Dynamite comes in small packages … yes? Just look at entrepreneur Sonto Pooe. From designing and making clothes for her dolls and friends as a child, plaiting hair for a side hustle as a teen, a stint as a quantity surveyor job to becoming the founder of one of the leading natural hair and body care brands in the country, she’s dynamite personified.
Raised by a single mother (a teacher by profession) and being the eldest of three with limited money in the home, Sonto Pooe learnt to be resourceful quite early. She chats about her journey to becoming the founder of NativeChild, which has been awarded the coveted Pick n Pay Small Supplier award last year.
She has always been an entrepreneur at heart
‘A self-taught seamstress and fashion designer, I loved to make clothes for my dolls and myself. Next thing my neighbourhood friends were asking me to make clothes for them as well. So, I sewed very basic skirts, shorts, tops and dresses, and started to sell them. Some of my mom’s colleagues also bought my clothes for their kids. A huge shout-out to my two younger sisters for being such patient guinea pigs! By the time I was 15, I was also plaiting the hair of my family members and people in the area. I just thought of it as a side hustle, something I loved doing and which helped me make extra money. I knew I wouldn’t do that for the rest of my life, but in hindsight, it taught me the principle of earning your own income, helping out at home and of course venturing into the unknown and learning that you will be okay.’
She left her job in the engineering field to follow her hair dream
‘I always say my journey has been one of progress and building brick upon brick. I often used to wonder why I was so confused about what career I should follow and why on earth I went into the engineering field. Although … I do come from a family of builders and construction-related jobs. But, once I was there, I realised this was not my life’s work. I think since we are dynamic beings we can all do many things, but there’s always that one thing that you can do really, really well and that sets your heart on fire. I had to make the decision to start afresh and abandon what I felt would not be fulfilling long-term. But, I believe everything you do is a lesson, a building block to the ultimate vision, and no knowledge is ever wasted.’
She’s been obsessed with her hair since a little girl
‘This is something I found out I inherited from my grandmother and great grandmother. So, my hair journey began at the age of eight when I attempted to braid my own hair after a gruelling experience with a hairdresser, who plaited my hair too tight, causing me to be unable to sleep for days. I was mocked at school for my first attempt, but I continued plaiting because I didn’t want anyone touching my hair. Over the years, my hairdressing skills improved but I struggled to find products that strictly catered for African natural hair. Most of the products I found contained chemicals, and this frustrated me. So, I decided to develop and manufacture my own products locally. I wanted to see more people like me wearing their crowns proudly, and see fewer people of colour using and absorbing chemicals through their hair and body care products.’
NativeChild quite literally was born in Sonto’s kitchen
‘I went on to study cosmetic science, and from there on I got to know which companies and businesses – many with whom I have built relationships – to contact to source whatever I needed. But I also love cooking, and this is actually very similar. You literally cook products in your kitchen. That’s where NativeChild started … with just three people – my husband, our son and me – and just one product, the NativeChild castor oil which helps with hair growth. Six years later, I’m fortunate to say that the business has grown to include a wide range of affordable hair and body products for all races, accessories and even a kids range. We strongly believe that Mother Nature is far superior to man-made alternatives. We use plant-based, natural, safe, sustainable ingredients of the finest grade in our products, and where possible we make use of food-grade oils. Our products do not contain any harsh chemicals, sulphates, paraben or petroleum, and are animal-cruelty free.’
The meaning behind the name NativeChild
I am African, so coming up with a name that evoked a feeling of pride in ones roots was important to me. Being born African or of African descent is not always easy and often we are seen as second best, so I wanted to create something that we can be proud of and call our own.
Sonto’s four tips to entrepreneurial success:
1. Being an entrepreneur is harder than working for a boss. So be ready to work. The amount of hours will have to put in, will far exceed your expectations. You’re the first to wake up and the last to go to bed. Especially whilst your business is in the growth phase.
2. Surround yourself with supportive people. Not everyone may see your vision but emotional support is very important and will get you through tough days. Everything is energy. The more positive energy you receive, the better for you.
3. It’s nearly impossible to stand out in business if you use a copy and paste approach. Innovate. Find a solution to a problem, make people’s life’s easier or make people happier. Then you have a winning solution.
4. Avoid debt where possible. It is ok to start small and grow organically. I started by selling just one product, hairgrowth castor oil and grew from there. Don’t run faster than you have strength.
10 Things you did not know about Sonto:
- Best kept beauty secret? You are what you eat … physically & emotionally. So I try to eat well and have a positive outlook on life. It’s not always possible to choose joy in every situation but you can at least choose not to be consumed by negative experiences.
- People not know? I’m deeply spiritual and rooted in Christ and so even when things seem overwhelming … I always know, all things work together for good and that a higher power is handling it.
- Favourite food to make for your family? Butternut soup, Jeqe (steamed bread ) with curry or samp and beans.
- Any other hidden talents? I can build amazing homes. I absolutely love beautiful homes and I could do that as a second career if I had the time.
- If you can have one superpower, what would it be and why? Make this world a safer and happier place for women and children. I would break down the false teachings of a patriarchal society that aims to value women lower than men.
- Ultimate guilty pleasure? A gluten-free chocolate brownie and a packet of lemon salted chips … hmmm heaven on earth.
- With what do you spoil yourself with? I’m a foodie so food is my immediate reward system. I spoil myself with wheat-free pasta loco from Doppio Zero, a vegan pizza from Casalinga and then if time allows a family getaway.
- Can’t say no to? A trip to any tropical island.
- Three books that changed your life? Holy Scriptures – Holy prophets; Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill and The Secret – Rhonda Byrne
- The most daring thing you still want to do? Skydive on my own. I’ve only done a tandem skydive.