Can cosmetic services drive economic inclusion?
Amazi is a nail and beauty salon chain that uses an entrepreneurial approach to fight inequality in South Africa. Amazi’s service unlocks economic value among a marginalized part of the population: They train and hire disadvantaged women to work as nail technicians and cater to South Africa’s largely neglected lower- and middle-class customer segment.
As an investor and strategic partner, elea supports Amazi in developing their business and contributing to the country’s struggle against unemployment and inequality.
Amazi’s roots in South Africa’s context
Born and raised in South Africa, Amazi's founder, Divya Vasant had built a successful career in the financial sector when she recognized a unique entrepreneurial opportunity based on two observations.
First, unemployment among South African women is higher than among men and women in South Africa’s lower- and middle-income brackets are particularly affected. More than 30% of them are unemployed. Once the women become mothers, their lack of income impacts their children’s odds as well. The position of women in the labor market has not changed significantly in the last decade. Divya saw this enormous problem, but she also managed to identify some unrealized potential hidden in it. She decided to address the issue of the high unemployment rate and tap into this potential.
Second, South Africa is the most unequal country in the world according to the World Bank. The beauty market reflects that. An overwhelming majority of South Africa’s consumers are low- to middle-income earners. But most brands in the beauty market only cater to the minority of the population that sits in the high-income bracket. Therefore, South Africa’s beauty industry does not cater to the majority of the population, despite its growing buying power.
Divya combined those two observations and founded Amazi. She seized the opportunity to fill a significant market gap while unlocking the potential of women otherwise excluded from the economy.
What brings you, as a customer, to Amazi?
The Academy and the nail and beauty salons
Amazi is a chain of nail and beauty salons that caters specifically to lower- and middle-class women. They staff their salons with graduates from their own Amazi Beauty Academy. The Academy screens the applicants for their potential: It assesses their motivation, their capacity to learn, and their determination to commit to a rigorous training schedule. Amazi carefully chooses women with the necessary drive to train them to become first class nail technicians. The women do not need to have any prior beauty experience or academic qualifications. Each woman attends class daily for four months in the Amazi Academy where they learn technical skills and client management. When they graduate, they start working with clients in the Amazi beauty salons. Amazi prides itself on providing a top-quality service to its customers, even from first-time nail technicians. Its staff members can develop their career paths all the way to becoming managers of new salons and to other key roles within the organization. Amazi supports them in their personal growth and reinforces their self-confidence. The training academy’s holistic approach, that includes mentoring and counselling, provides the base for this transformational development.
What motivates you?
Transforming the lives of disadvantaged women
When Zanele Yende got pregnant at the age of sixteen, her mother cried out of disappointment. She had wanted a different life for her daughter. She wanted her to finish high school, but instead Zanele found a job at a packaging factory, started earning a low salary, and believed that this was enough.
With her daughter growing up, Zanele changed her mind and realized that she wanted to be a better example. She needed to find a way to give her daughter a better life. When a friend told her about the Amazi Beauty Academy recruitment, she realized this could be the opportunity she needed to turn her life around. She applied and was invited for an interview. “I remember the smile my mother had on her face when I received the text that I had been shortlisted for an interview. It does not matter your background, every single one of us has a dream of making our parents proud.”
For four months, Zanele travelled over two hours to make it to class every day and graduated from the program. Now as a professional Amazi nail technician she says: “My success at Amazi is largely due to being around women who want to see me succeed. I cannot count the number of times other Amazi members have held my hand, challenged me, and made me believe I was worthy of occupying the same space as them.” Beyond the team’s support, Zanele finds motivation in working for an organization headed by women of color. “When you see someone, who looks like you, living a life of purpose and achieving their dreams, it makes your goals seem possible.” She is proud of the life and example she has created for her daughter.
Amazi and elea
In Divya Vasant, elea found a driven entrepreneur with a clear mission, a unique business model, and a talented team. elea saw the potential of Amazi to revolutionize the beauty industry in South Africa and became Amazi’s first external investor in late 2017. Since then, Amazi and elea have been strategic partners. elea supports Amazi beyond its financial investment with advice on strategy, organization, and leadership as well as oversight with a representation in Amazi’s board of directors. For this purpose, elea draws on professional competence and experience accumulated over the years with comparable companies in elea’s globally diversified portfolio.
elea acts as a partner in developing Amazi’s expansion strategy and provides guidance in creating the organizational structures needed for sustainable growth. Amazi also receives leadership mentoring based on elea’s expertise on the topic. In summary, elea’s financial and advisory contribution supports Amazi in maximizing the potential of their model. It enables Amazi to finetune the symbiotic relationship of its commercial success and the impact that lies at the model’s core. As such, elea has become an integral part of the ecosystem of partners Amazi is building around their enterprise. Together the two organizations are facilitating the expansion of Amazi’s model as they pursue the double bottom line of profit and impact.
The road ahead: Sustainable expansion
Amazi has built training hubs in Cape Town and Johannesburg and is expanding the number of stores it has in each location. Every year two new batches of trainees start their transformational learning experience and enter employment in Amazi salons. The Amazi women display a great sense of team spirit and motivation, fostered by their shared journey. Amazi is a place where they receive support beyond their professional development and find a community that empowers them. Their professionalism and performance are earning the social enterprise a growing number of customers, which in turn allows Amazi to increase its number of stores and thus its impact.