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The Man In The Beauty Business




In 2004, after selling his company Super Mart to the Edcon group, Ian Fuhr decided to venture into unknown territory – the beauty industry. This would eventually lead to the creation of professional beauty therapy salon Sorbet.

“I used to go to this beauty therapist every couple of weeks for a massage and she said to me, ‘why don’t you look at opening some beauty salons?’ At first, I just laughed at her – I don’t exactly have the look and feel for the beauty industry,” says Fuhr.

He adds that while there were several independently-owned stores in operation, there were no branded salon chains.

“I started looking into it and realized that there was an opportunity there. As an entrepreneur, I don’t particularly look for industries, I look for a business, and if it happens to be in the beauty industry, then it is fine.”

Sorbet, which offers beauty therapy for both men and women, as well as hair and nail treatments, currently has 117 stores and, according to Fuhr, is set to see another 20 to 30 stores come online this year .

“People ask us, ‘how did Sorbet manage to grow so quickly?’ I don’t think we took our business from other competitors, I think the strength of the brand managed to enlarge the size of the market.

“It has made it accessible and more affordable, and that is perhaps one of the big reasons for our growth.”

When he started, one of the biggest challenges was staffing. “It’s hard enough to get staff motivated and productive in a single salon but to try and get a thousand people all at the same level of service quality and motivation – that’s the challenge.”

Sorbet is now taking its business to foreign shores, with Fuhr citing the United Kingdom (UK) as its next possible destination.

“The UK doesn’t seem like a natural place to go. Most people were saying, ‘why are you going to the UK? It’s so difficult there’. We were recommended to go by our biggest supplier Dermalogica,” he says.

“We’ve had a look there and there’s definitely an opportunity.”

However, Fuhr also hopes to have Sorbet’s first couple of stores in various African markets by the end of the year.

He cites Angola, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana as the immediate markets of interest, with Tanzania and Nigeria being future possibilities.

Fuhr also stated that while the growth of the brand is undeniable, the focus remains on furthering the company’s current ventures such as Sorbet Man and the Dry Bar Salon, as well as its expansion into new markets.

“The beauty industry will always be there, because women, in particular, will always want to look after themselves, to varying degrees. If they can’t afford some of the more luxurious pampering-type products, they’ll cut back but they won’t stop doing their nails or looking after their skin.”


IN PICTURES | Truck Entrepreneur Drives Style Movement




Collaborations are key for the development of Africa’s sports economy

On a busy road in Soweto, in the southwest of Johannesburg, taxis go about their daily drill, stopping to pick up passengers outside the apartment-tenements of Chiawelo. Here, a truck of a different kind is stationed next to an old container and a car wash.

It’s owned by Siyabulela Ndzonga, a small entrepreneur dabbling in fashion, who has turned it into a concept store, on wheels.

Ndzonga,who brands himself Siya Fonds (S/F) – after a nickname his mother gave him as a baby, has been associated with the South African Fashion Week and with reputed designers such as Ole Ledimo, the founder of House of Olé, and stylist and fashion guru Felipe Mazibuko.

I didn’t even study fashion but it’s interesting how I’m actually making an impact and contributing a lot in the fashion industry, says Ndzonga. 

It was around 2011, when he sold second-hand clothes on the trendy streets of Braamfontein in Johannesburg, where only the cool kids would hang out.

“I was big on thrifting; selling second-hand clothes. I would thrift, resell,thrift, resell.”

His hard work earned him a stall at one of the flea markets in Johannesburg. At this point, Ndzonga was still employed at a retail store. After work and on weekends, he would be hustling on Johannesburg’s streets, all for the love of fashion and because people loved his work.

Ndzonga saw a business opportunity, quit his retail job and registered his brand in 2013. Later that year, Toe Porn socks contacted him and requested he consult for them.

“Brand consulting means that I come in and take their clothes and use them to translate the current fashion trends, translate them to how I think [people]should be dressing in terms of fashion. I actually became a designer because I set trends before they would trend. I would set the tone, narrative and navigate where fashion should go in the whole world, not just in South Africa,” he says.

His fame slowly grew and he started making clothes for others, traveling by taxi to CMT (cut, make and trim) factories in Germiston, 42kms from his hometown. 

“In 2015, that’s when I really saw that I am growing as a brand and that’s when I started consulting for international brands like Palladium Shoes, Fila and Ben Sherman.”

The business grew but he had to travel to others parts of country and that exercise was taxing.

He stopped making clothes and paused his business.

“The whole of 2016, I focused on consulting and saved money to set up a truck. I needed a store so people could come in and purchase Siya Fonds from the truck. This whole thing of delivering is not me, I can’t do it,” says Ndzonga.

“I initially wanted a container, but the truck was a better, fresher alternative. I’m not the first to do it, but I’m the first in Soweto. I set it up and people love it because it’s bringing popular culture to Soweto. I had to trust myself that’s it’s going to work and it did.”

The truck had been lying unused when Ndzonga purchased it, and he overhauled it with a lick of paint and an infusion of color and character.

I got another truck to pick it up and bring it to the current location in 2016.

In March 2017, the truck was launched as a concept store and he called it Block 88, as it encompasses other brands as well.

“Business was not so great after the launch. It only picked up after a few months of selling a few international brands that I consult for. We had seven brands in the store.”

He sells t-shirts, caps, jackets and jumpsuits. A two-piece suit sells for R1,400 ($97).

The next step for Ndzonga is to have stores in all the neighborhoods in Soweto and major South African cities.

Since the inception of his truck, he has also injected some vibrancy into the community.

He organizes art development programs and conversations around social issues on Fridays outside the truck, gathering youth and children.

“Conversation Fridays is like TED-talks. It’s bringing conversations to the township instead of having them in the city or suburbs and speak about what creatives are facing in the creative space and industry,” he says.

Now, he works as a consultant with a consumer agency and collaborates on a number of brands, also doing research for them. As the hustle and bustle quietens down at sunset in Soweto, Ndzonga’s trendy truck shuts shop. Tomorrow will be another day as a beacon of hope and vibrancy on a Soweto street.

Siyabulela Ndzonga of Siya Fonds. Picture: 
Motlabana Monnakgotla

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