The in­ven­tor of swim­ming caps for big hair

Tired of sit­ting on the side­lines at pools and beaches, this en­ter­pris­ing young wo­man cre­ated a swim­ming cap for big hair

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NE­CES­SITY is the mother of in­ven­tion – and a Cape Town wo­man is proof of the truth in this say­ing. She grew tired of spend­ing hours dry­ing her waist-length dread­locks af­ter a dip in the pool and fed up with hang­ing around on the beach in­stead of plung­ing be­neath the waves be­cause she couldn’t face the thought of wet hair for hours on end.

Nomvuyo Tr­ef­fers tried to find a swim­ming cap that would cover her long thick locks.

But there was noth­ing suit­able on the mar­ket. So the pho­tog­ra­pher de­cided to bridge the gap and come up with a so­lu­tion – and her big-hair bathing cap is now big busi­ness.

The mother of three, who lives in Salt River, Cape Town, is swim­ming in or­ders and her busi­ness has taken off to such an ex­tent she’s started ship­ping her caps over­seas.

Swimma Caps, as they’re called, are de­signed for big-vol­ume hair, in­clud­ing curly, wavy, twisted, weaved and dread­locked hair. There’s so much space in the caps even box braids fit in­side them com­fort­ably.

Her life has changed since her in­ven­tion, Nomvuyo (40) says. Her daugh­ters would of­ten beg her to swim with them in the fam­ily pool but she knew what lay ahead when it came to her sod­den locks and would make ex­cuses.

The more she watched the fun from the side­lines, the more she felt a solu­tion was needed.

“That was re­ally frus­trat­ing,” she says. “I hated sitt­ing there while my kids shouted, ‘Mommy, come!’,” she tells us.

Af­ter search­ing ev­ery­where for a cap to cover her hair she de­cided to have some cus­tom-made for her daugh­ters, Zawabo (17), Zawadi (10) and Ta­masha (8). “The per­cep­tion out there is that black peo­ple can’t swim,” says Nomvuyo, who is mar­ried to busi­ness­man Theo Tr­ef­fers. “More than any­thing I wanted to prove that wrong.”

Her daugh­ters were real wa­ter ba­bies and “it pained me to see them swim­ming without me”.

So five years ago she de­cided to do some­thing about it.

Why pay some­one else to cus­tom-make a cap for her when she could run with the idea and turn it into a

‘The per­cep­tion out there is that black peo­ple can’t swim’

busi­ness that wouldn’t only change her life but give oth­ers the chance to have more fun?

THE caps come in two sizes – Afro reg­u­lar and Afro large – and she uses wa­ter­proof sil­i­cone ma­te­rial to make them easy to pull on and off and ef­fec­tive in keep­ing hair dry.

Nomvuyo, who em­ploys 10 peo­ple, sells the swim­ming caps – which cost from R99 to just un­der R200 each – at Swimma’s busi­ness premises in Salt River, Cape Town, and on­line. Her biggest mar­ket­ing tool has been so­cial me­dia, where dozens of users have posted re­views of the cap.

She started sell­ing the big­ger­sized caps in 2010 but busi­ness has only re­cently taken off and she’s now the go-to wo­man for peo­ple of all ages with big hair of all tex­tures.

Nomvuyo re­alised that in a coun­try as di­verse as South Africa she wouldn’t be the only wo­man pulling her hair out in frus­tra­tion over the “tiny” caps that couldn’t even cover half her dread­locks.

The name Swimma, she says, was in­spired by how some isiXhosa-speak­ing peo­ple re­fer to swim­ming.

Nomvuyo makes caps only for big­ger hair as there are al­ready “enough caps out there for the other mar­kets”.

“Swimma has not only filled a need but has mor­phed into a brand that has an emo­tional affin­ity to those who have been af­fected by the lack of suit­able swim­ming caps.

“I was a wo­man with a prob­lem who then set out to solve that prob­lem and peo­ple have iden­ti­fied with that.”

Nomvuyo, a pas­sion­ate swim­mer, says the cap isn’t only im­por­tant for hy­giene pur­poses but is guar­an­teed to keep the hair dry and elim­i­nate hours of dry­ing time.

She also felt and un­der­stood the pain of peo­ple with Afros, dread­locks, braids and weaves who couldn’t swim when they wanted to. Afros shrink in wa­ter while not all weaves are chlo­rine­friendly.

“I be­lieve big-sized swim­ming caps are a nec­es­sary and in­clu­sive prod­uct,” she says.

The caps can last for years, she tells her cus­tomers on her Face­book page ev­ery day as more en­quiries stream in.

The busi­ness­woman has be­come some­thing of a sen­sa­tion in South Africa and she couldn’t be prouder. And thanks to Nomvuyo and her de­sire to swim with her chil­dren, sat­is­fied cus­tomers are cool­ing off in com­fort. Lo­cally she has stock­ists in East Lon­don, Gra­ham­stown, Polok­wane, Tsh­wane and Jo­han­nes­burg and the busi­ness has now gone global to the United States and Eu­rope and she’s both amazed and hum­bled at the de­mand. “It’s all thanks to so­cial me­dia. We had huge vol­umes of traf­fic the mo­ment I reached out on the var­i­ous plat­forms.”

THE busi­ness does have a few chal­lenges though, she ad­mits. Find­ing the cor­rect manu­fac­turer who un­der­stood the brand and get­ting the sizes and colours right were among her ma­jor ob­sta­cles.

But it’s a case of try, try and try again – she knew she was onto some­thing and was de­ter­mined to keep go­ing un­til she had it waxed.

She hopes she can one day ex­pand her busi­ness and have eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble shops in other parts of the con­ti­nent.

“It would be great to ven­ture into coun­tries like Ethiopia where there is great on­line de­mand for Swimma,” she says.

An­other chal­lenge she’s had to deal with is copy­cats but she’s try­ing not to be dis­cour­aged by peo­ple who want a piece of her suc­cess pie.

“It is a dog-eat-dog busi­ness and you need thick skin. You need to work hard to grow your busi­ness. I’m stay­ing fo­cused and do­ing my mar­ket re­search and look­ing for things no one else is of­fer­ing.”

The past few months she’s been fo­cus­ing on putting to­gether a fully work­able plan for the busi­ness, tweak­ing the prod­uct spec­i­fi­ca­tions, adding three ad­di­tional sizes, new funky colours and lis­ten­ing to her cus­tomers and their needs.

And if she needs a guinea pig she can test the prod­uct on her­self – or the daugh­ters who helped their mom be­come a busi­ness­woman.

BY SIYABONGA KAMNQA PIC­TURES: PEET MOCKE

Nomvuyo Tr­ef­fers’ in­ven­tion, the Swimma Cap (ABOVE), is such a hit the pho­tog­ra­pher and mom of three now has a boom­ing busi­ness.

LEFT: Nomvuyo takes a plunge to show us how ef­fec­tive her cap is.

LEFT: A Swimma cap fits eas­ily and snugly over dread­locks. BE­LOW: The head­gear is avail­able in dif­fer­ent sizes.

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