A woman who’s got it all clipped together
JEANNE Pienaar, 33, grew up in a family of lawyers – her three siblings followed in the footsteps of her advocate father and attorney grandfather – but she decided to follow her own path, seeing a gap in the market for advanced clip-in hair extensions that rivalled that in the US. We chatted to her about juggling family and business life. What is it like being a woman in South Africa?
Being a woman in South Africa means you’re an underdog. But people love rooting for the underdog, so we’re in luck. We can come out as winners only when we support one another. And when you back another woman, you aren’t jeopardising your own chances of success, you’re merely making another ally to help yourself on your own path to success. What shaped you to be the woman you are?
My father always said: “Nobody can take your education away from you” and “Knowledge is power”. Those sayings motivated me to study hard and learn as much from as many different subjects as possible, not only in an academic sense, but also in a streetwise way. Define a successful woman.
Someone who doesn’t have to make excuses for herself. If you want to leave a party early, no problem, do it. If you want to work on a public holiday, do it. If you want to dye your hair pink, go for it, but own it. How do you deal with the pressure of being a mother of two while taking care of your business?
I have a supportive husband who understands the pressure, so that in itself is a big help. Children demand a lot of attention, so I try to connect with them on their level. Taking a child to a shopping mall isn’t their idea of a good time, but spending an hour on your tummy, building Lego, is invaluable to them, and satisfies their desire for attention. I also try not to have my cellphone with me when I spend time with them. They notice things like that.
I’ve never told my children I work to afford their school fees, pay for food and so on. Instead, I tell them I work because I want to and enjoy it. They see that I’m happy when I work (I have an office at home too) and think it’s the norm for both parents to work and to like it. When my husband or I have to work outside regular office hours, we check in with each other to manage expectations, in advance. You do seem like you enjoy your work. What is it that you love the most about hair and beauty?
I love transformations. I love how I can be a badass on a mountain bike and get dirty and muddy. However, when I shower, do my hair, apply make-up and dress up in heels, I love how I feel like a princess. It’s very important to care about yourself, especially internally. Doing your hair and wearing a bright lipstick occasionally, is indicative of the care and effort we put into ourselves. And I get to be creative and have fun while doing it. Tell us about your brand. What was it like when it started and how has it grown?
My business is called House of Fox, an online shop that sells beauty products and the famous ClipinHair extensions. I had sold my previous business and was looking to enter the online market. I saw the hair extensions on a friend and couldn’t believe how incredible it looked.
I researched clip-in hair extensions specifically in the States and saw YouTube videos had millions of views from 10 years ago. I then knew that South Africa was ready for the product. I spoke to the previous owner of the brand and told her I wanted to grow the business. Thankfully she also wanted to pursue a different avenue and wanted to sell the brand, so I’ve been running this show for nearly two years, but ClipinHair is nearly six years old. ClipinHair is nominated for the Tech and Ecommerce awards, how do you feel about that?
Proud and excited. People don’t always understand how much work goes into an online shop. It’s great when all that work gets recognised.
Winning would be amazing, but even just being nominated feels to me like coming first. What are some of the challenges you have faced and still face as a woman?
I’m an emotionally sensitive person. I once had to walk out of a rent negotiation meeting, because I was tearing up. The landlord was dishonest about certain things and I became frustrated and felt helpless as he negated his promises. A man would’ve dealt with the landlord’s dishonesty, or maybe the landlord wouldn’t have been dishonest if he dealt with a male tenant.
Luckily, my empathetic nature also causes me to pick up on things, like when someone on my team is down, I can get her to talk even before she even realises it, and therefore it doesn’t affect her work. I was once in a meeting with someone who spoke very abruptly and curtly, didn’t seem interested to work with us and was non-committal. A man might have thought she was rude and decided not to work with her. I sensed she was insecure because we were the bigger brand, so I reassured her that we are working together and that it would be an honour to work with her. She warmed up almost immediately. What would you like to see changed about the way in which women are viewed?
I cringe when I hear someone say “He’s a hands-on dad” because that person is in fact just being a parent. You don’t hear people say “She’s a hands-on mom”, when you see a woman change a nappy, because people associate that with women.
Change in how we view women needs to happen at home, before we can expect it to happen in the workplace. If a mom is working full time, she and her partner need to take turns to fetch kids from dance classes or chaperone them to birthday parties. That means women need to feel less guilty when men step up and allow them to do what women think they can do better. Equality in our private lives will lead to equality in the workplace. What words of encouragement do you have for women who feel like failures and that they aren’t enough?
I would be lying if I said I’ve never felt like a failure or that I sometimes feel stretched too thin.