Cover story: Ayanda Thabethe
There’s no stopping AYANDA THABETHE, 31. Not only is she brand ambassador for a beauty and a hair brand, the rising star is also a presenter on Top Billing. Plus, she runs a marketing agency and a hair salon. We catch up with the business-savvy personality to chat all things hair and entertainment.
It’s Ayanda Thabethe’s different mindset that sets her apart. At a time when celebs have gone the route of reality shows, biographies, apps and clothing lines, she’s decided to venture into the hair industry. We’ve arranged to do the interview over coffee at the Design Quarter in Fourways, and the first thing I notice as we greet each other is her hair. She’s sporting a shoulder-length bob and she looks stunning, as always.
Our conversation starts with all things hair, especially Ayanda’s selffunded unisex brand, Liyanda Hair & Beauty Salon, situated in one of Joburg’s upmarket suburbs, Melrose. The salon’s unique name combines the first names of Ayanda and her business partner, Lindelwa Nkambule. The pair used to be colleagues at cosmetic giant L’Oréal South Africa.
The salon caters to ethnic hair. There is a huge demand for an afro haircare sanctuary that allows both men and women to zone out of the hustle and bustle of daily life. The owners of Liyanda aim to be just that, as well as to provide the best service and hair solutions for people who choose to wear their hair natural. “There are endless possibilities and lots of room to grow and learn. The ability to be creative and invent new styles and methods is what makes owning the salon fun,” says the TV presenter, whose love for hair is obvious.
STARTING AT THE BOTTOM
Looking through Ayanda’s impressive CV, you realise that all her hard work prepared her to be the businesswoman she is today. Born in KwaZulu-Natal, Ayanda attended an all-girls boarding school, Sacred Heart Girls’ High School. After completing a BCom in communication management at the University of Pretoria, she moved to Joburg, where she found a job as a personal assistant in a finance company. A few months later, she became a marketing intern at Johnson & Johnson while studying for her honours degree in marketing. Soon the company promoted her to a sales representative, which entailed her working with medical equipment diagnostics in theatres and hospitals.
That was followed by a short stint at another company selling pharmaceutical products. “I wasn’t into it. My colleagues constantly pointed out that I didn’t belong there and needed to be on TV,” she says.
Still, Ayanda stayed in the corporate world and became a marketing intern once again, this time at L’Oréal South Africa. “I had a feeling that this would lead to bigger things,” she says. And it did. A year later, she was promoted to brand manager for the company’s ethnic haircare brand, Dark and Lovely. She thrived in that role for three years and this is where her passion for hair was nurtured. She and Lindelwa, who also worked for the same brand, absorbed as much as they could about the hair industry.
“It is thanks to my being a brand manager that I felt confident about opening this salon. Fortunately, my business partner Lindelwa had similar experience during our time there. We collaborated as we both wanted to be entrepreneurs. We know hair, so we decided it would be a great transition to venture into hair.”
ONE STEP AT A TIME
When Ayanda left L’Oréal in 2015 her plan was to carve a career in the entertainment industry. She hadn’t yet ventured into the hair business. She had already done a few gigs in entertainment while working at L’Oréal, but this was on a small scale as her job didn’t allow her to take on bigger roles. In 2012, Ayanda hosted a show called Top Entertainment alongside rapper AKA, which aired on the pay-TV satellite brand that was then known as Top TV.
She also appeared as an extra on Generations and on a five-part series called Tooth & Nails, which aired on Mzansi Magic. She did part-time modelling work and starred in a string of TV adverts, including one for haircare label Sunsilk.
GOING FOR GOLD
Ayanda’s TV breakthrough came in 2016 with her role as Aaliyah on Rockville, the Mzansi Magic hit series produced by Ferguson Films. She was approached by Connie Ferguson, one of the show’s creators, to star in the first season of the local soapie, which aired in 2013. Ayanda couldn’t accept the role because at the time, she was working at L’Oréal. “I missed that chance, which left a hole in my heart. So when this opportunity came again, I grabbed it. I left the corporate world and decided that if entertainment didn’t work for me, I could dust off my degrees and head back to office life.”
After Rockville, Ayanda started picking up more TV gigs and soon became a co-host on the magazine show BET A-list, on DStv channel BET, alongside Nandi Madida. Today, this rising star is a presenter on SABC 3’s
“It’s thanks to my being a brand manager that I felt confident about opening a salon. Fortunately, my business partner Lindiwe has similar experience. So we collaborated as we both wanted to be entrepreneurs. We know hair!”
lifestyle show, Top Billing.
In addition to her on-screen work, Ayanda has clinched many lucrative deals, including being the face of fashion label Legit, with a range designed specifically for her. She’s currently the face of skincare label Pond’s and the global ambassador for the haircare product line, Mizani. She was also named Hottie of the Year at the 2016 Feather Awards.
“I’m very careful not to think I’ve ‘arrived’,” she says. “I don’t feel like that. I see it as me making great strides and having accomplished some of my personal goals. I became comfortable with who I am before I got into the entertainment industry, a place that can see you all over the show if you aren’t headstrong. The most important thing is the work, and everything else is frivolous for me. I like this famous quote: ‘It takes a long time to be an overnight success.’
