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
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.
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.