Entrepreneurship is a risky business, something that Laetitia Piers knows more about than most. With her family’s financial situation in dire straits, she decided to step up and start a business. Of course, being a science graduate, she is smart, so it pretty much worked out.
Laetitia, who is from Ravensmead in Cape Town, is the owner of Shea by Design, a company that produces hair care products for women (and men)that wants to keep it natural and real. She originally had a popular blog where she shared hair care tips. After being contacted by several women asking her for advice, she realised that there was a huge demand for natural hair care products. Seeing an opportunity to make some extra cash, she decided last year to start her business, which she referred to as her “side hustle”.
She started with creating and experimenting with various natural hair care and skin products that would produce the best results. It was not easy, especially given the fact that she was completing her Masters Degree. She did everything by hand, sacrificing all of her free time and spending most weekends indoors. After many sleepless nights, she finally came up with the perfect formula. In fact, it was so perfect, that she received an award for it.
In August, she won the 2019 Afrikinky Award for the ‘Best Natural Hair Brand in South Africa’. The award is presented by the natural hair-care company, Africans Gone Natural, which aims to encourage African women to embrace their natural hair. The mission of the awards is to recognise the innovations of women entrepreneurs and their contribution to creating jobs and growing the African economy. A few weeks after getting the award, Laetitia graduated with her Master of Science Degree in Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, from the University of the Western Cape.
It might seem like a daunting task to complete a Masters and start a business, but for Laetitia, it was just about making sure that her family had food on the table. Coming from a single-parent home, there was always a shortage of money and Laetitia was the kind of kid that had a deep sense of responsibility towards her family. In order to help out her mom and young brother, she worked as a cashier, did some part-time admin work at her university department and used some of her NASFAS bursary money. The bursary money also went towards paying for her travel costs to and from university which meant that she quite often did not have any money to pay for her travels. Instead of staying at home, she walked because nothing would stop her from getting her degree. It is also this sense of responsibility that led to her starting her business.
Her mom was about to be retrenched, and if that happened, the lack of money would become an even greater burden. Because of her academic performance, Laetitia was given funding to complete her Masters by the National Research Foundation. She decided to take some of that money to start her business. It was a risk that she was taking, but Laetitia is not someone who takes irresponsible gambles. She had done all the research about producing hair care products and running a business; and she knew that there was a huge demand for the product she wanted to produce. This was an opportunity for her to earn an income for her family and she had no choice but to try. She was not going to abandon her family to a life of crippling poverty. This calculated risk eventually led to the successful birth of a company. Her commitment to starting a business did not however, interfere with her drive to complete her degree and become a scientist.
During her studies, she was one of the top students in her class and as a result, she was invited to be a member of the International Golden Key Honour Society. She also worked for the Biodiversity department, focusing her research in Botany, Ecology and Zoology. She presented her research findings at the Arid Zone Ecological Forum and the Grassland Society of Southern Africa Conference; and she has published an academic article in the ‘African Journal of Range and Forage Science’. Laetitia is still serious about pursuing a career in science and earlier this year, she started doing an internship as a GIS technician at the South African National Biodiversity Institute.
Laetitia feels that without her mom, Catherine, constantly encouraging her, she might not have made it. Despite their financial situation, her mom never allowed her to stop believing in herself. By the looks of how Laetitia turned out, Catherine did not do a bad job. She is also very grateful for the support she has received, not only from family and friends, but also from those who used their hard-earned money to purchase her product. Her aim was to create a quality product at a low cost, and the fact that her customers are buying her product, means that she did not let anyone down.
If you want to do the kind of things that Laetitia did, then the most important advice she has is, ‘Manage your time properly’. She planned everything according to a schedule which included making time for work, building her business and studying. She says that once she got into the habit of managing her time, everything became easier. Starting a business is also about working hard and doing the things that you don’t want to do. Laetitia can still be found setting up her stall at markets and promoting her product, so that she can grow her business. This is especially hard for her because she is a bit of a quiet and shy person, but she is also determined and willing to put herself out there.
For Laetitia Piers, life was a constant struggle of worrying about money, her family and her studies. She however overcame those struggles, became a top student, graduated with a Masters, works as a scientist and she has her own business. Most importantly, she is now in a position where she can make sure that her family will never have to worry about money again. Yes, the struggle is real, but the one thing that Laetitia Piers proves beyond a reasonable doubt, is that winning in the game of life, is never impossible.
Source(s): Edited from an article on the University of the Western Cape’s website, other
Note: A special thanks to Laetitia Piers for taking the time to help us with the story