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This startup is filling the gap in SA's male grooming market

Founder Monique Fleming on being a woman creating a men's lifestyle brand


During the month of November men across the globe celebrate what has come to be known as Movember - which involves the growing of facial hair and beards to raise awareness about men's health issues

This together with the growing popularity of facial year throughout the year has created a demand for men's grooming products.

Bonafide Beards was founded by Monique Lee Fleming (41) in 2014 to meet this demand. She describes herself as the first woman in South Africa to produce a range of male-focused grooming products, specifically targeted at men with beards. 

"Necessity is the mother of all inventions. I saw a huge gap in the male grooming market when my husband Joe, started growing his beard. I couldn't find a single local product that was specifically designed to treat his itchy skin or tame his dry, wild and wooly beard.

"We had two options he either had to shave it (which wasn’t an option for me as I love facial hair) or import the products from overseas (which was too costly)," says Fleming. 

Fleming's research revealed that most of the products being produced overseas were not being manufactured by big companies but enterprising individuals. "I thought if they can do it, then so can I and so the research began." Today the Johannesburg-based brand also ships their products globally. 

Monique Fleming, Bonafide
Beards founder. 

We speak to Fleming about having to first educate her market and getting out of your own way. 

On unexpected beginnings

The first batch I made was really only meant to be a gift for my hubby but I was left with a few jars and suddenly thought that he can’t be the only man in South Africa who needs to use this product, or doesn’t know he needs to use this product yet and VOILA Bonafide Beards was born. 

On funding and finances

My initial investment was R1300 which I used to buy materials and ingredients to make my first batch of products. Each time I sold anything I simply used the money to purchase more stock.

Fortunately, I had a little money saved up that I used to pay for Facebook advertising, as well as to pay for stalls at flea markets to create awareness for the brand and to help through the initial "dry" stages.

  • On creating brand awareness

Initially, I began creating awareness by offering free samples to key influencers who had beards or to people who knew other influencers with beards. We spent many weekends at markets chatting to bearded men and their partners about the importance of grooming and what our products could do for both of them. All in all it hasn't been a very difficult task to get customers since then, for a few reasons, those are:

  • We are very interactive and engaging on our social media pages; FB, Instagram and Twitter
  • by providing brand awareness content such as videos, adverts and day to day posts
  • I proud myself in offering very high-quality products
  • The level of service I offer my customers way exceeds most people's expectations
  • Our customers are made to feel like they have become part of and belong to our Bonafide
  • family

All of this encourages positive word of mouth reviews and as a result, we have a vast group of loyal and very supportive men and women who spread the "Bonafide" word for us. 

  • On staying competitive

Other than being the only woman doing what so many men are trying to do in this country, the key differentiators are we do not skimp on quality ingredients, our products are perceived as luxurious, yet are still affordable despite being of such good quality, our first goal above all else, is impeccable customer service 

  • On being woman creating a men's product range

As a woman I was not taken very seriously at first by my competitors or by my customers because "what does a chick know about beards", but when I started passing on valuable information to men about their beards that they didn’t even know, they started to listen and ask more questions and then they listened even more. It was very empowering.

The key to this journey for me has been about education. Educating men and women (who love beards) that they don’t have to suffer through discomfort, bad smells or wild man cave beards; that it is ok to take care of yourself (as a man) or (as a woman) to encourage your man to take care of himself. The days of there being a stigma attached to men who look after themselves is dead and buried.

  • On building a lifestyle brand

We consider Bonafide Beards to be a lifestyle brand rather than a cosmetic brand that incorporates everything my husband and I love beards, bikes, beer, travel, friends, family and so much more.

As a young dynamic company in that we are always looking for ways to offer our customers more e.g we have just launched a new range of shaving products called Bonafide Faces.

My husband Joe has actually launched a subdivision of the company called "Bonafide" that focuses on the lifestyle part of our brand. He is also an integral part of the business too and works on our marketing/media/graphics content and deals with the IT side of things. 

  • On challenges and successes

Ironically the biggest hurdle I had to overcome was myself. Once I began believing in myself and placing trust into the fact that I could make this a success, things like setting up a website for an e-commerce store, finding a courier company I could rely on, finding suppliers of containers and ingredients at wholesale prices and then running the company on my own for 5 months, seemed like a breeze. 

We sought the help a business coach in the initial months and were very fortunate to receive the help of an amazing entrepreneur who had all the knowledge we needed and who assisted us with the setup of our online store right at the beginning.

The biggest surprise about being a startup founder has been the success and recognition for all the hard work, long hours, sweat and tears. Receiving emails of thanks and appreciation for who we are and what we do on a daily basis. 

I attribute our success to keeping the focus on myself and my brand rather than concerning myself by what others are doing in the marketplace. Also being aware of what resonates with me and running with that, rather than forcing something that does not feel real or authentic just for the sake of "business". 

  • On plans for the future

We have just launched a new range called Bonafide Faces that we will expand upon next year. We are also opening a physical retail store at the beginning of 2016, that will incorporate space for a barber, production area for product manufacture and office space for admin.

  • On lessons learnt

Trust your gut if you have any doubt, get out but if it feels right, then fight. Find leaders in your field that can assist you and ASK for help, 99% of time, you’ll get it. A business coach is a great investment that can guide you in the right direction and give you invaluable advice

I wish I had known starting out that I didn’t need to panic about not being successful. Everything has happened exactly as it
should and precisely the right moment it was meant to. And that I was going to need 25 hours in a day ;)

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