Innovative device makes life easier for braiding lovers and stylists


The saying "beauty comes at a price" resonates with women everywhere. Irrespective of race, culture or economic status, all women can attest to enduring pain and discomfort, and spending far too much time and money, in the name of beauty.


For black women, the process of managing their hair is even more arduous. From braiding to straightening, with dreadlocks or natural hairstyles, it is a never-ending struggle.


It is these challenges that motivated innovator Coto Makaba. The frustration she experienced at hair salons, given the time stylists had to spend on cutting and sealing "single braids", became her inspiration for finding a solution.


The proud grandmother of seven invented Yem-Yem Snip and Zip, a braid sealer gadget that simultaneously cuts, seals and shapes synthetic braids. It also neatens the spikes that form during the braiding of synthetic hair.


Yem-Yem Snip and Zip is both a production enhancement and a safety device. It cuts the time spent on salon-style braids by 80%, speeding up the process for both hairstylist and client, thereby raising the production capacity income of the stylist and improving the comfort of the client.


The device is also safer than the traditional method, which requires the stylist to press the hot ends of the braids together with the fingertips to seal them manually, and exposes the client to scalding by wax from the extensions and wax drop-off from the candle used to burn the ends of the braids.


Makaba says her hair salon experiences made her determined to come up with a solution that would spare others from having to endure the same thing.


"I was driving to Bloemfontein when the idea struck me. I had to drive to the nearest town, Kroonstad, to see whether what I had in mind was possible. I bought a pair of scissors and glue and got a piece of cardboard, then began to reconstruct what I could visualise in my mind," she explained.


A year later, Makaba filed a patent application, then did some research and discovered that she could get assistance from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), an entity of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).


"It was not smooth sailing to where Yem-Yem is today", she says, describing a journey of more than two decades. Although she would later get assistance from the CSIR, she was initially discouraged. "I was told the idea would never work, though in my deepest heart I knew it would. As a result, I proceeded to the then Pretoria Technikon [now the Tshwane University of Technology, or TUT] and was encouraged to proceed to the University of the Free State, who tested and produced the first prototype."


As will happen, Makaba then hit a rough patch in her personal life and, struggling to get further assistance, gave up on her idea. Not for long, however. Summoning new strength, she sold her property to enable her to continue pursuing her innovation. Fortunately, no one else had cottoned on to its potential.


In 2016 she approached Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), and received assistance through two of the agency's 18 technology stations based at higher education institutions. The TUT technology station and the CSIR produced the second protype, and the Product Development Technology Station at the Central University of Technology (CUT) finalised it.


The DSI provides financial support through TIA to higher education Institutions that house technology stations to provide technical support and training to small and medium enterprises.


Makaba says the appearance of the product has changed with the assistance of the CSIR. However, the originally patented idea, of simultaneously cleaning up, cutting and sealing the braids while shaping and smoothing them, remains the same. CUT has also developed a version for manufacture, requiring electronic installation, which has been tested by a number of hair salons.


As most successful entrepreneurs and innovators will attest, realising one's dream involves a long journey strewn with obstacles. Hence the perseverance and self-belief that sets such people apart. It is exactly these characteristics that carried Makaba through, enabling her to bring her product to market and, finally, to improve the salon experience of women.