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Own your throne: Gugu Nonjinge and Nomahlubi Hewu talk hair and beauty


30 Mar 2023

'For us, Asana is more than just a hair salon, it means more than that to young Black girls and women'

Gugu Nonjinge and Nomahlubi Hewu were brought together by the love of their curls and a decade’s worth of trust to start Asana Beauty. 

How did Asana Beauty (a high-end natural hair-care salon in Cape Town) come about?

Nonjinge: We both have dreadlocks and used to go to all these weird places to get our hair done, and what annoyed us the most was how unprofessional the spaces were and how we couldn’t take our laptops and get work done. We decided to start our own thing to make it what we want for women with dreadlocks and natural hair. 

What are your backgrounds?

Hewu: I am a property valuer and have spent 10 years in the banking industry. 

Nonjinge: I’m in the NGO space, doing mostly social justice work. I’m not necessarily in the beauty industry; however, Hlubi and I have started businesses separately and had one together that we closed at the beginning of 2020 [a small events company].  

What have been the biggest challenges in running Asana Beauty?

Nonjinge: Mainly funding and accessing capital, in the sense that we have funded the business from our own pockets, which has been difficult. There is also a lot of red tape and things that we need to fill out.

Hewu: The staffing element is something we have struggled with since inception. It’s difficult to find highly skilled staff — right now we have two vacancies we haven’t been able to fill for over six months. 

What have been the highlights since you started?

Nonjinge: Our business has been making enough money to cover expenses since the first month. We thought that for the first six months we would still need to cover business expenses from our own pockets. The second is the growing client base at Asana — we don’t have a problem with clients and [their numbers] increase every month.

Hewu: We can employ people and help put bread and butter on their table. We also won an award in November for best SMME, so that was big.

Why do you think it’s important to have natural hair salons?

Nonjinge: For us Asana is more than just a hair salon, it means more than that to young Black girls and women. It’s a space where they feel they belong and where we embrace the natural form of a young girl and the natural form of a young woman.

How do you balance running this business and your other responsibilities?

Hewu: Early mornings and late nights. It’s a matter of just trying to have a long day, so if other people have eight-hour days, I will have 12-hour days where I have to fit in as much as possible. 

Nonjinge: It lies in knowing how to manage your time and what to prioritise. And having a business partner does help in that regard, so when Hlubi drops the ball I can pick it and vice versa. 

What are your roles in the business and how do you maintain a friendship? 

Hewu: We still try to maintain our friendship even though we are in business together. For instance, if we have a meeting, we will go to a restaurant and chat about Asana and our personal lives.

Nonjinge: does the marketing and PR, she is in charge of daily operations and staff-related issues. And I handle more of the finance, compliance, systems, and IT.

What do you want the impact of your business to be?

Hewu: We want Black women and kids to embrace themselves and be happy with how their hair looks and with the texture. But we also are trying to open up a dialogue around running businesses as Black women and what that entails.

One of the things we have planned is a chat series. We’re having our first chat in March with a speaker talking about the value of supporting Black businesses, and we’ll have a Black, female-owned hair brand that will be demonstrating its products. We are planning to have about four of these a year.

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