her friends for free. The feedback was inspiring.
“Some reported that the products were good for their skin. Others said the products helped them manage Eczema.”
And this is the fuel that kept her going.
After four years of trying her product, she was ready to launch her company.
She quit her job to found Mugzie’s Naturals in 2016.
Her company manufactures natural hair and body products, most of which are based on Shea butter. These include body and hair butters, soap, and essential oils.
Starting a manufacturing business is not a walk in the park. It’s a capital-intensive affair. Unperturbed by the requirements, she set out to start her business with the little money she had spared from her former job.
“I started with what I had. I bought a kilo of Shea butter and essential oils and made a few jars of hair and body oil.”
Her flagship products were hair butter, body butter, with an extra rich version for Eczema, lip balm and soap. She has grown her product range to include Bentonyte Clay for face masks and essential oils.
If her launch was modest, her go to market strategy was simple.
She put up her stock on Facebook where people could make orders.
“The first time I sold my product, I was terrified. I didn’t know whether the customer would like the product. I was used to giving out my product for free.”
She says she felt overjoyed once the feedback started streaming in. customers were liking her product. More orders trickled in and before she knew it, she was struggling to meet demand.
“The orders were coming in from all platforms. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp. I had trouble managing them.”
They say innovation is the lifeblood of thriving businesses. Mugethi knew she needed a centralized location to handle all her orders. A tech savvy woman with a background in I.T, she build her company’s first e-commerce website where she could centralize all orders.
She also created her company’s logo, using the knowledge and experience gained from her former job.
All the while, she was mixing her concotions from her kitchen table, creating a minute manufacturing unit inside her kitchen. She could get her materials from different locations, sometimes relying on friends for referrals.
As a small manufacturer, she faced a few challenges at startup.
“Most of my raw materials are seasonal, so sometimes I struggle to find any.”
That being the case, she has to walk a delicate rope to maintain consistent quality of product at a consistent price.
She also says that most materials in the manufacturing sector are managed in bulk, a challenge for small manufacturers who lack enough cashflow to buy in bulk.
“We compete with the big manufacturers to get the same raw materials. They have an upperhand because they buy in bulk.”
Packaging is another important aspect of manufacturing. For her, she settled on glass jars as these could keep her product for long.
“We are a green company. Our jars are 99% reusable and we want to continue conserving the environment,” she says.
With orders for the product coming in left,right and center, MUgzie’s Naturals was on a growth trajectory.
She started with her Kilimani backyard, before venturing to other areas. Before long, she was getting orders from as far as Mombasa.
Her biggest challenge was handling the logistics.
Using a dedicated rider to deliver her products to Nairobi and environs, she soon realized that it wasn’t a practical idea when it came to deliveries in places that are far from Nairobi.
“Selling the product at Kes650, and paying Kes500 for delivery didn’t make business sense.”
She opted to use public transport to deliver her products, although this mode of delivery was time-consuming and inefficient.
That’s when she decided to partner with Sky Garden, an upstart e-commerce site that promised same day deliveries and flat rates for both Nairobi and upcountry.
With SkyGarden, she could deliver her products to Mombasa and Kisumu.
Having set the business up for growth, the next phase is to make it a household name. Mugethi has managed to keep her overheads low, outsourcing some of her processes, including logistics.
With a rich background in I.T, she hopes to anchor her business on technology to disrupt the industry.
Although she’s yet to take her products to major retailers, she has a solid plan of growing it one jar at a time.
In a few years, she plans to increase her production capacity, and to embark on research to grow her product offering.
For now, her dream is to see more African women rocking their natural hair without worrying about where to get quality hair care products.