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Candice Thurston - Own your Hair, Own your Confidence

Fuelled by passion and personal experience, Candice Thurston, the founder and MD of Candi & Co, set out to remind African women that self-love starts with loving your hair.


Candice Thurston - Own your Hair, Own your Confidence

When Candice Thurston was a young mixed-race girl growing up in a small (and often small-minded) mining town in Mpumalanga, she had to endure the indignity of going to a hair salon and being told that the stylists there could either cater to her long, straight hair or her mother’s curly hair, but not both.

“Hair was always a big thing in our family,” she relates. “And the hair space for women of colour was not great – you couldn’t find hair salons [catering for ethnic hair] that were neat or clean.”

She couldn’t understand why, in an African country such as South Africa, most hairdressers in the formal space still focused on Eurocentric, Western ideals of hairstyling – and beauty. “Beauty was defined as light skin and straight hair, whatever race you were,” she notes.

“Growing up in a place like Secunda, we had to overcome a lot of racial barriers. But my parents grew me up with the approach that if you work hard and respect people, you’ll be successful in whatever you do.”

So, inspired and encouraged by Ian Fuhr, the founder of the Sorbet group of beauty salons, this brainy BCom graduate decided to take the plunge and act. 

Pooling her knowledge of beauty, business and brand building that she’d built up while working in marketing and customer service at Unilever and MTN, she came up with a “kick-ass business proposal for Sorbet … And at the end of it, they were like: ‘We love it, where do we sign?’ And so Candi & Co was born.”

This chain of classy yet accessible hair and beauty salons under the Sorbet umbrella caters specifically (but not exclusively) for ethnic hair. From braids, weaves and dreadlocks to curls, twists and knots – and all the natural products needed to keep your hair in tip-top condition – Candi & Co is all about making women feel like a million bucks. “We want you to love your hair, whatever it looks like, and use the right products to get the most out of your hair,” Thurston says.

From the original pilot store that was opened in 2014, it has now grown to eight stores in Gauteng, with plans to expand, plus a training school for stylists and women entrepreneurs who wish to own their own beauty business. Over 100 people have been employed since its inception.

“I wanted to deracialise hair and create a space where all race groups can sit next to each other and enjoy themselves,” the 36-year-old says. “I often use this analogy about bras: it’s like when girls buy bras, you don’t have Spanish or Portuguese boobs – you have a bra type. Hair is exactly the same – if you pull your hair out and stretch it, it looks the same but when you let it go, everyone’s got a different hair type.”

Thurston didn’t stumble upon a winning concept by accident – it was the culmination of personal experience, research, workplace insights and, most importantly, passion and persistence.

Having been exposed to apartheid injustice first hand when growing up, she was determined to chart a successful path in life. She initially wanted to be a chartered accountant but then decided to study marketing at the University of Pretoria (UP), while keeping accounting as a major – “I’m both left- and right-brain inclined,” she says. 


After graduating with a BCom, she did her honours at the University of the Witwatersrand, before being accepted into Unilever’s Integrated Business Management Challenge internship programme at UP. 

Thurston laid the groundwork for her future entrepreneurial venture while at Unilever, working on its deodorant and haircare brands, as well as at MTN. This is where the dream of opening her own Sorbet franchise began germinating – as a user of the salons herself.

“From my experience in MTN and Unilever, I’d developed concepts from scratch, so I put together a very detailed business proposal, looking at the market and spending time developing the concept,” she recalls. These insights enabled her to carefully craft a “bright and entertaining” brand that appeals to the LSM 6 to 10 market, mainly women with an average age of 30, and children. 

She knew that what it was the consumer experience that would set Candi & Co apart from the rest of the pack. “We give you an amazing experience,” she says - from a loyalty programme where you earn points and get a 50% discount on your birthday to enjoying free wine, champagne and Wi-Fi in salons, as well as professional stylists and nail technicians, retail products and weekly promotions, not to mention regular trend reports.  

“As a brand, we’re not just a hair salon, we’re a brand that builds confidence,” says Thurston. “We want women to come in and do their hair and #ownit. We want them to feel they can take over the world, and we help them with that journey.”

No wonder Thurston likes to think of herself as a gardener – cultivating confidence, growing self-esteem, nurturing a proudly African concept of beauty that comes from the self-belief within. The sky’s truly the limit for this hair guru!


Smart tips for would-be entrepreneurs

Candice Thurston says that “entrepreneurship is not for everyone” and jokes that “all entrepreneurs are a little bit crazy”, but if you have your sights firmly set on starting a business, she has some advice for you:

Start young: “I’m a firm believer that you need to start running a business from as young as three years old. Start a business today, whether it’s selling socks or sweets or developing an app. You’ll learn diferent business skills from each business, like how to manage cashflow and expenses. Build that mindset from a young age.” 

Put together a tight business case: “Make sure you understand your idea, costs, your market, the amount of investment you need. Talk to a lot of people and focus groups – you need others to rip it apart and build it up for you.”

Start small: “Even if you start with R1 000, start small and register your business. Plough money back into it. This will help you when you approach the banks for financing by showing proof of concept.”

Be passionate: “Make sure you are passionate about your business. I’m not passionate about cars, for example, so I wouldn’t start a car business. But I’m passionate about beauty.”

Build a purpose-driven brand: “People don’t want to be part of brands that are just seen to make money. They want to be part of brands that are driven by a purpose to change the world, whether it be through sustainability, changing lives, driving equality, eradicating poverty.”

Put people before profits: “If you look after your people – whether it be your employees or guests – the money will come.”

Prepare and plan: “Do your research. Be the hardest-working and best-prepared person in the room.”

Be humble: “There’s a level of entitlement in the millennial space. Remember that no one owes you anything; you have to work, as no one’s going to give you anything on a silver platter. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.”

Be a slashie: “Don’t just focus on one skill. Be a forward-slasher with a multitude of skills – become a photographer and a copywriter; learn how to build a website and manage your own social media accounts. I’ve worked in every department of my business and know how each works.”


Candi’s six Ps for success

People (if you focus on them, profits will follow)

Patience (in bucketfuls)

Planning (lots of it!)

Pride (swallow it)

Passion (a must)

Purpose (another essential)

Take five on Candice

What are you reading? More Important than Money: An Entrepreneur’s Team by Robert Kiyosaki (author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad).

What are you listening to? Spotify playlists according to my mood – hip-hop, romance, ’90s music.

What and who inspires you? Being part of bringing out the best in people – that gets my heart pumping. Other people’s success excites me more than my own! And my parents. My mom and dad came from poor backgrounds, and they worked so hard to support my brother and me, and instil the values in us to be successful and change lives.

Travel goals? Ooh, I love travelling! This year I did Tel Aviv and last year I did Vietnam Ibiza, next up is Croatia and Bali. I’ve done Lagos and Zimbabwe, but also want to travel to more African countries

Your motto in life? To be respected, respect. To be trusted, trust. To be loved, love.