| Tokelo Motsepe
A. It was a bit of an accident really, I didn’t actually set out to start a business and certainly not in skincare. I struggled a lot with my skin, getting hormonal breakouts and I tried so many brands and products, but nothing was working. This was around the time facial oils and cleansing balms became quite popular and weren’t as easily found here in South Africa, so I decided to try and make my own.
My mom used to make homemade skincare products, like soaps, body balms, etc. in the kitchen at home and that’s how I learnt how to make the products. I had a friend in advertising at the time, who was a designer, who was looking to expand her portfolio of clients [she only had corporates as clients at the time] and start her own thing; so she offered to do my branding to add to her portfolio and I took the opportunity. Our online store was up within a month [back in 2013] and it all rolled on from there.
A. The first has to be our focus on Marula oil, which is an oil you can only find in Southern Africa, its quite a rare oil and its really great for skin. It’s very high in vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin A, so it’s very repairing, very hydrating and very moisturizing. Also, with our products being all natural, every product we choose for our range has a benefit for the skin, we don’t use any kind of fillers or preservatives; its all naturally derived ingredients and actives.
All of our products are made by hand and in small batches, so we really focus on quality and every single product that we put out there, we have so much confidence in that product and its level of quality.
Q. What would you say has been your greatest achievement since launching the brand?
A. The best thing has to be getting feedback from happy customers. Those who come to us with a specific skin problem, start using our products and then visibly see and feel the results. And when they reach out to say thank you or share about what a great product we offered them; that’s definitely a high, because that is why we started.
Having beautiful skin gives you that added confidence. I know what it feels like when you’re walking around with a couple of pimples on your face, it can really take it’s toll on you self esteem; so to be able to give people their confidence back is high for me.
Also seeing our products on shelves and seeing the same customers making repeat purchases, that really tells us we’re doing something good.
Q. What was most challenging in starting up the brand? And how did you overcome that?
A. Probably finding the right suppliers, from ingredients to packaging, that can offer small quantities [cause we were still a small brand], that was quite challenging at first. And now the biggest challenges really are managing the cash flow, cause we have so many ideas and so many things we want to do, but we have to manage what will be of most value to our customers and not eat away at our cash flow, which is a constant as we grow. Especially cause we are completely self funded, having had no outside investment, or loans and such.
Q. Which African brand(s) would you want to collaborate with in future?
A. There are some really amazing brands out there, and we have already partnered up with a few, through give-aways and such; but I really love Lalesso, Waif and Jane Sews and feel we could have a good crossover with some of who our audience is, and even something in the food space that shares the view of feeding ones skin with the best ingredients and nourishing it from the outside in, so a brand like Simply Granola [who we partnered up with in a recent pop up] would be great.
Q. Where would you like to see your brand in 5 or 10years?
A. We have a number of growth opportunities in the pipeline, one of which is a salon range, offering Lulu & Marula facials, manicure and pedicures. We’re also working on an amenities range for hotels, shampoos, conditioners, handwash, body lotion, etc. We see Lulu & Marula remaining a boutique brand, but connecting with boutique salons, boutique hotels and being the brand of choice for local and progressive hospitality and salon companies. And also more people knowing about us and using our products in their homes.
Founder Jesslyn Schlamm
Q. How do you balance your work and personal life?
A. It was very difficult in the beginning, because I was working full-time while building the brand for the first few years, so I didn’t really have much of a balance, but as I’ve gone on, I’ve kind of forced myself to switch off after-hours, on weekends, and try to give myself that time off; otherwise it can become all consuming.
Q. Any words of wisdom for anyone looking to start up their own brand?
A. I think I would say, just start somewhere. You’re not going to start out with everything all perfectly in line, and everything going easily. You need to just start somewhere, give yourself a benchmark that you can continually improve on. If you overcomplicate things with detail, you’re never going to start, because it will seem way too overwhelming; so my advise is just to do it.