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Women in Charge: Meet Founder and CEO of NativeChild, Sonto Pooe

Sonto Pooe is an innovative entrepreneur and trailblazer in the hair and beauty spaces. As the Founder and CEO of NativeChild, she is at the forefront of educating women on nurturing their curls and skin. Here, she shares insights on her sustainable beauty practices, and approach to elevating the conversation around inclusivity.

Glamour: What inspired you to enter the hair care manufacturing industry, especially considering the dominance of established brands?

Sonto: Love inspired me. I’ve always been obsessed with my hair since I was a little girl. It’s something I later found out I inherited from my grandmother and great grandmother. And then of course my own personal journey and struggles motivated me to start my own range. As someone who’s always had a sensitive digestion, allergic skin reactions, etc. Ensuring that the range was safe was of utmost importance. Also, I’ve always loved being me and fairly comfortable in my own skin, and as I got older, I realized that to some people associated a darker skin tone with all sorts of negative traits. These rather unfortunate misconceptions inspired the name NativeChild. A brand intended to provide good quality products to millions of people who need it but also evoke a feeling of pride in oneself, affirming that you are enough.

Image: Supplied

Glamour: Can you share more about your journey from facing challenges with hairdressers at a young age to becoming a leading figure in the hair care industry?

Sonto: The brand came from both a love or should I say an obsession with my hair, and a need to create something that suited my needs for natural based products that would not impact on my health. I was also driven by a strong desire to showcase another narrative of beauty. I came from the end of the perm era and the beginning of the relaxing era. If it's a hair trend, I’ve tried it! Unfortunately, the scalp burns from the relaxers and perms, and then there’s the receding hairline. I had to take control of my own crown and that's how it was born.

Why natural hair? I found I prefer my hair in its natural state; in its thicker, healthier and stronger form. I’ve never liked the texture of my relaxed hair and find it sad that there are people born with kinky coily hair and don’t know how to take care of their God given hair. That knowledge should come first so I made it my mission to lead the way. And when I tried to dig into who owns the haircare brands we consume, I realized it’s not people who look like me. Apart from Jabu stone who specialized in dreads (I couldn’t relate because I’ve have ever had dreads). There was also Herman Mashaba whose products did not cater for natural hair care.

Image: Supplied

Glamour: NativeChild is known for its natural approach to hair and body care. Could you elaborate on how your personal experiences influenced the development of your product line?

Sonto: I had to learn to be resourceful quite early because money was limited and I couldn’t go to my mom to ask her to buy this and that. After teaching myself how to do my own hair, as a teen I’d do my peers' hair for extra money. I think like most young people I experimented with a lot of things trying to find my way. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my hair since I was a child. I come from a line of builders/ construction related jobs so when the suggestion to study Quantity Surveying came up, it came naturally to me. Although I didn’t know the profession, I was familiar with the industry, and the decision made sense at the time. I soon I realized however that it wasn’t for me. I think since we are dynamic beings, we are capable of doing different things but there’s always that one thing that you can do really, really well and that sets your heart on fire. I had to make the decision to start afresh. That’s when I started my journey to creating NativeChild.

Glamour: Your products have gained popularity not only in South Africa but also internationally. What strategies did you employ to expand your market reach beyond borders?

Sonto: The initial dream was for every family in SA to have at least one NativeChild product but I soon realized how connected the world is and that people move around. Requests from all over the world started coming in, expanding our reach beyond South Africa. It’s been an exciting journey!

Glamour: In addition to product sales, you prioritize educating your customer base. How do you tailor your educational efforts to meet the diverse needs of your clientele?

Sonto: Education is at the heart of our offering. We believe that empowering our community with knowledge is just as important as providing them with high-quality hair care products. Our approach to education is multi-faceted and deeply personal because we recognize that our customers have diverse needs and backgrounds. One of our key strategies is to be present wherever our community is. From schools to shopping malls, we actively seek out opportunities to engage with our customers face-to-face. These interactions allow us to understand their unique challenges and provide tailored advice and solutions.

We also leverage digital platforms to reach a wider audience. Our social media channels are not just for marketing; they’re vibrant communities where we share tips, tutorials, and inspirational stories. We collaborate with influencers and experts who resonate with different segments of our clientele, ensuring that our educational content is relatable and impactful. Workshops and events are another crucial part of our strategy. We host and participate in events where we can demonstrate our products, offer personalized consultations, and educate attendees on how to care for their hair. These events often turn into heartfelt conversations where we listen to our customers' stories and share our own, fostering a sense of community and mutual support.

Glamour: What role do you believe representation plays in the beauty and hair care industry, especially for African women like yourself?

Sonto: Representation in the beauty and haircare industry is absolutely vital, especially for African women like myself. It's about more than just seeing faces that look like ours in ads or on product packaging—it's about validation, empowerment, and pride. Growing up, many of us didn’t see our natural hair celebrated in mainstream media. This lack of representation can deeply affect how we perceive ourselves. For too long, there was an unspoken message that our natural beauty wasn’t enough. This is why representation matters so much—it’s about rewriting that narrative and affirming that our natural hair, our features, and our heritage are beautiful and worthy of celebration.

Image: Supplied

Glamour: With the increasing demand for natural and organic products, how do you ensure the quality and sustainability of your ingredients and production processes?

Sonto: We are not just hair care and body care brands. We are a conscious brand; very much aware of the impact of cosmetics in the environment and people. We are at the forefront of brands who genuinely care about the people we serve and our planet. Our products are plant based, which means we are doing our bit to make this world a better place whilst instilling self-confidence in our customers . Almost all our packaging is recyclable - which also helps with the fight against global warming.

Glamour: As a successful entrepreneur, what advice would you give to other aspiring women looking to break into the beauty and hair care industry?

Sonto: I’ve learnt a lot since starting a formal business. I’ve always been entrepreneurial and although those lessons learnt were valuable, I still had no idea how tough it could be learning to run a formal business. The success lies not only in yourself but others as well, ensuring the vision and purpose of the brand is carried through everything we did.

Sonto’s top tips:

Follow your passion: Don't waste time doing things you don't love.

Align your business with your passion: The biggest lesson is to employ people who are capable, competent d passionate. If you can find people with the same fire as you and can align to your vision, that business will be self-sufficient and will continue to grow. We often make the mistake of employing people who need a job vs who can do a job. Big difference.

Have laser-like focus: It’s easy to be distracted by those around you who don’t share your vision. People love to give advice which may or may not be beneficial.

Make sure you love what you’re doing otherwise you will pay for it one way or another. Money should never be the motivation. It is a by-product of a service of love. I know that customers will buy love, crash your website and knock down walls of retailers to get it.

Glamour: When all is said and done. What do you want to be known for?

Sonto: A great servant of the people. This work requires me to be up by 4am and I only sleep after 10pm. So I put in long hours and there’s no off days . You can’t do it if you’re not in the business of serving. I want to be known as an entrepreneur who not only wanted to grow an industry but actually made a difference in the lives of those NativeChild touched. I am a game-changer. To this day a large portion of our work is to educate. We were the first Black haircare & bodycare brand to sell online/have an e-commerce website. We have a lot of education and are still doing it. We’re also doing a lot to create awareness around the dangers of chemicals and changing the beauty narrative.

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