In 2008 Relebohile Moeng was in a near-fatal car accident which left her with 150 stitches on her face.
After trying almost every cosmetic product on the market, Moeng says she couldn’t find an affordable product to help heal her scars.
She did, however, make an amazing discovery – argan oil.
“It took lots of different products and even a doctor telling me that plastic surgery was the only option, until I found something that worked, cold-pressed argan oil.”
This discovery inspired Moeng and her husband, Fabian, to launch their cosmetics business, Afri-Berry with just R10,000. Founded in 2011, Afri-Berry is a 100% black owned manufacturer of naturally-based skin and hair care products. The company is based in the City of Tswane.
Little fish in a big pond
Moeng says she has always been entrepreneurial. “Growing up I made kids in my community pay to watch VHS movies at my grandmother’s house.”
Despite this, when she made the leap into business, she did so with little to no knowledge of the beauty industry, but says they knew it held some opportunities.
“[Because of] the growth of the middle class and increased spending power across many socioeconomic groups in our country, we had a strong conviction that not only should organic products be available in speciality stores or organic markets but in our regular retail stores where we do our day to day shopping.”
Afri-Berry’s products are available at some of the country’s biggest retailers, including Pick n Pay and Edgars stores nationwide and in Namibia. They are also available online on Zando.com.
An early obstacle as a new player in the beauty sector was nailing their retail strategy, says Moeng.
“Developing the Afri-Berry business idea in a way that was attractive to retail was our first major challenge and because the beauty industry has such high barriers to entry, our second major challenge was gaining market share amidst international cosmetic brands.”
Internally, attracting skills to their burgeoning team also proved a challenge.
“When you start a business, a person must keep overheads down, so we built 80% of our team around intern graduates fresh from school, with no work experience.
“We underestimated the value of hiring experienced employees. This was the most trying time for the business because you may have great employees, but they are not a team, they will yield nothing but stagnation.”
Knocking on the right doors
Moeng has been fortunate to have the backing of government institutions early on. Moeng told the news platform Sowetan Live that they did everything to get the attention of the Dti including handing out samples to Dti staff, even the security guards. They got in touch with her within two months, she says.
“The government is willing to help; they are looking for people with ideas that are working. It’s just a matter of knocking on their door, there is help there. They can even help with the testing of products. It’s just about going out there and seeking the necessary help and advice,” says Moeng.
Afri-Berry’s other partners include the science institution, Agricultural Research Council (ARC), which has signed an agreement with Afri-Berry to carry out biological evaluation studies on Traction Alopecia – a medical condition related to baldness and hair loss.
‘Solve a problem’
Today having been in business for nearly 10 years, Moeng’s advice to entrepreneurs starting out is simple. “Build a business around a problem that you know needs to be solved and that you are passionate about fixing or making better.”
She adds: “There will be many long nights and stressful situations ahead but having the passion to fix the problem will get you through every time.”