“I like it because it emphasises the amount of work I’ve put in behind the scenes, away from the camera. People don’t realise just how much I’ve put in. They only get to see the results.”
BEING THE ENTERTAINER
Making the switch from corporate to entertainment was not as easy as Ayanda thought it would be. “I knew I’d have to work hard, and I was prepared for that. What I didn’t expect is how competitive this industry is. People compare you to individuals who’ve been in entertainment way longer than you, which I don’t get.”
Asked if there’s anything new that she’s bringing to the industry, she says: “I know the business behind entertainment based on my marketing experience. I’ve had the opportunity to look at it from a bird’s-eye view. I look at what everyone is doing, and then figure out how I can do it differently. God gave me this opportunity, and even though sometimes we want things to happen in our own time, God has a way of saying: ‘Not now.’
“It took me a long time to be in entertainment and when I eventually became a part of it, I was more mature and had a better understanding of myself. I think people can see that I’m confident and comfortable in my own skin. I’m authentic and never try to be anyone else. I’m branding myself the way I want people to see me, and that’s been an advantage for me.”
“I’m very careful not to think I’ve ‘arrived’. I don’t feel like that. I see it as me making great strides and having accomplished some of my personal goals”
There’s no stopping this rising star, who’s on a roll. In addition to the entertainment jobs and ambassadorships, Ayanda runs two fully operational businesses. She owns a marketing agency called Buzzworthy Productions, servicing companies which aim to create a ‘buzz’ for their brands. It has been running for two years and boasts Nestlé as one of its top clients. And then there’s the hair and beauty salon in Melrose.
Which takes us back to the subject of hair. As a global ambassador, Ayanda gets to rub shoulders with renowned stylists like César Ramirez, who is the stylist to superstars including Ciara and Kim Kardashian. By networking with business-minded people like the ones above and learning from them, Ayanda says, it will help her businesses grow.
“I’m a solid businesswoman. I use my influence and the power that I have in the entertainment industry to direct my business. I look up to women like Khanyi Dhlomo, Basetsana Kumalo and Jo-Ann Strauss. These are the kinds of women I associate myself with. I love women who are graceful, humble and very powerful, and whose power doesn’t need to shout. That’s the person I want to be,” she says.
Ayanda is one of our ‘it’ girls who has seen her star rise in 2017. She is happy with her achievements, more so because she worked hard for everything she has. She comes from humble beginnings. As the middle of five sisters, she is glad that they were taught the importance of hard work at home. She and her sisters were raised by a single mother who worked as a nurse, and sold cooldrinks and made dresses on the side.
Ayanda’s parents divorced when she was two years old, and the family moved around Durban quite a bit before settling in one place. She, her mother and sisters have lived in the Durban townships of Kwa Mashu, Shayamoya, Ntuzuma and Umlazi. None of her sisters are in entertainment. One is an
engineer, another an environmental health specialist and the youngest is still in high school. Her younger sister Lungi, who graduated with a degree in politics, works with Ayanda.
THE HAIR JOURNEY
Ayanda now lives a different life from the one of her childhood years. While she’s content with how things are panning out for her, she insists that there’s still room for growth in all her ventures. She smiles as she pulls me back to our earlier hair discussion by comparing her life and career journey to that of her hair.
She explains that much like her career, there’s nothing she hasn’t tried as far as hairstyles go. She’s had an afro, been bald, rocked short hair, done a bold cut, braided and plaited her tresses, relaxed them and gone back to natural. “Of all of these, my worst hair memory was made the end of my first year at varsity. That’s when I decided to go completely bald. It was painful waiting for my hair to grow back. I can’t even remember why I did it, but it felt like forever before it grew!”
Ayanda sees her hair as her crowning glory now and she’s lucky to have hair experts on-call who make sure that it’s always in top form and looking gorgeous. As a child, it was her mother who made a fuss about her hair.
“My mom was very hands-on with my hair. She used to neatly plait it during my primary school days; she was also very careful not to use harsh products. I recall using products called Black Silk earlier on because she swore by them. I had big hair and to this day, I don’t struggle with the volume or length of my hair unless I’m at a shoot and my mane is not handled well.
“I’ve had relaxed hair for most of my life, but I only relax it twice a year now. I do change my hair a lot, depending on what attitude, mood or feeling I’m trying to express at the time, and of course, if I have a shoot to do,” she says. Ayanda is quick to add that, to keep her hair in tip-top shape, she follows a very strict haircare routine. “I wash it weekly and treat it monthly. I also get my hair trimmed regularly to maintain its length and volume. I moisturise the scalp and make sure that I avoid product build-up.” She adds: “I also invest in the best haircare products to ensure my hair always looks and feels healthy. Your hair is your crown, after all so you have to take care of it.”
Before we say goodbye, I suggest to Ayanda that since her hair is such an important part of her life, what kind of conversations would she have with it if she could? She laughs out loud, thinks to herself for a while and then she replies: “I’ll write a letter to my hair and send it to you. How about that?”
And she did! Here it is:
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