She is shy, petite, and laser focused. And rare. It is not the money that inspires South African Thokozile Mangwiro, founder of Nilotiqa Haircare for black women but rather the discovery of her own formulation of organic hair treatment that speaks to every black woman who has stood in the face of adversarial marketing that wants to straighten, smooth, dye and reshape a black women’s hair, as if her natural crowning beauty is something to be avoided and changed.
With Krugersdorp roots and a family drive for an education, ‘Thoko’ duly completed university and followed a career in programming and business intelligence. But, frustrated by the hair care products on the retail shelves being marketed to black women, Thoko felt compelled to seek out her own organic solutions for maintaining her naturally managed, long Afro hair. Nilotiqa was researched and formulated in 2014; and launched in 2016 as a natural and organic hair care product solution to dry, brittle hair.
“Like most African women, our hair is characterized by kinky curls and grows closer to the scalp which makes it a challenge for our hair’s natural oils to travel down the hair strands to its tips. Nilotiqa is an organic and homegrown solution to maintaining your hair’s natural moisture,” she explains.
“Whether you wear a weave or braids, Nilotiqa keeps what is beneath – your natural hair – in its healthiest state,” she says. “When African hair is not adequately retaining moisture, it can lead to several conditions, such as dandruff, thinning of the hair, a receding hairline, or even worse hair falling out. These conditions can then have a significant impact on the health and aesthetic of the African coil.”
Entrepreneur Access into the Marketplace
Celebrating her grass roots success at delivering a solution to her new fans and followers who were overusing harsh, chemical treatments, Thoko was optimistic about being able to share her product with all African women on the local retail shelves. “I had no understanding of the ‘retail of retail’,” she laughs. “I pounded the pavements, made weekly calls to the major retail outlets where I knew I needed to be if I wanted to reach and speak to my local audience but none of the retailers were ready for my products.”
With no option for failure, having left her corporate career in 2017 to follow her dream of success with a solution specifically suited for curly, African hair, Thoko says she quickly learnt what it was to have an abnormal amount of persistence. “I learnt how to speak up. I found out how to make myself more visible. I didn’t have an option to give up. I would cry on the bathroom floor and grind through months and months without an income. I could not imagine Nilotiqa not fulfilling its highest potential. It was a solution for African women that deserved to win.”
It took two years of knocking on retail doors for Nilotiqa to debut products onto Clicks retail shelves nationwide; then a further year of pain and purpose from Thoko, and public outcry from South Africans at racially biased marketing content from a globally distributed hair care brand, for Nilotiqa to debut on the shelves of Dischem and Pick n Pay nationally.
“Running my own business, managing the marketing, finance, production and distribution while also managing my family and two young sons, was a learning curve. I never doubted Nilotiqa was a good product, that kept me going, but as an entrepreneur who was unfamiliar with the challenges of the national retail sector, I knew I needed help.”
Acquisition for Growth
Enter Sunpac and a conversation with CEO Shaun Laffer which led to the Sunpac acquisition in early 2022.
Says Thoko, “I had another investment opportunity on the table at the time, but for me, Sunpac was the type of partner, backed by a team, which understands the business I am in. As a leading distributor of top international hair care brands, Sunpac aligns with the Nilotiqa ethos which places a value on black female consumers needs and their financial restraints.
“The Sunpac agreement now allows for key investments for growth, while I can continue to maintain and manage the core of the Nilotiqa business and develop the range to include other personal care categories too. There is a lot to be done. All the processes for retail distribution are changing and we are upgrading our branding and labelling, but the process of formulation will not change.”
Speaking into the potential of her newfound future, Thoko says, “I want to see Nilotiqa become a household brand; to define the luxury of what it is to be an African woman. There are competitors in this field, however my products are unique, I know what I have to offer – it is all about the customer and what they are looking for in a brand that is healthy for their hair. With Nilotiqa, each and every consumer is the influencer for this incredible brand, in each and every way.”
Fabulous Forties for Future Fortune
Recently celebrating her 41st birthday, we asked Thoko to define her own secret dreams and ingredients for confidence and style.
“The secret ingredient I would wish for myself would be the inspiration and ability to express my inner world more. I am a dreamer at heart but until now, I have had to be a survivor. I dream of creating products that are easily accessible to woman who are like me……. busy, hard working women that love quality and believe that they too deserve to feel beautiful. I want to create products that allow women to express their true selves, even when the world around them makes them feel unseen or small. As an
African woman, I think we have so much to offer to the world and we desperately need to express ourselves more.”
For now, weekends are spent with her close-knit family bonding over games of tennis or swimming with her boys or taking early morning prayer runs through her neighborhoods. “Having natural hair that is healthy is easy hair. When you start using Nilotiqa you will discover that your hair starts growing again. This year will be defining for the Nilotiqa brand and it will be defining for black women everywhere.”