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PROFILE – Ayanda Madlebe, entering a female dominated industry

Award-winning hair expert and entrepreneur Ayanda Madlebe’s decision to enter the lucrative female dominated hair industry has seen him tending to the whims and fancies of influential captains of industry and celebrities – and he loves every second of it.
He started the company, Studio 353 The Beauty Shop, with his wife Busi in Johannesburg three years ago. 
Madlebe says he was driven by the need to create jobs and educate people on how to take care of their black hair, an industry valued at over R9.7 billion a year in South Africa. It was considered the largest in Africa in 2010.
Madlebe recently returned from New York in the US, where he received training on hairdressing from Black Panther’s head hair stylist Camille Friend, as part of an initiative by the Peanuts Global Artist Collective.
He’s also received training from haircare products company Softsheen-Carson and is accredited as a qualified hairdresser in Afro hairdressing by the Services Sector Education and Training Authority.
Ayanda Madlebe co-founded Studio 353 The Beauty Shop with his wife Busi in Rivonia, Johannesburg, three years ago. Image: Supplied.
Madlebe’s salon in Rivonia is one of the three MIZANI flagship salons in the country that sell the brand’s hair care products. MIZANI is owned by the L’Oreal Group which accredited Madlebe as a qualified salon expert last year.
“It’s been 16 years of doing hairdressing, this is all I know. There is no Plan B,” says Madlebe, during an interview with Business Report at his salon.
His list of clients include renowned opera singer Sibongile Mngoma, Nonku Ntshona, chief executive of quantity surveying company Nonku Ntshona & Associates, Monalisa Zwambila, chief executive of Riverbed and Chillibush Communications, and Top Billing presenter Ayanda Thabethe, among many others.
“My clients are more of the middle and upper class people but my services are not too high end, they are quite affordable,” he says, adding that his business thrives on referrals.
He also dressed the hair of the Big Brother: All Stars housemates in 2010. “We did their hair throughout the season and we also prepared them for the finale as well. This was one of my early career highlights,” says Madlebe, who has also worked with True Love and Cosmopolitan magazines.
Madlebe says his passion for hairdressing started many years ago while growing up in Port Shepstone. “I used to cut my friends’ hair and I just grew to love hair.”
“Getting into business,” he says, “was more about me wanting to make a difference, especially in the ethnic hair industry. Most people lack knowledge about which products to use and about the science of hair in general.”
Now Madlebe wants to start a hairdressing academy as part of his growth strategy and to “make a mark out there”. 
He says what also brings in money in his business are the sales of aftercare products to his clients.
“Look, it’s been a journey of learning because you can’t say you know it all. There is still more to learn. However, I must say that it’s been a fun ride, challenging I must say, but fine.”
Madlebe has set himself a target of five years in which he wants to open other branches in different branches, franchise the business and launch his hairdressing academy.
“We have given ourselves a really tight deadline. We want to have a second branch before this year ends. We are planning to move at a very fast pace.
Madlebe says running the business has been a lot of sleepless nights, wanting to give up, and admits that dealing with people on its own needs to be a passion.  “So it’s not all glitz and glamour.” He says when he started in the industry, a lot of people assumed he was gay.
“How typical because I’m so cool, I think clients find me really cool and fun because I get to interact with them. I make people smile,” he says.
Written by Luyolo Mkentane

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