The only beauty product we all need in our handbags is a good sunscreen. Everything else is the cherry on top

Tell us about the Matte Project (TMP). Where does the name come from?   

TMP is an idea I had while I was still a magazine beauty editor. I was constantly aware of how many white beauty editor voices there are around the world, and these were the voices responsible for sharing beauty messages, advice, tips and recommendations with a vast and diverse women’s market. There seemed to be one type of woman everyone was addressing: the white woman. I decided to start a consultancy where our sole focus and default setting is decoding beauty products, tips and tricks for the woman who isn’t white – in other words, women of colour – and specifically the black woman. The name is a play on the eternal quest we have as black women to not have the 12 o’clock nose and forehead shine – for our skin to stay (sort of) matte throughout the day.

The five beauty essentials every woman needs in her bag are…?

The only beauty product we all need in our handbags is a good sunscreen. Everything else is the cherry on top. My top five “cherries” are lip balm, hand cream, lipstick, cleansing wipes and concealer.

What are your top three South African beauty/hair brands?

For hair, The Perfect Hair brand has some really great hydrating hair products for South African hair textures. I like The Perfect Coil conditioner for my whole family.

Bio-Oil is my all-time favourite South African product. I’m addicted to the subtle, clean scent. I like to apply it to damp skin after a warm bath or shower, just before I go to bed.

Lipidol oils (especially the face cleansing oil) are affordable and effective. As soon as it says “oil”, I go a little ga-ga. I love oils on my skin.

What’s the difference between the way black beauty is seen now as opposed to a decade ago?

I think many of us have woken up to the fact that we don’t all have to look the same to be considered beautiful. That’s the major difference. That, and the fact that black women all over the world are tired of being told what to wear, how to look and how to speak. We are standing up for ourselves and affirming ourselves in our own circles, as well as in public spaces. Our beauty today is more visible and therefore more acknowledged.

What kind of doors has The Matte Project opened for you?

TMP has taken me into the minds of many South African women in terms of what matters to us regarding beauty – this is even the case with my own friends. I now also work closely with brands I’ve worked with for years as a beauty editor for Marie Claire, when they were advertisers. Now we work as partners, trying to find ways of providing beauty solutions to many women in a way that is not contrived, but realistic and authentic.

Beauty is… health.

Besides The Matte Project, what other work you do?

I still freelance as a beauty editor and beauty writer. I co-founded and co-present a web series on YouTube with my friend, Milisuthando Bongela, called Living Head First. We talk about black hair and create a lighter spin on the topic by having black women share their hilarious experiences and stories about hair. TMP also hosts intimate events, where we introduce women to new products, master classes and, this year, we will hold our first conference.

What beauty products do you have in your bag all the time?

Red lipstick, sunscreen and lip balm.

Do you have tips for taking care of black children’s hair?

Keep it clean (using sulphate-free shampoo) and well nourished (get a good detangling conditioner). Use your fingers to detangle the hair while damp. If you choose to braid it or plait it, don’t pull along the hairline. Whatever you do, try not to create the impression that your child’s hair is a problem to be solved.

How important is the digital medium to highlighting issues around black beauty?

It assures us that we’re not alone in our thoughts and insecurities. It also shows us images of other women around the world who look like us in different contexts of beauty. We never saw this enough before in traditional media platforms.

Who do you follow on social media that other black girls can follow for inspiration?

For black girls and boys, definitely follow @blackboard_africa (I’m specifically talking about boys and girls, not men and women).

What should people expect from The Matte Project in future?

Our big conference at the end of this year – it won’t just be on beauty, but big topics that affect us as women, linked back to beauty, of course. Look out for our master classes, which happen more frequently. Go to our website for all upcoming event information.

What trends should we expect to see more of this year?

Beauty trends pretty much stay the same, just slightly updated. Smoky eye in winter, pop lip in summer. Musky scent in winter, fresh and fruity in summer. It’s all the same, just worded differently. I do hope we see the end of contouring soon and see more glowing, plumped-up skin. Forget trends and just go with what your personality is feeling.

Who is your beauty icon? Why?

I find so many women beautiful, for different reasons. I find Nina Simone’s mind to be the most beautiful. I think Lupita Nyong’o’s skin is unbelievable. I feel like Jada Pinkett-Smith and her mom have some explaining to do when it comes to those bodies. And I think actress Zandile Msutwana has such a beautiful face and a kind heart.

What has surprised you most about The Matte Project?

The very positive response from both women and beauty brands. I knew the need was there, but I didn’t realise how serious it was. Now the men are starting to feel left out and are asking grooming questions, so maybe there’s something there…

What puts a smile on your face? 

My husband and my children, memories of my late father and brother, a cold glass of bubbly.

If money was not an issue, what three bespoke beauty items would you buy?

A Le Labo fragrance, a foundation made to match my skin tone exactly (am still searching…) and a lipstick made to my specific texture, tone and finish.

South African women are… brave and resilient.

Facebook: The Matte Project

Instagram: @thematteproject and @mathahlestofile