The salon space at the CoCreate Hub in Stellenbosch is warm and welcoming as I sit down to chat to Phelisa Bekwa of Phel’s Hair and Beauty. Hailing from King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape, Phelisa has called Kayamandi, Stellenbosch home for the past 10 years.

 Upon leaving school, Phelisa knew exactly what she wanted to do and headed directly to the College of Cape Town where she completed a hairdressing qualification. Although Phel’s Hair and Beauty is still in its infancy, Phelisa is a qualified and experienced hair stylist and spent a number of years working for other hairdressing businesses before deciding to go out on her own.

 Phelisa described how it was important to start her career in a salon where she could gain experience about things other than cutting and styling hair. Being a hairdresser means that you interact with many different people and Phelisa not only learned more about hair, but also a lot about running a business that is in the business of keeping people satisfied.

The Covid pandemic provided the push that Phelisa needed and helped her step out of her comfort zone and into her own business. Cutting hair from home and providing hairdressing services at home for others, Phelisa began growing her client base. While being employed in someone else’s business may provide some sense of security, this comes at the expense of having to leave the decision-making to others. Hairdressers often only “rent space” in a salon and do not get a say when it comes to pricing, products, or store policy.

 Phelisa’s bubbly personality and passion for her work shines through as she tells me that she is always learning and wanting to improve her own skills. As a participant in the Ranyaka Business Building programme she is able to gain knowledge about being a business owner and connect with other entrepreneurs. “We get to attend courses by different people who have a lot of experience,” she says. With the opportunity to be her own boss with salon space at the CoCreate Hub, Phelisa is excited about the direction her business is headed.

Entrepreneurship is in the family, and Phelisa’s husband Thabo, owner of Indalo Street Food, is one of her biggest supporters. While it can be tough to both be in the early stages of launching your own business, Phelisa knows that Thabo is able to relate to her struggles and they can be there for one another.

 When asked what the favourite part of her job is, Phelisa immediately says, “Highlights!” before going on to explain that with her training and work experience, most of her clients are Caucasian and so this is where her expertise is, even though she occasionally works with other hair types. She says that she is keen to keep on learning so that she can get better at working with more hair types. By doing this, her skills will continue to grow and she will gain new clients.

As a hairdresser, Phelisa has learned to “listen carefully, and pay attention.” Not every hairstyle is suitable for everyone, and she has had to learn to do her best to give her customers what they want while at the same time explaining to them why something may not be possible, and suggesting alternatives. “At the end of the day, you want your clients to come back,” she says and for that reason you have to look at each client as an investment.

 Small businesses are the backbone of the South African economy. “Even the big businesses started small,” Phelisa says. “Having a small business means that you can grow and then you can also provide employment for others.”

 In the short term, Phelisa is working towards establishing a regular client base at her new salon space at the Stellenbosch CoCreate Hub. At the same time, she is looking to expand her offering so that she can offer both hair and other beauty services.

 When I asked her for some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, Phelisa said, “I am still a baby at this, but do something that you like. Have a vision – a dream. You need to do something that you like. Go to school and learn, and keep working towards your goal.”

Stellenbosch is one of 9 towns that is part of Nedbank’s Proud of my Town initiative.