What would you call a person who makes a living teaching women 50 different ways to wrap their heads? A headwrap artiste? Or savvy entrepreneur?
This is serious business, it seems. There are in fact ‘headwrap parties’ and ‘headwrap expos’ around the world exploring the art of headwrapping and the cultures that promote them. We have seen A-listers such as Jennifer Lopez endorsing this trend. Needless to say, the headwrap, worn as a crown or symbol of power and beauty, is currently enjoying its fashion moment.
And where else but Africa to monetize this style, where headwraps are already entrenched in tradition? Known as tuku, originating from the Tswana tribe (one of the major ethnic groups in South Africa), these accessories are made of colorful two-meter long shweshwe fabric, and artfully twisted and layered on in head-turning styles.
Thirty-year-old Olga Mtshweni, the headwrap artiste in question, seems to have mastered this craft. Raised in Soshanguve, a small township north of South African capital Pretoria, Mtshweni was always surrounded by older women who donned these accessories. But her greatest influence was herself. She never opted for braids or weaves, but chose to go ‘natural’, adorning herself with headwraps, meant both to protect (in cooler months) and be a fashion statement. She started experimenting with various looks and devised her own wrapping styles. The exercise was her “creative outlet” beyond a lackluster nine-to-five office job.
After high school, Mtshweni enrolled for a bachelor’s degree in Information Science at the University of Pretoria. A corporate job was the likely outcome, as she worked for big corporations Microsoft and Standard Bank. It was only a matter of time before she gave it all up to start her own company, Wrapsody, in December 2014.
“I got very frustrated of the corporate world, I had no life outside of work and I wasn’t very happy with that because I do have other interests and other passions outside of work,’’ says Mtshweni.
She had been toying with the concept in her head for a while. A social media campaign, consisting of YouTube tutorials, also helped measure the demand for her skills. She claims Wrapsody soon received orders from clients, including celebrities and corporate companies.
From the R30,000 ($2,100) she had saved before she left her corporate job, she used R4,000 ($290) for her first bulk purchase of the shweshwe fabric.
Headwraps to her are not mere pieces of fabric, but are regal and an art form that promotes culture and revives the spirit of African beauty. Mtshweni’s styles include what she calls Giant Flower, Bow With An Attitude, The Badu, Front Swirl, Twisties and Tower of Power.
She hopes to one day work with such names as American singer-songwriter Erykah Badu, who wore mesmerizing headwraps even before they were even considered cool. African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is also on her wish-list, who she says exudes African beauty and pride – “You will never catch her without a headwrap”.
Mtshweni oversees a team of four – a seamstress, two models and a part-time photographer. Her online store sells headscarves made of African fabric, and she offers her services for headwrap parties, tutorials and workshops.
She is currently looking to open her own boutique, and continues to use her IT skills to do freelance work to support her start-up business.
Her enterprise seems to be based on a simple premise, as she says: “Do what you can with what you have.”
What keeps Mtshweni driven? It’s believing in her idea, more than anyone else.
“The hustling can be quite draining, but I know that it will eventually take off.”
When that happens, it will be her crowning glory.