She hated her skin, which was riddled with acne, a condition that was taking most of the fun out of her teen years. 

Snikiwe Xaba couldn’t afford expensive skincare products and a visit to a dermatologist was out of the question – both her parents were unemployed and there simply wasn’t enough money. Many of the products she could afford made her skin worse and she was at her wits’ end. Then she decided to take matters into her own hands – and started a journey that would turn her into a budding young entrepreneur.

Snikiwe, who is from Izingolweni in KwaZulu-Natal, turned to her phone for help, searching the internet for everything she could find about skincare. She learnt about natural products which seemed to be the best solution for problem skins like hers.

“My online research showed aloe vera plants and marula oil could do the trick,” Snikiwe says.

Marula oil helps battle breakouts, won’t clog pores a n d can heal blemishes quickly because it hydrates skin. Aloe has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antioxidant properties, she explains.

Snikiwe also realised there was a gap in the skincare market for an affordable and natural product that contained no added chemicals. She put together a presentation and pitched her idea to various manufacturers, but was turned down time and again. Some said Snikiwe was too young, others simply never got back to her. But the young woman refused to let her dream die. If you want to get the job done, she decided, you must do it yourself.

Snikiwe and her brother, Nkosiyabo Xaba (21), decided to start a natural skincare business and registered it under the name Natural Me. Then she gathered her savings of R5 000, earned from selling muffins and sweets at school since she was in primary school.

Her mother, Wenziwe, gave her another R3 500 and Snikiwe approached a manufacturing company last year and asked them to make the initial product batch. The company was contacted for this article but didn’t want to be named and declined to comment, citing “client confidentiality”.

The manufacturer buys the ingredients Snikiwe specifies and mixes and produces it for her in 5kg and 10kg containers. Snikiwe then packages the cream herself at home using 100g bottles bought from a supplier in Durban. She tested the product on herself first and saw results within six weeks.

“I started using the product on 4 October 2017 and by November my skin was clearing up and the acne started to disappear. My skin was starting to look beautiful,” she says.

Her brother helped her set up her business online, but at first it didn’t generate much income because not many people knew about the product. Snikiwe started a Facebook page where she advertises her products and slowly business started to pick up. She now also produces a face wash, toner, and day and night creams, priced between R80 and R90 a bottle.

When Natural Me started she was taking four or five orders a week but that has increased to four or five orders daily. Her products are all SABS-approved, after approval was applied for by the manufacturer.

Snikiwe’s friend, Zithobile Mavundla, says when the teen first told her of her idea to treat acne with natural products last year, she didn’t think Snikiwe was serious.

“I then realised her skin was glowing. She showed me her facial products and I was excited for her,” she says.

Starting her own business has turned Snikiwe’s life around. She’s confident her products can help others who also feel insecure about their skin – and it doesn’t hurt that there’s money coming in from her business too. She’s happy she can help her family out financially.

“We used to only be able to buy clothes once a year but now I’m able to buy new things at least twice a year.”

For as long as Snikiwe can remember, her parents haven’t had formal jobs. Her father, Jabulani , worked in a factor y but was retrenched the year Snikiwe was born and now ekes out a living collecting and selling scrap metal. Mom Wenziwe was a street vendor but she stopped working to take care of her disabled daughter, Hloniphile (now 11).

This is what compelled Snikiwe to sell chips, sweets and muffins at school. “Things were really difficult at home, especially because my baby sister needed so much special attention. I decided to sell stuff so I could help my mother. The money from selling also helped because then I could buy lunch at school,” she said.

Now that Natural Me is taking off, her mom is also selling the products in their community, and Snikiwe’s older siblings, Khayalethu (23), Nhlanganiso (19) and Mandisa (25), help with the deliveries in the area. Orders from customers further afield are shipped at a cost of R100.

The budding entrepreneur hopes to study law after completing matric and believes knowing the law will help her in her ambitions to be “a big cosmetic businesswoman”.

Jabulani is delighted with his daughter.

“I have always encouraged my children to start their own businesses because of the scarcity of employment,” he says.

“Snikiwe is the kind of child who will stand at the robots and sell 100 muffins within an hour. She isn’t shy when it comes to business. We are very proud of her. “She isn’t making much just yet because the business is still new but she’s on the right track. But I always remind her not to neglect her schoolwork because education is the key to greater opportunities.”

Wenziwe couldn’t be happier for her child. “I can see she’s trying to progress in life because she can see my husband and I don’t have work. I believe she got her business mind from me because she used to watch me sell sweets and muffins in the community and she’d help me. “Now she’s got her own business at such a young age and I’m so proud of her. We can’t wait to see where the future takes her.”