As the COVID pandemic pushed businesses and their owners to the edge, it also provided an opportunity for new entrepreneurs to make their debut in various markets. Suddenly, people had a lot more time on their hands to reflect, research and re-strategise, and old business plans were dusted off, finally getting to have their time in the sun. This was the case with Kundayi Zahwe, who kickstarted a beauty brand in the height of the pandemic in 2020 – a skincare label that has now gone on to become a staple on many shelves. Wanaaka Beauty believes that true hair nourishment and skin radiance should be natural, and they aim to provide organic products that have been tried and tested to be effective.
In this interview, founder, Zahwe discusses the motivation behind the Afrocentric brand, the peculiarities of building a business in the middle of a global crisis, and why skincare lovers are increasingly conscious – as they should be.
Tell us, what inspired you to start Waanaka Beauty, and what does it stand for?
About 6 years ago, I decided to cut my hair. I had not cut my hair since childhood but I wanted to do something different, so I did it at the beginning of Summer in 2015 and quite enjoyed the short and natural look. I quickly realised though that Autumn was fast approaching and as many Black women know, Winter can have a rather damaging effect on our hair, if it’s not looked after.
So, I opted for a protective style and started to explore formulating the Hair Boost Oil. I was able to grow my hair to more than a length, braid-able in just a matter of months. From there, I branched out to other products like the Skin Boost Rejuvenating Facial Oil – targeted at acne, as I suffered from it since my pre-teens and the Bettering Body Butter, which I like to call “skin food”. In essence, the name “Waanaka” (originally “Wanaka”) means “you’ve been beautified” in my native language, Shona. Waanaka stands for Afrocentric, artisanal, high-performing and natural skin and hair care for everyone.
What is your career background, and have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I come from a legal background; I did my LLB and Postgraduate LLM and went on to work in Law. Interestingly, from when I was young, I had always said I wanted to be a lawyer with a business on the side. I didn’t exactly know what business I wanted to venture into, at the time, but after having found something which is personal – more than a hobby and could potentially help others – being an entrepreneur and starting Waanaka was a no brainer.
People are increasingly conscious of what they put on their hair and bodies. Why do you think this is?
I would like to attribute it to the fact that more people are now in tune with their natural selves; people don’t just consume products with ingredients provided at face value. I think people are now more aware and exploring the different options available. This is good, in my opinion, because everyone can now find something suited to them and certainly healthier and sustainable alternatives.
From the product range, which is your favourite product and why?
Can I be biased and say everything? (Laughs) Well, it is always a tricky one to answer but I’d say the Hair Boost Oil. This is because it is the first original formulation for a product that I created in 2015 and, of course, it is high-performing.
Tell us more about the collection.
The collection consists of carefully curated products. I like to call them the essentials because they cover the bases – hair oil, hair and body cleanser, facial oil, body butter and lip balm. If you are a no-fuss girl, like me, then you have everything you need to get up and go.
What distinguishes the brand from other ‘clean’ beauty brands currently on the market?
The fact that it is personal to me. I usually like to say that my products were made for me, and I only get to share them with everyone. This is different from just looking at what your competitors are doing and copying their product line and formulas. I have used my own products on myself for years and that upholds their quality because I pay attention to every ingredient in the formulation of each product. I don’t provide my beauties with products that I would not buy.
Since starting Waanaka, what obstacles have you overcome?
The main obstacle is that Waanaka is a one-man band. (Laughs) I spearhead everything, from the basic admin and ingredient sourcing, to formulation and delivery; even marketing financing, research, product and web design, financing and so forth. So, it is quite a lot to take on a daily basis.
In what ways do you hope to see your brand grow within the next few years?
The goal is to have increased exposure, a warehouse in London and I would like to see Waanaka in stores, with an office in Africa. I hope with that will come employing more staff and creating jobs, whilst providing beauty solutions all over the world, one order at a time. A girl can dream, right?!
What does your everyday skincare routine consist of?
In the morning: Face wash using the African Black Soap Cleanser, followed by a drop of the Skin Boost Rejuvenate Facial Oil and a facial mist for hydration. I then use a facial mist (we hope to have a Waanaka Mist soon).
At night: Face wash using the African Black Soap Cleanser and then our French Montmorillonite Clay mask. I rinse it off, then use a toner (still working on that) and then I gently massage a drop of the Skin Boost Rejuvenate Facial Oil.
What’s been your proudest achievement as a businessperson, so far?
Waanaka celebrated its first-year anniversary on June 6th, the day we officially launched in 2020. I honestly didn’t think a venture I started during the first lockdown – when I was online shopping and decided to use the money as capital instead – would reach this far. But I’m absolutely thrilled we’ve reached this milestone!