“I want us to embrace our indigenous African knowledge of trees and realise the greatness in our names.” Portia Mngomezulu used this guiding philosophy to create her popular line of marula-based beauty products called Portia M.
Mngomezulu is a deeply motivated entrepreneur and the owner of Sibahle Skin Solutions, the company that produces the Portia M brand of skin-care products, and winner of the Female Entrepreneur award this year.
Mngomezulu started Sibahle Skin Solutions in 2011, after a stint in the healthcare sector. Her research and experience with chemists resulted in her interest and knowledge of the beauty industry. But Sibahle Skin Solutions was in the making even earlier than this.
“I was raised by my grandmother in Phalaborwa, in a rural area called Mashishimale. We used to play under the marula tree, and she taught me how to make fermented beer out of marula fruit.
“I used to love cracking and eating the nuts so much as a child. As I grew older, I had my first child and my mother-in-law suggested something to help me with my pregnancy stretch marks. In the olden days they used to use marula oil to heal skin ailments,” she says.
And so, she began extracting marula oil and packaging it for herself and her pregnant friends to use on their stretch marks.
Mngomezulu started making the oil from scratch, with no funding or support other than her friends spreading the word about the amazing results that using the marula product produced.
“I was the only one in the business when I started. I made products using a cake mixer and I had to dissolve everything and reduce it into oil on a hot pot and seal everything up with a funnel and spoon,” she explains.
“Today I have machines, but I don’t take it for granted. I don’t take anything for granted, because it took a lot of work to get to where I am now,” she says.
Although unconventional, her career in agricultural processing is highly successful and the brand has grown exponentially. Mngomezulu has branched out into 12 different products in the Portia M line and supplies Pick n Pay, Clicks, Game and Shoprite with her beauty products. She also distributes the skin-care line to suppliers in Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia.
“I see Portia M as a leading brand in Africa, and we’re going to take it to the world! When you see a global brand like Ponds, Portia M should be next to it, you know. Wherever there’s Bio-Oil, Portia M should be next to it. It is happening, and we are currently in over 1 200 retailers nationwide,” she says.
Besides this, she employs and trains 27 employees in her Lynnwood factory. She counts job creation as one of her career highlights — that, and the fact she took a risk to live her dreams, and help other people through the process.
“The change that you see from a person who was unemployed to them being able to take care of their families and regain their sense of dignity and pride! When I see my employees, I sleep well at night. And also these products change people’s lives — it’s not just a beauty product — it’s a healing product, and you can see the difference on people’s skin.”