I was at a party in the East of Johannesburg some time ago where the place was filled with interesting young people. But only one person left a lasting impression on me, even though I hardly said a word to her the whole night, because of her gorgeous hair.
I later found out that her name was Karabo and her healthy fro, that stood out in a room full of expensive Brazilian weaves and braids, was the result of a range of hair care products called Nalane ea Afrika that she had developed with her sister’s help.
At 21, she is balancing life as an Environmental Science student at Witwatersrand University while also playing her role as CEO and co-founder of hair-care range, Nalane ae Afrika.
The name means African heritage and she says the range was specifically developed for African hair.
The idea came when her sister wanted to find out what her natural hair would look like if she stopped processing it with products like hair relaxers.
“But [she] couldn’t find any products to use on her hair that helped to make it more manageable. It was coarse and didn’t look too appealing, so she started doing research on what oils to use and started mixing her own products.”
“A year later her hair looked really good and so I followed and chopped my processed/ relaxed hair and let it grow naturally. I also started mixing products for myself. Seeing as we both had a chemical engineering background (I did chemistry up to first year level), we decided to make a range for all Africans, using African indigenous oils.”
Although some African women have always kept their hair natural (our streets are filled with women who have short hair, dreadlocks, braids, afros and other hairstyles that do not need to be processed chemically), these hairstyles have rarely been seen in the mainstream media where one is likely to see black women with weaves dominating.
But that image is slowly changing.
Nowadays ,it is not as hard as it used to be to find black women rocking their hair natural in the magazines, online and on TV. Celebrities like Solange Knowles, Zoe Kravitz, Willow Smith as well as local stars like Pearl Thusi, Nzinga Qunta, Kaone Kario and Claire Mawisa are just some examples of people who are doing it.
But as Karabo and her sister found it difficult to find the right hair care products on the supermarket shelves.
This is one of the issues that groups like the Feminist Stokvel look into – where they are encouraging women to share their natural hair care routines with each other online or at events that are they organize every few weeks in Johannesburg.
Nalane ea Afrika, which uses African oils in their products, has a range that includes a leave-in conditioner, which helps to soften the hair follicle; oil, for aiding with hair follicle stimulation; a moisturiser and a mask treatment.
“Our product range is based on the LOC method (leave-in conditioner, oil and cream) that aims to soften kinky coils.”
Karabo and her sister are responsible for mixing and packaging all the products. All of this happens in her sister’s garage.
“What we want to do is change the misconception that we had when growing up that having our natural hair is untidy and not beautiful. Also, we want to help all the little kids with African hair out there that are being harshly burned by relaxers because their mothers are struggling to maintain their natural hair and have had to resort to processing. We want to also empower other Africans by only using natural resources farmed and pressed here in Africa.”
Words by Reba Shai
Photos by Lwazi Mazibuko