The old adage about necessity being the mother of invention certainly rings true for Sophia Aloo Kidha, who, because of the dearth of natural haircare products aimed at black men and women, set about creating her own.
“There is not enough or they are not readily accessible,” she says of her reasons for starting her brand, Naiobi’s Olive, adding: “In mainstream stores, there are really small sections for black hair, and, even then, they don’t really cater for natural hair needs.”
Ms Aloo Kidha says: “So, I started primarily for myself. You know, checking out a hell of a lot of YouTube videos looking for ways to better look after my natural hair. I then started making one or two products, just for myself, and a friend suggested I go into business.”
Four years later, the brand has grown so popular that, in addition to selling her range every Sunday at Tamboerskloof’s Erf 81 Food Market, she also has a recently-opened shop at the Obs Lifestyle Market and participates in the monthly markets, such as the one at Woodsotck’s Greatmore Studios.
“Sometimes it feels as though the demand is just too overwhelming,” she laughs.
Made up of body butters, moisturising milk, clay washes and masks, blended oils, bath salts, using only natural ingredients, the range, she laughs, “expands, literally, as the ideas pop into my head”.
As to the choice behind the name, Ms Aloo Kidha, who hails from Kenya and came to South Africa in 2001 to study history, politics and law at Rhodes University, says: “Naiobi – as in Nairobi without the ‘r’ – was the name I wanted to give my daughter, but I was blessed with a boy, so I decided to give the name to my business instead. And Olive is my middle name so, because I use a lot of olive oil in the products, I thought it would make for a good name.”
Producing all the products from her kitchen in her Kenilworth home, Ms Aloo Kidha laughs as she says: “Sometimes the kitchen looks like a complete warzone.”
Running her own business comes with challenges that are larger than having to deal with a warzone of a kitchen.
Says Ms Aloo Kidha: “Having enough capital is a big challenge. Just in terms of making sure you have enough to do everything you need to do. It can also be really difficult breaking into a market where people only trust bigger brands. Also, being responsible for every aspect of the business: from sourcing the raw materials and making the products, to packaging and social media.
“All of that and,” she laughs, “trying to be a mom.
“So, yes, the biggest challenge is that it is time-consuming. It can be very exhausting waking up at 4am to start making soaps and then spending an entire day at market. But, really, it is so, so rewarding because this venture is mine. I answer only to me and my family, because this is supporting us. So, I work very hard at this because I know that, through it, I am helping others but also contributing to my legacy.”