Her skincare range for men, Michael Mikiala Men, has revolutionised the grooming industry, catering to the specific needs of African skin. For a long time, black men have had to adapt to and accept international brands that were widely available – the problem is that many of them weren’t developed with black skin types and pigmentation in mind.
Mashaba tells us how it all started.
“When I started the brand, I’d just quit my job in advertising and was tired of selling international brands to Africans,” she explains. “I didn’t really know what to do, but I was at the salon one day and realised that a lot of guys were using methylated spirits, and that was the foundation of my intrigue to go a little bit deeper to see why guys use this and if there were other alternatives.”
Further research revealed to Mashaba that the only alternatives weren’t necessarily great nor relevant to African skin, and were inefficient in treating bumps, oily skin or pigmentation.
Nobody wanted to speak skin differentiation because it might come across as racism, but this was not the case.
“All the other brands were multinational brands that at the time weren’t formulated in Africa or South Africa,” she says. “I realised there was a gap and an opportunity in the market to launch a brand that would be targeted at African men.”
She adds that she believes we shouldn’t be waiting for other people to come up with things that will be beneficial to us, that we should start coming up with these ideas ourselves.
“[Our brand] became a thought leader in a space where it was very uniform. Nobody wanted to speak skin differentiation because it might come across as racism, but this was not the case. All we were saying is that our skins are different and therefore they should be catered for differently.”
Mashaba spent two years formulating and testing the products before launching the brand in 2010. She spent most her time in the lab, researching the ingredients, checking the viscosity of the products, and planning what would make them unique.
After the products were launched, Mashaba and her team distributed them to salons and kept track of customer responses – which were positive. Over time they realised that if they wanted to grow the business, it had to be exposed to a retail market which would increase access to the brand.
At this point, the brand partnered with Edgars and started distributing in their stores.
“The first challenge is the time things take to be lodged,” Mashaba says. “The second is the amount of time it takes to get things right, and the third thing is the team that one decides to work with. It’s so important to have a cohesive team that completely understands your vision, which is not always the case.”
She says that while many other similar businesses would cite access to the market as a big challenge, that wasn’t the case for her.
“I had a unique product offering that was relevant, and I pitched it correctly, so I was able to receive the ears of the retailers and distribution corporates,” she says.
The whole project was self-funded from the savings she’d accumulated before leaving her job in advertising.
“There’s a greatness in self-funding because it enables you to make sure that you work hard to see the return of your investment,” she says. “It became very difficult, though, making sure you have a solid operation structure and marketing when you don’t have as big a pocket as other major international brands.”
While it was important for Mashaba to ensure that the product worked, it was equally important that its aesthetic didn’t underestimate the consumer, but rather give him a feeling of pride.
“When we started, we found that a lot of products targeted at black males and females were really flimsy looking and showed no respect to the customer. We made sure this wasn’t the case with Michael Mikiala Men.”
African-Americans especially are consuming a lot of our products, and this is an opportunity for us to enter that market.
Six years in and Michael Mikiala has amazing partnerships with international brands that are in the same market space but focus on different product offerings.
“We’ve also been exposed to the international market,” she says. “America is really in love with our products and they buy a lot of them online. We’ve found that African-Americans especially are consuming a lot of our products, and this is an opportunity for us to enter that market.”
Mashaba says they’re looking at tapping into new markets and seeing how the brand performs in those markets. She wants to makes sure the brand lives outside of Africa.
“It’s important for us to continue to grow at the pace we’re growing and not go too fast. Going too fast can make us lose those little things that have made the brand what it is today.”