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Founder and CEO Gugu Nkabinde of Gugu Intimates knows how to #MAKEITHAPPEN

For Women’s Month, we are profiling inspiring women who are making a difference in Africa. We’re bringing you innovators, creatives, entrepreneurs and influencers whose stories of success will inspire you all through August.

Trailblazing freelance strategist and entrepreneur Gugu Nkabinde's  journey into founding Gugu Intimates – skin coloured underwear– was born from a personal need. Then, recognizing a glaring market gap, she decided to fill it. In a world where women of colour battle with stereotypical beauty “norms” on a daily basis, Gugu’s empowering and all-inclusive underwear range aimed at giving women a source of confidence to embrace the skin they own - no matter what shade - is welcome.

The dream began… end of 2015.  11 years into the brand and advertising world, fast approaching my 33rd birthday, I thought I would have done something really impactful with my talents and passion for consumer insights. I put a challenge to myself – together with a friend - that at the end of 2016, we would have started ONE thing that we could put our names on. I was a senior strategist at an advertising agency at the time and having done a bit of research on the availability of skin-coloured undergarments for women of colour a few months prior, the process of elimination led me to Gugu Intimates. It was the one that scared and challenged me the most! I worked on the brand and product concepts, together with prototyping for over 18 months before our official launch this past July.

How has Gugu Intimates made an impact on the ready-to-wear lingerie market?

The reception of the new product category has been quite amazing. We previewed the range to a few women in March this year and almost “broke the internet” – trending on Twitter with just their posts and feedback on the concept and product! The interest from bloggers, fashion stylists and people in the film industry has also been great! To think that brown skin tones were not considered deserving of a nude palette that matches is still unbelievable.

Gugu Intimates

Gugu Intimates/Supplied

Career highlights?

Career highlights as a Marketer and Brand Strategist include having worked on amazing global brands such as Knorr, Shield for Women, Shield Teens, Castle Lite, Bacardi, and Martini. Memorable ones being the Shield Teens launches of two variants that were accompanied by reality TV series which flighted on eTV in 2008 and 2009. To be a part of the entire value chain from the product variant concepts, local roll-out and the roadshows that made up the content for what were the 2 most watched TV reality shows on a Sunday back then was amazing! Castle Lite was also a feather in my “marketer’s cap” – building the Extra Cold proposition and working on campaigns such as the Feel the Beat of Subzero with Drake and taking consumers to the World’s Biggest Ice Bar in Florida rank high up there for me. I guess I’ve really had a good run in the brand and marketing space so it’s hard to leave out the re-launch of Martini too. When I went onto the advertising side I discovered a whole new set of skills and have an Apex award for an entry I put together for Nedbank –a client of Joe Public’s that I worked on for over 2 years.

Three things readers who want to start their own business need to know?

  • Research and refine your concept as much as possible! I had the advantage of having a research background via my media studies degree and having sharpened at corporates like SAB and Unilever gave me the insight to do enough research - desktop and qualitative to make sure I understood the category I was looking to create a solution in.
  • Secondly, surround yourself with people who can complement your skills, strengths and even weaknesses. It’s a misconception that you have to know EVERYTHING before you get going. I found a lot of value in asking for help from experts in the fields I wasn’t as strong in.
  • Lastly, you need to put something on the line before anyone can invest in you. Your own money and lots of hours outside of your day job are top of mind –but you have to invest in your idea before you can even expect anyone else to.

A daily motivational quote that helps you through your day?

I truly believe that we all have a special and unique gist through which we can bring light into the world in our lifetimes. This quote gained new meaning for me as I returned from an exploration trip to find manufacturers in Asia to a custom colour to the shades I had created. It was then that I realized that the barriers were not so much outside of me than they were internal:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It's not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson

Author, Lecturer 

Beauty Staples?

I’m a fan of the natural movement, so Coconut Oil is a staple in my life. I add it to my hand lotions, apply it as is, whenever possible. I’m never without my Beauty Fix Natural Makeup Finish Spray.

Current book… I’m currently reading Sacred Contracts (Awakening your Divine Potential) by Caroline Myss. Some would say it’s too deep - I’m on a journey to getting all the juicy goodness out of this life and my potential.

Signature scent… I LOVE Sì by Georgio Armani.

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