Meet Gasheri Thuku - Daily Nation

Start where you are, your purpose will meet you along the way

Friday January 11 2019

Dr Gasheri Mugao.

Dr Gasheri Mugao during the interview at Nation Centre on Monday, January 07, 2019. PHOTO| DENNIS ONSONGO. 

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While on internship at Kenyatta National Hospital in 2013, Dr Gasheri, a Bachelor of Dental Surgery graduate from the University of Nairobi, decided to shave her hair. It was relaxed, and so needed regular visits to the salon which her busy schedule did not allow.

It is only after shaving her hair that she realised that natural hair products were not easily accessible and were quite expensive. This frustration is what birthed Sheth Naturals in July 2015.

The brand offers organic hair care products such as shampoos, conditioners, cold-pressed butter and oils. Besides Sheth Naturals, she is the founder of M&K Foundation, which has been hosting annual medical camps in Tharaka Nithi County for the past four years.

You had a promising career but you quit to focus on hair care business. What was the transition like? Were you sceptical about the move?

It wasn't an easy decision to make but I knew it was for the best. When I founded my company four years ago, I was still employed, but over time, it became increasingly difficult because the natural hair community kept growing and the demand for my products increased. I felt that to grow and meet this demand, I needed to be fully committed to it.

When I quit, I was the head of the dentistry department at Maragua District Hospital. Worth noting is that before founding Sheth Naturals in 2015, I was already in the hair care business. The joint business was called Magnolia Beauty, which I founded together with friends in 2014. Eventually, my friends stepped away and I took charge of the business since it was my brainchild.

What part of your job keeps you awake at night?

I often sleep late at night giving thought to my leadership style and how to improve it and provide credible leadership to my team and the community we serve.

Among the challenges you have faced, which was the most daunting?

Having a close friend sabotage my business by liaising with my competitor behind my back. When starting out a business, it’s normal to share your ideas with close friends, however, some might use it to their benefit and engage you in unfair competition.

It took me a while to get over that level of disloyalty but it turned out to be the biggest business lesson I have had. That experience taught me to hold my cards close to my chest.

When you reflect on the years you have been in business, which part of the journey are you proudest of?

Creating a hair care brand that has been trusted by people in Kenya and beyond gives me immense joy. Last year, during The Afro Hair Awards, we won the Brand of the Year Award. This made me realise that we have a big number of people who truly believe in us. Also, it was an enlightening moment that we have a big responsibility towards our clients.

If you were to go back to the drawing board, what would you do differently?

I have had high and low moments throughout this journey but I wouldn’t change a thing. The lessons I learnt were invaluable and I loved the adrenaline that came with it. The challenges strengthened me and God has been wonderful to me.

How would you compare your 20s and 30s?

During my early twenties, I discovered that I had a knack for business. I sold airtime in university, graduated to accessories for women and later opened a boutique, a business I ran alongside my internship.

I am in my early 30s now, and I would say that I am wiser and more focused to not only impact the community, but also build a brand that will influence generations.

Do you see going natural as a movement or merely a style that evolved?

It’s a revolution! And it’s not only happening in Kenya, but across the globe too. African women have discovered that their hair is extremely beautiful. I now see women embracing their kinky hair and ebony skin colour, consequently, many businesses have been established around natural hair.

Lately, there have been many discussions about natural hair representation in pop culture and in the media, which has led to growing acceptance of kinky hair - do you think there is still stigma attached to it?

The stigma is still there but it’s not as much as it was a few years ago. People are beginning to appreciate the beauty that is natural hair. In the recent past, I have seen adverts with models rocking their afro hair even when the advert has nothing to do with hair.

What are some of the hurdles an aspiring business owner should be aware of?

Starting capital is one of the challenges that most business people face, however, that should not be an impediment to growth. When I started out, I had to take a loan from a bank.

Also, I couldn’t afford to rent a shop so I started the business in my son’s bedroom and sold my products purely online. Sheth Naturals has grown to have distributors in almost all major towns in Kenya and East Africa. My best advice is to start where you are. Your purpose will meet you along the way.

How do you remain innovative in a field with many competitors?

I started out my business with a commitment to listen, work hard and be honest, values that my team and I hold dear. I have a team of 13, and are available both online and offline to guide those on a natural hair journey or those who wish to transition. Going by the reviews we get, most people like shopping with us because we are authentic.

What’s the biggest lesson you have learnt about money?

To work hard for my money and have respect for whatever I get, however little. Also, be honest in my dealings - easy come, easy go.

Many people have mantras that guide them, do you have one?

Love! Love the lovable and unlovable.