Nomvuyo Treffers is the founder of Swimma, a Cape Town, South Africa based company that produces swim caps and shower caps that fit all kinds of big Black hair from fros and locs, to braids and weaves.
We caught up with Nomvuy to find out more about how she is running a business that operates on multiple continents.
What inspired you to start your business?
Swimma came from a personal frustration of not being able to find a swim cap that fits my locs and my daughters’ big afros. My daughters love swimming and I found myself making excuses for not getting into the pool with them as I didn’t have a cap that fits.
When you have hair like mine, a cap is not only used for keeping one’s hair out of their face but also to avoid my hair getting soaked. It takes hours to dry my thick locs. This is the reason it was important to have the caps made from silicone, a waterproof material.
My daughters were the motivation I needed as I did not want to miss out on the opportunities of splashing around with them. Moreover, as a mother and a proud Black woman, I also knew that many like us need swim caps that fit. It was important to cater to the previously ignored market.
My business is not just about swim caps. I am passionate about catering for everyone which is why we have many different sizes to choose from. It is vital that we do not let our children grow up feeling that their hair is a problem because a swim cap is too small. I want them to wear their hair with pride and not worry about not fitting in.
You’re based in SA and have distribution in Atlanta. What prompted this decision and how has it affected the business?
The decision was motivated by the love and support we were receiving from the USA and other parts of the world. Shipping from South Africa was challenging and often took longer than expected. Potential customers who read about us would need a swim cap for their upcoming vacation, but delivery times were too erratic to be able to commit to getting it to them on time.
We wanted our customers to receive the caps as soon as possible. By moving the distribution to Atlanta, we moved from delivery taking a couple of weeks, to a couple of days. We have since added distribution points via stockists in Canada, France, UK, Trinidad & Tobago, Nigeria, Kenya, Namibia, etc – largely for the same reasons.
What challenges do you face as a Black-owned brand in South Africa?
In South Africa, the economy is still to a large extent centered around European concepts. There is a lack of understanding to deal with – because businesses have traditionally focused on products from a western perspective they often simply dismiss “problems” as a figment of our imagination. In a country where 90% of the population is Black, the issue of hair not fitting into a swimming cap was simply never thought about.
Convincing people of the viability of something, therefore, is not easy. This relates to finance and finding distribution outlets. I have had to start from scratch with a product that didn’t exist really and was only armed with my instincts.
Then there are the general challenges of any new business – distributing around the world, the hard work without the ability to hire staff in the beginning, etc. I have had offers of “help” but have stayed true to what I stand for which is a Black-owned business that is more than just a business, but a mission in life.
Where do you see the business in the next 5 years?
Swimma intends to launch other products that will fill a similar void. We have since added shower caps and swimming goggles. Our shower caps also come in different sizes.
The goggles have a longer strap so that they actually fit over big hair. Further growing our presence worldwide in terms of distributorship but always with the initial values in mind.
This mission is not limited to swimming or showering – while Swimma is a business, we aim to find solutions for those who have been ignored until now both from a commercial point of view and because it simply is the right thing to do.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Identify the gaps, do your research to a point, but take risks as that’s part of being an entrepreneur. Work hard – and learn to live on bread and water for a while. Be creative and think out of the box – there are many ways to overcome challenges and obstacles.
But most importantly, be ethical in everything you do. Not only will you feel good, it builds a relationship with your customer that no amount of marketing can equal.
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