Marion Hermans, founder of natural hair brand Marley Grey, began her small business when she realised that the market had nothing to offer her on her own natural hair journey.
Having her hair chemically relaxed since 1996 when she left primary school, and in dreadlocks when she got married, Marion says that she hadn’t “seen” her natural hair in years. But a lot has happened since then: “I had gotten married and had two kids… what was stopping me from getting to know all of me?” she recalls.
“In 2015, a few months after giving birth to my second child, my hair had been struggling from all the hormonal changes. I decided to cut off my locks to begin a journey I hadn’t begun to imagine. I learned the ins and outs of my natural hair and in doing so taught myself how to make organic hair products to match my organic journey,” Marion explains.
Two years into her experimenting, she wanted to see whether her homemade products would work on others as well is it worked for her. Marion says, “There were not many hair products options for natural haired women in stores back then... well, mostly relaxers, but that defeated the purpose of my journey.”
So she started a trial with 10 participants to test and research how her products would do on different hair types. The trial gave her an unexpected insight. “I realised despite all the care I was giving their hair, there was no protection for their hair once their heads hit their pillows. All that effort placed on hair care was wasted because they didn’t have hair protection while sleeping,” she says.
“This sparked another hobby... sewing. I sewed satin-lined sleep caps for my 10 participants which then led to me selling them online. I was still working at the time and only used a few of my rands to do all this, but I was enjoying being able to do something other than my 9 to 5 office activities. Bear in mind... my original plan was only to test my hair products. How beautifully it flowed!”
Marion’s prudent approach of starting small and testing before jumping in with both feet paid off and her business grew organically. “With this new hair knowledge in my pocket, I learned that each head of hair behaved differently. It got me chatting to and advising more women on a one-on-one basis. This led to personalised hair care consultations ALONG with the natural hair accessories that I had started selling throughout South Africa.” And from there, the business just took off.
Marion’s background in education and multimedia gave her the skills and mindset needed for an online business. “The COVID-19 lockdown has been the most unexpected challenge I have ever faced with my business. At first, when lockdown started, being online seemed like a losing situation, but it has pushed me to overcome my fear of the camera. I have used this time to create more video content to help my community in the future, and I have moved my consultations to ‘virtual rooms’,” she shares.
But things are challenging, to say the least. “Being classified as a non-essential service has hit us in the gut. We are not able to receive any of our shipments or imports nor can we send out any of our orders to our customers. We are not allowed to see clients anymore either. With nothing coming in or going out, this completely affects the running of my business and my household.”
Silver linings during lockdown
However, the lockdown has added to Marion’s life. “I’ve gotten some much needed rest that I could slap myself if I had to complain again in future. Being a mother, rest becomes obsolete. Most would say the lockdown is an inconvenience… but it was honestly a Godsend.”
“This, essentially, helps me open my mind for my business and think of new ideas for products and research some more DIY recipes. The down time is a perfect time for me to sit with admin and get to important things I wasn’t able to do while our doors were open.”
It’s a problem many small business owners are familiar with.
Keeping the kids busy
Marion says that they try to keep busy by making up games, playing board games, and having little parties for themselves. “I have also started teaching my children the sign language alphabet. My husband is still working from home so the fact that one of us, unfortunately me, is not working… we get to home-school the kids as well. It’s a nice time to re-instil the rules and morals of our family without outside influences.”
While Marion, or Marley as she is also known, doesn’t have everything figured out, she does suggest keeping a positive spirit. “The world may change for the worst or the better once this is over and I want to be mentally prepared for whatever is coming. I believe the less expectations you have, the easier it is to adapt,” she concludes.