The Founder Of This Black Hair Care Startup Says More Brands Need To Respect Their Customers

Updated on 8 November 2017

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The Founder Of This Black Hair Care Startup Says More Brands Need To Respect Their Customers

Mummy Mthembu-Fawkes is the founder of the natural hair care brand, Earthy, which produces a range of hair oils and butters as well as hair accessories. Her customers are largely young, female, middle-class and black.

Marketing successfully to this market begins with respecting your customer, says Mthembu-Fawkes, who is the company CEO. This is how she has managed to nurture a loyal following for her brand, she says.

“A deep sense of respect for the customer and the importance of connecting in a meaningful way with my market runs deep for the brand.”

Mthembu-Fawkes says they are vigilant with the messaging they communicate to their clients through their marketing campaigns. Recently we have seen major brands making mistakes targeting the same young, black female market. This includes skincare giants Dove and Nivea, who have received backlash for their “racially insensitive” campaigns.

“I want women to be able to rely on me and my brand. I know how intense and deep the relationship [between] women and their hair is because of my own frustrations,” Mthembu-Fawkes says.

A Two Way Street
To enable her customers to “talk back”, Mthembu-Fawkes says she meets with them at various markets where they sell their products. They also host monthly pop-up stores where her customers have the opportunity to consult her about their hair issues. The product is also available through independent distributors, or ‘Earthy-preneurs‘  who sell the products directly to customers.

Mthembu-Fawkes says clients also have access to her cell phone number and are free to contact her to share and talk about all things hair. Earthy also has a YouTube channel, where she gives tutorials and offers advice.

“It has worked amazingly for me. These have been such great platforms 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 other people. Especially as a small business, you need to have exposure,” she says.

Mthembu-Fawkes talks about how she was able to build a loyal market and how she handles negative feedback. 

Representivity Is Important
The first thing that I’ve been doing is, I’ve been respecting the black market. Respecting who we are and where we come from and actually acknowledging the black market for what it is and not what I want it to be as a brand.

For example, on our page, we don’t have models at all. Everyone that you see on our social media is an actual customer that has used Earthy, and the reason for that is we want to appeal to the real customer, we want the customer to see themselves for real. Not somebody that looks like me, but I want to actually see myself.

We Don’t Follow Trends, We Follow Our Customers Instead
That’s the error that I’ve seen with a lot of the upcoming brands where it’s all about what’s in and what’s happening right now and not actually touching the core of what the customer is about. We are a company that’s looking for longevity. So our thing is to grow with our customer.

That’s why we are constantly engaging with them, communicating with them. We even call our customers just to find out – ‘so, what’s happening with your hair? Are you okay? Is everything alright?’ or on their Instagram pages, we literally go to our customers and we go ‘hey we see now you’ve dyed your hair — good idea! or ‘hi Thembi, are you sure that this is the right decision to make with your hair?’

We are a personable brand, we don’t want to feel distant to our customers and we don’t want our customers to see us as this thing that is above them. We try to be at their level where they can feel like they can communicate with us freely without feeling like we’re this big massive company that nobody can approach.

Being A Black Startup Can Be Difficult
You would think that because I’m a black-owned business and I’m targeting a black person that it would be easy. But it isn’t. I think in South Africa the mindset has always been on bigger brands. Brands that have marketing campaigns that are flamboyant and all of that.

On the one hand, we’ve got the support in that everybody is happy to see a black business thrive and grow but at the same time, there’s also that ‘prove yourself’ element that comes with it. If it’s from America, then it’s – ‘okay, I’m happy to try it’, but if it’s 100% South African, black-owned – ‘I don’t know. I need to prove the concept’. If it’s not backed by any other big massive company, [they’ll say] ‘I need to see this concept proved first’.

Negative Feedback Is Welcome
It’s important to have negative feedback. I always say this to my team – If you’re not ready to be talked about negatively, and if you’re not ready for people to scrutinise you, then you’re not ready for success and you’re not ready for business. The best teacher when it comes to business is negative feedback because that will always make you better.

I love negative feedback because it makes me better and at the same time it makes me challenge myself. If I’m set on an idea and I’m convinced that that is the right thing to do, it also gives me conviction – I’m able to say ‘no, I think my idea is best, I actually disagree with the statement that’s been made’,  but it has given me an opportunity to actually challenge and defend what I believe. So, it’s a positive on both sides, at the end of the day negative feedback only makes me grow.

Also because I’m a black brand a lot of people feel like they are part of the brand. So, sometimes it’s not really negative feedback, it’s more of ‘we don’t want you to fail, that is why we’re telling you’.

Talk To Your Audience Where They Are

I think social media has made life slightly easier, however, it has its moments of being tricky but not too much. The biggest thing is our customers are not always on social media. I think it’s very important to understand that, in South Africa, in particular, not everyone is techno-savvy.

We live in an era that is very tech-focused but that does not necessarily mean the buying market is techno-savvy. So I try to be very careful to not let all my strategies be surrounded by social media. So the tricky part is finding a balance between traditional marketing and social media and not leaving the layman out of Earthy.

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