DURBAN – OVER a decade ago, Relebohile Moeng was retrenched. At that time, her two sons, now aged 15 and 13, were still toddlers. It was a dark time in her life.
Moeng, now 40, who grew up in Benoni, Crystal Park in the East Rand of Gauteng, had also been involved in an accident that left her with more than 150 stitches in her face. It was while she was looking for a more affordable solution to heal her scars that she discovered that cold-pressed argan oil yielded the results.
While retrenched from work, she and her husband, Fabian Moeng, started researching organic skin and hair products.
In 2011, the couple launched a company, Afri-Berry, what is now a multi-award winning manufacturer of high-end 100% vegan skin and hair solutions.
And so her successful business journey began, from darkest despair to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
At the time of writing this, Afri-Berry was busy processing a re-order from one of South Africa’s biggest pharmacy, health and beauty products retailers, Clicks.
Moeng said their listing at Clicks late last year was record-breaking because it was completed in just about 30 days. She says that listing in the other retailers had generally taken them about four months.
“Last year we had a very good opportunity. It was a case of opportunity meets preparation where we were able to list in Clicks stores in October/November. Our products are in 120 Clicks stores in South Africa, Namibia, eSwatini and Botswana. These are various products like coated argan oil, virgin coconut oil, shea butter, black soap, shampoo and conditioner and Jamaican castor oil,” says Moeng, who is Afri-Berry’s founder and director.
Initially, the company wanted its products to be in accessible retail stores. However, Moeng says that on realising that in reality, consumers went to Clicks and Dis-Chem for cosmetics, they became hungry to list at Clicks.
“I remember in 2017 I even attended an exhibition where I would meet Mrs (Nonkululeko) Gobodo , who sat in the board of Clicks at the time, just to slip my story in to see if it would do anything without us speaking to the buyers. We long had the hunger.”
Apparently, Moeng’s still small business was able to see growth in the midst of a lockdown that continues to devastate many businesses and the global economy.
The luxury products manufacturer’s products can now be found in the shelves of the country’s major retailers like Clicks, Pick n Pay, Checkers Hyper, Edgars Stores, Faithful to Nature, Zando, Cosmetic Connection and other independent retailers.
Last year, an advert from a campaign by TRESemmé appeared on Clicks’ website bearing pictures of black hair labelled as “Dry and Damaged” and “Frizzy and Dull”, while white people’s hair was called “Fine and Flat” and “Normal”.
Both Clicks and TRESemmé later issued apologies for the advert and took it down. This campaign sparked public outrage and saw black women sharing on social media how proud they were of their natural hair.
Afri-Berry said that this incident made it easier for them to list, since their first attempt four years ago. Moeng said that at the time, Clicks did not understand the whole notion of organic products because they did not have many.
“We kept on telling the buyers that organic products worked best for African hair and were absorbed easier into the skin because they are not chemicals, and the skin is very receptive of natural ingredients. But they just did not buy into the whole thing because they did not have such a thing.”
Moeng said that with the outlet being asked to list products that were suitable for black people's hair, Afri-berry was able to jump on the bandwagon by approaching Clicks to pick up where they had left off.
“Every year we would have this conversation, and they would tell us that they wanted products that were mixed and had a smell, since natural products tended not to have a smell. This is what retains their efficacy.”
According to Moeng, this incident and their readiness set them up as one of the first black suppliers that were on-boarded in this Clicks programme.
Moeng says the company’s challenges included the fact that they were self-funded and always need growth and working capital.
“However, by God's grace, we saw growth last year during lockdown because we were already in retail shops that traded.”
The company now employs 45 people and has to date given over 50 paid internships to unemployed graduates.
Moeng says the next step its to expand into overseas markets.