CBZ’s recent YEP 2019 awards had a host of winners for the various categories and some exciting business ideas were celebrated. Manetain Organics was the winner in the best-established business category. I caught up with Lienne Shoniwa for an interview about the business and just what it takes, in her experience, to keep a business going in our environment.

1. What does Manetain Organics do?

Manetain Organics is a hair care company that manufactures and distributes organic products for Afro-textured hair. We produce small-batch hair products specifically tailored for Afro-textured hair using natural ingredients grown and harvested in Zimbabwe and the African continent. We have gone a long way into creating a brand that African women can identify with. Our packaging and brand aesthetic are geared towards celebrating Africa. When you touch it, see it, smell it, you know you are holding Africa in your hands.

2. How big is manetain Organics?

Currently, we have a total of 20 Sku’s varying from conditioners, shampoos, oils to butters. We sell between 150-200 products through our retail shop in Chisipite. We also have some pharmacies and hair salons that stock our products.

3. How long have you been operating and how is the environment?

We have been operating for over 2 years now. We started in 2017. The business environment was definitely better when we started in 2017, people had more disposable income to spend on beauty products. Fast forward to 2019 people can barely afford to put food on the table so products such as ours suffer the most because they are the first to be cut out as ‘luxuries’. Whereas the rest of the world is embracing and supporting a more organic and natural way of living meaning they are now purchasing more and more products like ours but locally people are more concerned about whether it is necessary or not. So you would find that our products have a very high export demand as compared to local which is sad because we would want to be more visible locally.

4. Why did you start this business?

I started this business out of my own frustration of not being able to find good quality hair products for my natural hair locally. A snap survey of the local market will show you that 80% of the products that you see in the retail supermarkets are for Caucasian hair or have ingredients that are potentially harmful or not beneficial to natural hair. The 20% of the products that are available for natural hair are imported and expensive. So the problem became clear; how do I create affordable products for natural hair using ingredients sourced locally and around Africa.

5. You manufacture the products locally? Why did you choose to do so in a time when outsourcing is so easy?

Yes, we manufacture locally. I have always felt a personal responsibility to creating solutions to problems that are around me and to be honest if not me then who? who’s responsibility is it to change the narrative. For a very long time, young people have taken a back seat in coming up with solutions for issues that directly affect us. I also wanted to create a legacy for future generations, a product that we as Zimbabwean can recognize as our own. Why outsource and import when we have the ability to create our own. There is great pride in that.

6. Challenges you’ve faced and face in running and growing Manetain Organics thus far?

There is not enough support for small businesses, be it financially or even in retail. You would think this is the time we should be focusing on supporting new and innovative local products but retail supermarkets do not give small scale suppliers like us the time of day. They focus on the big names and imported products. Look at PnP South Africa for example they have a program geared towards supporting and engaging small scale local suppliers and giving them a platform to sell their products. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Zimbabwe where buyers are the gatekeepers of the stores and unfortunately if they don’t know you or you don’t ‘give them ‘mari yedrink‘ they won’t list your products

7. Any words for those who aspire to be like you

Many people don’t start because they don’t want to be seen starting from the bottom. Don’t be most people. And when you do get the courage to start don’t stop till you are proud.

8. Do you sell and provide treatments and classes?

No. Not yet, for now, we are focused on developing products.

9. You won a CBZ YEP award. How did you end up being on the shortlist and how does it feel to be recognized?

When the applications opened in August this year I sent in my application. From there I was notified that I had been shortlisted to attend a workshop with over 200 other participants around the country. From there we were narrowed down to 20. We then attended a boot camp, which also included a pitch of our business in front of 3 judges. Got a message a week after the boot camp that I had made top 10 and would be attending an awards ceremony. It is at the ceremony that they announced the winners. There were two winners for two categories. One for Established businesses (which I won) and the other one for start-up business which Tracy Mapfumo won. It truly was a girls night!

When you operate in an environment like ours it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, most times you are battling with yourself on whether to throw in the towel or not. So to be recognized at a time like this was so big for me because it showed me I’m on the right path and that I should keep going.

You can find and support Manetain Organics on Facebook and Twitter.