Afari Skincare – Rooted in tradition and refined by science. Margaux Knuppe, owner of Afari Skincare told our Real Life editor, Trudi Stander, that they believe the skincare you use every day should make a difference in your life, as well as in the lives of those who need it most.
When did you start your business?
In late 2104, after exiting my previous company, rubybox, I was invited on the Fynbos Trail in the Walker Bay region. This is a three day, guided, ‘slack-packing’ hike in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom.
Learning that there are 8000+ species of fynbos in South Africa, of which 6000 are endemic meant one thing to me: opportunity.
Tell us about the process?
How can we only know about the skin repairing properties of rooibos and buchu? Surely there had to be another species that is indigenous to South Africa, with incredible skincare benefits? I was on a mission to find this unknown botanical as I wanted to showcase it to the rest of the world.
I approached a well-known cosmetic chemist to see if there was a new, indigenous active ingredient that we could include in a luxury, anti-ageing skincare range.
Rooibos or Buchu
He told me that rooibos or buchu was our best option as he didn’t know of any other local species that had anti-ageing benefits that had also been clinically tested. As the beauty industry thrives on innovation, I embarked on a journey to find a new botanical with anti-ageing benefits.
A number of local raw ingredient suppliers told me I was looking for a needle in a haystack and that every time I identified a new potential raw ingredient I would have to spend hundreds of thousands to see if it a) had any skincare benefits and then b) would have to conduct my own clinical trials.
I also spoke to the head of phytochemistry at Wits to see if he and his team had discovered anything recently – no luck.
At a chance dinner with my ex-business partner from rubybox, I filled her in on my ingredient hunt and her husband told me about a friend who was farming moringa in Limpopo.
He introduced us, but we didn’t manage to meet face-to-face as I was in the thick of launching a project in my corporate role.
After two years of trying to source this miracle ingredient that didn’t exist, the cosmetic chemist and I decided to rather focus on building a luxury anti-ageing range under my name where we could source the best ingredients from all over the world.
This wasn’t the first prize for me, but I knew I still wanted to develop an anti-ageing range for time-poor women.
More time passed and I heard from the cosmetic chemist again, who had just returned from an annual raw ingredients expo in Paris.
He had met up with a farmer from Limpopo who had just finished clinical trials on a brand new, indigenous raw ingredient called Bulbine frutescens. Can you believe it, it was the same farmer that my ex-business partner introduced me to a year before!
After reading through the clinical trial results and all the technical information, I knew the ingredient was going to be a gamechanger for the skincare industry.
Also, and very important to me, was the fact that the farm employs mostly women in rural Limpopo and that they produce the Bulbine frutescens in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner.
The production facility also meets European standards and the agricultural process used to produce Bulbine frutescens is ECOCERT certified organic.
Did you ever imagine it would become this massive brand?
Yes, I’m proud of how far we have come, but we still have so much more to achieve.
Were you panicking? Were you excited? What was the energy behind it?
It’s been a long process; at times frustrating, at times my solace, but every day I look forward to opening my laptop and seeing what awaits me.
What would you share with your younger self about making decisions?
Don’t be afraid to delegate – you can’t (and don’t need to) do it all yourself.
What did you have to learn along the way?
Patience is not one of my strengths, but definitely one to work on when launching a new skincare range from scratch.
What advice do you have for all the young woman entrepreneurs out there who are dreaming big?
You’ve got to make it work for you – I knew I wanted to develop a skincare range, which showcased a new, indigenous ingredient. What I didn’t know was how long it would take. So, I kept my 9-5 job for four years while I did all the groundwork for Afari after hours and on weekends. This allowed me to pursue my passion while still being able to pay the bills.
When it came to balancing entrepreneurship and personal life and or motherhood, was it challenging?
Yes, it’s a constant juggle, but it’s so worth it. (See answer below for more detail)
Do you think it’s possible to have it all?
It depends on how you define ‘all’ – I am happier now than I have ever been. I’m a mother, a wife and a business owner and yes, it’s a juggle.
My approach has always been ‘quality, not quantity’. So, if I’m working I need to be 100% productive and dedicated at that time, then when I’m with my family, I need to be present without any distractions or interruptions.
This is a lot easier said than done, but I try, daily. I also have a great support structure in place.
Talk to us about your day-to-day. What’s non-negotiable for you to stay balanced?
Exercise is very important to me, I try and get out 3-4 mornings a week, mostly it’s just a walk with my son in the pram.
Then, I get most of my work done while my daughter is at school. Also, we’ve banned the use of our phones between 4:30 pm and the children’s bedtime, so my husband and I are completely engaged during what can be the most difficult time of the day (dinner, bath and bedtime).
This has really helped make the evenings easier. And lastly, I can’t fall asleep without reading, so I always look forward to bedtime with my book.
Are there any decisions that you made in the process of growing (your business) that you would make differently now?
No, this has been a slow burn, so I’m glad I had the safety of corporate for all the years that it took to find the raw ingredient and develop the range and the brand.
What else are you up to these days and what should our readers look out for?
We’re gearing up to launch in the US next year so I’m spending a lot of my time trying to understand the legalities needed to export as well as operate in a foreign country.
Read more about the phenomenal businesswomen in South Africa from our Real Life Editor