BossLadies across our network all agree that starting your own business takes loads of determination and self-belief. One stumbling block that many #BossLadies seem to come up against, again and again, is the dirty F-word…

Gugu Nkabinde, founder of South Africa’s first nude underwear line, Gugu Intimates, shares with #BossLady how she has navigated her way around the thorny issue of Funding…

It is widely spoken of and often true that only ‘friends, family or fools’ will initially be your first port of call. The most innovative ideas are often quite ‘crazy or far-fetched’ for your typical funding institutions. and I struggled for a while to secure funding after exhausting MY personal debt sources and friends

I am so glad to see these conversations around how to fund entrepreneurial dreams are happening far and wide in South Africa and Africa as a whole.

I initially had the good fortune of an angel investor who helped me with prototyping right up until I placed the production order in October 2016. After that, many doors were closed. I eventually met my current investors in June 2017, so I’m happy to share some tips I’ve learned along the way;


“I had to believe in, and perfect, my story to get someone else to believe in it. Each time I was turned down, I improved on my plan and immediately looked for the next avenue to pursue.

  1. Firstly, remember that a business plan should fulfill and show your understanding of the business that you intend starting.
  2. This includes the market, the risks, and the mitigation plans – in case things don’t turn out as you envisioned them.
  3. Also, you should ‘operationalise’ your plan. By this, I mean that you should always keep trying to find more insights and information to inform your plans.
  4. Visualise it as a moving target. It’s not cast in stone. Things change, so roll with it and stay focused.

Not ALL funding is right for you and your business idea:

We often get consumed by ‘finding the money’ ASAP. So we don’t stop to think about weighing the pros and cons of that source of funding, and what it will mean for our model or growth. Take every ‘NO’ as a chance to reassess whether that funding really was the right fit for you.


33-Year old Gugu Nkabinde was born in Zimbabwe to her exiled South African father and Zimbabwean mother. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of The Free State in Bloemfontein. After varsity, Gugu built a successful career working on several big multinational brands including Knorr, Shield, and Dove deodorants, Castle Lite, Bacardi and Standard Bank, and more recently as a Senior Strategist at an advertising agency. In 2016, Gugu left the corporate world to address a need that affects all women, and herself  personally.
I am Runako


“Firstly, I was tired of shying away from white t-shirts and shorts because I’d have to layer them to avoid that self-conscious feeling of wondering whether people could see my contrasting underwear underneath. It baffled me that we women still had to go through that.

I also think that the unique sizes and shapes that our beautiful bodies come in are not always understood by mass manufacturers. Women always have feedback on their underwear. but in Africa, I don’t think the big companies are always listening and looking to provide solutions.

BL: How does the Gugu Intimates underwear range respond to typical complaints about underwear?

GN: Firstly, it’s about not finding the right shade. Just as important, a lot of women have told me about the annoying labels that stick out. And the so-called ‘plus-size’ market that needs to be revisited for fit and comfort. I’m proud to have found a way around the labels (our brand identity and product information is embossed onto the underwear in a beautiful gold print!). And we will continue to look for ways to address these alongside my core business – which is skin colored underwear that’s representative and flattering of us, African women.

The Gugu Intimates Range

It’s also worth noting that I started with a limited size chart due to the complex nature of the category. So, our underwear is currently only available in sizes 32A-38D in our pilot phase. This was a strategic decision to counter the lack of funding which would have been impacted by initial order quantities. But an even more important reason is so that I fully understand the needs of a market that requires more support and bigger sizes as we expand and grow. If I can come up with better solutions for the African woman’s beautiful physique while solving for shades – I would have won, in my eyes!


BL: What winning marketing strategies have you used to market Gugu Intimates – and what response have you seen?

GN: I’m using an ’owned media’ approach to start with. This means that we use social media and our website to develop content that tells the brand story. And we make sure that story resonates with as many of us as possible. This really helped when I was bootstrapping* and low on cash to advertise.

Bootstrapping means to start up a business or enterprise with minimal financial resources. Budget, budget, budget!

I’ve also tapped into the target market themselves as the subjects of our stories. Our ‘models’ are real women, in different shades, shapes, and sizes. I am finding that women are now more ready than ever to appreciate themselves and be seen just as they are. So it’s now much easier to cast for shoots.

Gugu Intimates in all shapes and shades

BL: Could you share some ways that you have upskilled yourself to help you get ahead in life?

GN: My career in corporate was filled with a lot of ‘learning on the job’. So I was always busy studying something throughout the 10 year period. Right now, I read A LOT. Business books like ‘Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries have helped me understand how constant innovation is important in creating and sustaining successful businesses.

On a lighter note; Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’ has helped me understand the importance and power of acting on ideas as they come.


Gosh! So many! If I had to pick; internationally it would be Shonda Rhimes of Scandal, The Fixer and How to Get Away with Murder fame. Just for realizing her power and going at unleashing it fearlessly. And we all know the results (she owns Thursday night TV viewing in the US!) Her book, ‘Year of Yes’ is a must-read!

And locally; Ego Iwegbu from the Miss Salon and Ms London Makeup empire (yes, empire). Hers is a real story of resilience, staying the course, harnessing the power of women collaborating. She is being anything she sets her mind to.

BL: How can #BossLadies order from you?

GN: Gugu Intimates officially launched on the 28th of July this year. We are currently selling via an online store ( In the next few weeks, I’ll start rolling out distribution via the Miss Salon London stores in Parkhurst, Morningside and Menlyn Maine Pretoria. There is a beautiful synergy with their local amazing mineral makeup brand and our shades!

What an inspiring story of resilience. and WE SEE just what is possible when we go after what we set a positive mind to! Do you have any tips, books or courses that have helped you get ahead in life? How do you continually up-skill yourself in your professional life? Share with us and our #BossLady community by commenting below

SPECIAL OFFER! Gugu and her team have activated a FREE Shipping offer to all #BossLadies on your first purchase. This is valid from the 15th of August -15th of September 2017. Simply enter this code ->  BYOB_GuguIntimates under ‘Coupon’ on checkout and also select Free Shipping after the code is active, to redeem.


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