Laetitia Piers from Cape Town sells hair and skin products that are formulated for Africans by Africans. Piers brought Shea By Design into existence after she joined the natural hair movement back in 2017. She realised that finding products that are 100% organic and ethically sourced but still affordable can be one of the most challenging tasks for any natural hair and skin enthusiast.
She talks to us about her brand.
Tell us about your journey with natural hair. When did it start, when did your passion for it begin and how did you get to Shea By Design?
I started a natural hair page when I started my natural hair journey to educate fellow naturals on what it really takes to have a healthy head of hair. During this time, I realized that hair porosity is the most important aspect of natural hair, amongst other things – but this one stood out for so many other bloggers, the natural hair community, and myself. As a blogger, I attended a lot of natural hair events and markets catered to naturals, one stood out for me though. I ended up seeing the excessive prices for Shea Butter and I was very disappointed in the brands because most naturals that need these products clearly cannot purchase it at the price it was being sold at. This prompted me to start my business, along with my knowledge of natural hair and my profession as a researcher. My business started in April 2018; I was a full-time MSc student at the University of the Western Cape in the Biodiversity and Conservation Biology department. I had some NRF funds left after my fees and registration fees were paid, I bought 5kg of Shea Butter, 1 liter of each kind of oil and made my very first batch of butter. I always reminisce like this, now I am buying 50kg of Shea Butter and up to 30 liters of oils to make my butter (so blessed). My main goal was to create hair butter using Shea Butter mixed with other oils, the brand evolved from there as customers requested more.
I sat and thought about the reason for the brand – it is literally me designing products for my customer’s hair porosity. ‘Shea’ comes from Shea Butter and ‘Design’ comes from me designing the Shea Butter for YOU.
How have you managed to balance work, school, and your business?
This is a question I get all the time, I am blessed to be mentoring a few small business owners because of the same question, and honestly, it just comes with time. You will learn as you go along. I make time at night, yes you will have a few sleepless nights and baggy eyes for research, website updates, posting on social media (you prep your text and picture for upload in the morning) and other business-related things. During the day you working, although sometimes as per usual work spills over to overtime and here you will have prioritize your work. I was never actively going to university when I started working, so often I would just get my comments from my supervisor and prioritize that over my business, as my education is essential. There is enough time in a day you just need to make time for each of the things you need to do, therefore time management, and discipline are the two most important things when balancing everything.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
Just know why you are doing it. Often you get demotivated and feel there is no need to continue because of people putting doubt in your head, low sales, or your first bad review. Hang in there, be resilient, take a day off, close shop, go back and look at old posts, amazing customer reviews, videos, and Instagram story reviews. I promise it works, I have had many days like those but then I get an email, comment or WhatsApp and I realize once again the purpose.
What have you found most rewarding about your business?
I am naturally an introvert, but as of late, that woman has been taking a back seat a lot because I realized that it is not all that bad to introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. Rejection is okay. I realized that business is business, and sometimes and not everyone wants to be your friend.
What challenges have you faced and are currently facing as the owner of a small business?
The previous answer alludes to these challenges. My products are quality products not in the sense that they are the best on the market but simply because I take the utmost care and pride in making them yet they are still cheap. I make a minimal profit but I do not mind because I did not start the business for the money. Nonetheless, I often get people contacting me to sell my products when I tell them how much I can offer them they prompt me for more because I am not offering enough. I learned right away to not compromise the quality of my products for quantity and growth.
Where do you see yourself and your brand in the next 5 years?
I see myself still handmaking my products part-time, or training up someone to do it full time. Add more reps to the team to sell in other neighboring countries and provinces as I have been requested. Establish a reliable and affordable courier for international sales. Selling in small stores that sell organic products, Clicks or Dischem. Taking on Amazon and other commercial platforms to sell my products.
Image Credits: Zinylia Constable Photography
You can purchase her products on https://sheabydesign.ecwid.com/
*Responses may have been edited for length and clarity