Vuyisile Zondi is making traditional African beauty practices mainstream

Corium skincare founder Vuyisile Zondi turned her hobby of helping people with their skin problems into a business, writes Palesa Buyeye

21 April 2019 - 00:12 By Palesa Buyeye
Vuyisile Zondi says she doesn't want the pedestal that comes with being seen as a young achiever.
Vuyisile Zondi says she doesn't want the pedestal that comes with being seen as a young achiever.
Image: Alon Skuy

They say it takes 10 years to become an overnight success, but with the rise of social media one can argue that it now takes much less time. Combine the power and reach of social media with a multibillion- dollar industry like the skincare business and we have the emergence of young beauty moguls such as Kylie Jenner on the cover of Forbes.

People on Twitter went into overdrive questioning the idea of the reality star being called a "self-made" entrepreneur with her privileged family background.

Though Corium skincare founder Vuyisile Zondi had a completely different upbringing to Jenner's, having grown up in Imbali Unit BB in rural KwaZulu-Natal, she credits the effect social media has had on the brand awareness of her three-year-old baby. So I ask: "Are you self-made?"

"Who is self-made? Can anyone ever say they are self-made?" Zondi responds.

"I mean, you often have some sort of support structure and I have a very good community of friends and mentors. I have quite a lot of older people in just my human social network, so I would say I am network made."

Zondi has grown her hobby of helping people with problem skin into a fully-fledged business. It's the true entrepreneurial tale of being a problem solver. She herself suffered with acne for almost 10 years, coming from a family with problem skin.

"Skin is so closely linked to people's self-esteem and how they view themselves. I understand the detrimental effect on your self-image if you're not feeling good about it, because it's the first thing people look at - and people always feel brave enough to want to comment or give opinions."

Having problem skin myself, like many of her clients, I'm hoping to get some pointers on how to combat it.

"I think that's the most affirming thing for me: it's not rands in the bank - though that's very important," she laughs.

"But the testimonials and lives being touched, like when someone takes a picture and says they never used to leave the house without wearing make-up and how using the product from Corium has made them feel confident enough. For me that is priceless, the real-life interaction and feedback because you want to add some sort of positivity to the person that's buying and believing in your product."

She asks me my skin type and what I want to fix.

"I have a hormonal breakout because my monthly visitor is here, so bear with me," she laughs, before sharing her routine, which includes cleansing twice a day and using face masks.

But there's also the traditional: "I try steaming my face every week with herbs which I buy from a traditional chemist from KwaZulu-Natal. They wrap it up and sell it in newspaper - they know which bark helps with what. So my routine is quite simple."

Zondi's skincare ritual is inspired by her upbringing as she grew up using "Ibovu": red soil found in rural areas near the valley and often used as a clay mask for skin.

She remembers her family bringing her "intelezi" to steam her face when her breakouts started. They are made from the roots and barks of certain trees.

This also served as the basis of Corium as she started to see American vloggers (video bloggers) and most of the West latching onto natural skincare routines and giving feedback on these products found on our own continent, like African black soap, coconut oil or shea butter.

There's so much value in traditional beauty practices that we have forgotten
Vuyisile Zondi, Corium skincare founder

'There's so much value in traditional beauty practices that we have forgotten. For example Portia M uses a lot of Marula and I think that comes from her growing up with her grandmother. I think there was a gap in the market in SA that said let's revisit traditional beauty practices," Zondi says.

"It is a representation of how trends come back, sort of like a resurgence or the bringing of a new life into what has always been there."

For the past two years Zondi has worked in corporates while also running Corium as a "solo-preneur". Due to Corium's growth she quit her day job last year to focus on the business.

The week of our interview was a particularly busy one for her as Corium was moving into a new warehouse and preparing for its retail listing as it moves into stores (including Clicks) which also required a lot of work on rebranding.

Though Zondi has mostly had positive reviews of her products and her growth has put her on various achiever lists, she feels the pressure of being put on a pedestal. Her online popularity led to a social media hiatus.

"We put a lot of pressure on young people we identify as young achievers.

"I want a business that is sustainable and has longevity in the market, but what I do not necessarily want that comes with it is the pedestal."

But she doesn't like to focus on the negative and swears by meditation, gospel music and burning incense or oils every morning.

She tries to work out every day and recently started with a trainer.

But you cannot put her in a box: if she is not rocking her natural afro you will find her with a wig and face beat (that means great makeup), which she knows may often rub up the natural community the wrong way.

"It's a woman's choice," she laughs.

Zondi truly represents what it means to be a businesswoman in 2019 - which is whatever you want it to be.