We can all agree that life’s greatest paradox is in knowing that change is constant. The human experience is evolving by nature. If we aren’t malleable enough to adjust to its regular modifications, we risk either getting left behind or cracking under the pressure of it all. When Phindi Mtyingizane, founder of O’Natural Wigs, was confronted with having to pick between her career in architecture and pursuing her passion for making afro wigs, she welcomed the paradigm shift with enthusiasm.
“O’Natural was never supposed to be a business. It really was just something I made, and did, for myself that people ended up responding to positively,” Phindi admits. Born and raised in Umtata, Phindi would regularly give her mother headaches from drawing on the walls or rearranging her bedroom. As she began refining her creative abilities through more appropriate mediums, her mother saw a great potential in Phindi and encouraged her to study architecture at Durban University of Technology. “But I hated it,” the youngest of four admits, “I hated my years in tertiary. I hated working as an architect – I really struggled with it.” This is when the self-made woman returned to feeding her creativity through other avenues.
“I’ve always wanted something I made with my hands to be what I make money from and I didn’t stop until I succeeded,” Phindi shares. Despite the mishaps of her early business ventures, which included decorative ornaments, custom stationery and jewellery, the tenacious businesswoman never lost hope. It was in October 2014, after growing increasingly frustrated from two years of stagnant hair growth, that Phindi decided to do something about it. Knowing she was good with her hands, Phindi began designing wigs. “I’m the type of person who is willing to try something before ruling it out. If it works, then great, if not, that’s okay too,” the hair merchandiser shares.
While a great many wig makers in the market were producing pieces made from Peruvian, Malaysian and Indian Remy hair, Phindi was proud of the boldness afros afford. Celebrating her hair inheritance, she drew inspiration from local bloggers and influencers to fashion her first piece and has never looked back. “When I posted my hair on social media, people really loved it,” the former architect begins, “I kept getting asked where I got the wig from but I didn’t want to tell them it was me who made it. I thought they might be skeptical because what business do I have making wigs? So I set up the O’Natural Wigs Facebook page and told them to order through it.”
Within a week Phindi’s brainchild was turning a profit. While she was able to juggle her nine-to-five initially, when O’Natural grew in popularity, it became clear that it wouldn’t be possible for her to split her time. To add to that pressure, Phindi was expecting her second child.
“What started happening at work is I was getting assigned ridiculous projects for a pregnant woman – They were sending me to construction sites and compromising my health and safety,” the working mother shares. When Phindi was seven months pregnant, she was fired from the architecture firm she had worked at for 10 years. “It didn’t upset me because O’Natural was doing so well,” the wig maker says, “A week after my employment was terminated, I was given the opportunity to make a wig for uMam’ Winnie (Mandela).”
O’Natural’s clientele reads like the guest list to an A-list party. Other than designing the iconic piece the Mother of our Nation wore at her 80th birthday celebration, Phindi has made wigs for Pabi Moloi, Minnie Dlamini, radio personality Ntombee Ngcobo Mzolo, and electro-dance musician Mpumi – to name a few. “How uMam’ Winnie’s wig came about, was when Zoleka (Mandela) called asking about [getting] one for her grandmother, and she gave it to uMama as a gift,” Phindi reminisces. Zoleka herself often orders custom made wigs which Phindi is happy to do. “I’ll always tell a client, ‘let me try make it first, send you pictures and then you can pay,’ because it’s important that they are happy with what I’ve made for them. Hair makes up so much of someone’s personal style,” she says. The wig maker has even named popular wigs after the clients who came up with the initial design.
When she’s not crocheting the perfect piece for a customer, Phindi is showcasing her unique products at pop ups across the country and, at times, a little further afield. The Joburg-based entrepreneur has been from Cape Town to Durban, and Polokwane to Gaborone, meeting afro-loving folks. “I enjoy doing pop ups because people are so curious about the product. They want to see and feel it,” Phindi says. With seven standard styles that come in three separate colours, O’Natural has a varied offering to choose from.
The natural hair movement has gained traction in the last couple of years. There has been a kind of mass exodus from hair salons insisting on chemically straightening or flat-ironing African hair to fit Western beauty ideals. This is where Phindi’s wooly wefts come in; the entrepreneur enjoys introducing new clients to her unique product as much as she is excited by returning customers. “Some clients come in wearing their Peruvian pieces and leave with it in their bag and my hair on,” Phindi laughs.
No day is ever the same; the wig designer has appeared in True Love Magazine, been interviewed for a spread in Destiny Magazine, spoken on Metro FM, and even participated as a contestant on SABC 1’s Making Moves – a show that profiles young entrepreneurs in South Africa. Juggling her expanding brand with being a devoted wife and mother is something Phindi navigates on a regular basis. “Sometimes I wake up at 3am to make wigs, then I’ll do some house work, just to get back to the wigs before sleeping at 9pm. I don’t mind it because now I’m at a place where I’m happiest with my situation. My profession is flexible,” the wig maker says.
Phindi’s happy accident was growing by leaps and bounds before she had a chance to form a structured foundation. With no commerce experience herself, the hair care extraordinaire relied on her supportive husband to advise her in the early stages. “He was teaching me how to talk to clients and how to respond to some of the requests they were making,” the businesswoman shares. Phindi came to understand that the opportunities she declined were as important as the opportunities she accepted. O’Natural’s founder is a quick study. In no time, she had taken full reign of the brand. Through exercising a great deal of patience with herself and her business model, Phindi let trial and error teach her. “I’ve made so many mistakes… I’ve grown and learned a lot personally too, which I am so grateful for” the self-starter recalls. Phindi admits that she shed a few tears in the early stages.“You have to grow a tough skin,” she begins, “but I know how to handle it now.”
“It sounds cliche, but you will fail and you will be disappointed, but your passion, patience and dedication will take you through,” Phindi reassures. “The end goal must be your main focus. Keep going. Don’t be discouraged,” she insists as a reminder that the human spirit is enduring. As long as there is willingness in our heart, we will overcome all the crises and catastrophes that try unsettle us.