Swimming caps for big hair: Entrepreneur identifies untapped opportunity

Nomvuyo Treffers (middle) and her two children

“The thing about swimming caps,” says Nomvuyo Treffers, the founder of Cape Town-based Swimma, “Is that they are like shoes – there is no one size fits all.”

Two years ago, out of personal frustration with not being able to find a swimming cap that fit over her dreadlocks, Treffers designed her own and had it custom-made. Now, two years down the line, she runs Swimma – a swimwear business that designs and sells caps for all shapes and sizes of hair.

Treffers, who is also a professional photographer, had mulled over the idea of making swimming caps for people with ‘big hair’ for a while before Swimma took form.

“My children love water and swimming, so they would invite me to swim with them, and obviously I would come up with excuses. And there are places in fact, like gyms mainly, where you can’t be in their pools without swimming caps – it is a requirement. So that excludes people like me,” she notes.

Big swimming caps already existed when she first designed her own. However, the market then didn’t cater to a wide variety of hair types, especially when it came to children. Taking into account the large number of people in South Africa, and Africa as a whole, that have dreadlocks and afros, she made the decision to move forward with her own brand.

A year later Treffers had her first batch of swimming caps in hand, which she tweeted about to gauge the market’s response, and was surprised how quickly the word spread. It wasn’t long before she set up an online shop in August 2016.

Since then, she has received attention from various media outlets. “All this interest,” Treffers remarks, “shows that a cap like Swimma is necessary.”

Her only regret is not launching “bigger and sooner”, when the idea first came to mind.

Treffers plans to add additional swim gear, like bikinis and swimsuits, to the Swimma line. But for now she is focusing on developing the brand.

“People love what Swimma stands for: inclusion and representation. When I first produced a [company] t-shirt for myself… people were like ‘we want t-shirts’ just because it was Swimma,” she says.

The company sells its caps in both the US and UK, and to other African countries like Uganda, Kenya, Botswana and Namibia. The majority of her clients are swim schools, where pool-goers are required to wear a cap.

Treffers still works as a full-time photographer and finds it difficult to balance time between her studio work and her fledgling swimwear business. But, as a practiced entrepreneur – with two other ventures under her belt prior to Swimma – she makes it work.

“I am trying my best, but I wouldn’t say it is easy. Businesses are not instant successes. That is one thing people always think: you work for yourself and it will grow. But it is important to just stay focused and do your market research – in fact look for things that not everyone else is offering. And work hard, because without hard work I don’t think it is easy to succeed.”