Last week I shared with you guys the inspiring campaign that is being run by Kiehl’s called Pioneers By Nature – a program that honors innovators, game changers and trendsetters who are pioneering new ways of viewing and experiencing the world today. Kiehl’s partnered with 10 local and international celebrities and influencers, who are pioneers in their fields, and when it came time for me to choose which 2 pioneers I wanted to feature on the blog, it was a tough choice. There are two sides of me- the creative part (i.e. the blog) and the analytical part (i.e. my degree in Mathematics), and given my own background I decided to feature two incredible women whom I personally look up to- Rachel Zoe and Professor Phakeng.

kiehl's pioneers by nature

Mamokgethi Phakeng is full professor and Vice Principal of Research and Innovation at Unisa. She holds a PhD in Mathematics Education from the University of the Witwatersrand which she obtained in 2002 making her the first black African woman in South Africa to obtain such a qualification. She has published over 80 research papers, which have so far been cited more than 1500 times. She is a B2 NRF-rated scientist, which indicates that she has considerable international recognition. She is the founder of the Adopt-a-learner Foundation (, a non-profit organisation that started in 2004 and provides financial support to learners from township and rural areas to acquire higher education.

Given my own studies and interest in Mathematics, I couldn’t not talk about this incredible woman! Lets get to know her a little better with a little Q&A

What was your first experience with Kiehl’s?

I first experienced Kiel while in transit at the airport in Dubai on my way to Beirut. I was attracted to the store by its layout – the vintage Ducati motorcycle caught my attention and the skeleton made the store look like a drugstore. So, drawn by curiosity, I walked in to check out the products.

What does the word Pioneer mean to you? What makes someone a pioneer?

A pioneer is a trailblazer, who explores new territories and opens up a way for others to follow. Pioneers go where there is no path and leave a trail. They are willing to embark on an untapped journey in spite of being scared. They are the courageous, who face fear because they are willing to risk adventuring into the unknown, rather than remaining comfortable in the knowing and the predictable. To be a pioneer one has to brutally courageous, open, honest, intuitive, unapologetically ambitious, fallible and imperfect. Pioneers are always brutally, unapologetically themselves. You can never be a pioneer if you want to be someone else.

Who do you identify as pioneers in your own life?

Two women in my life stand out as pioneers: My biological mother and my Jewish mother. My biological mother (Mrs Wendy Mmutlana) is a pioneer because she broke the mold in her family and in many ways in our township by giving up her life as a domestic worker to go back to school after getting married and having three children. Against all odds with lots of talk in the township, she went to a local school and started at Grade 7 and after Grade 10 she went to study for her Primary Teachers’ Certificate at a college and started practicing as a teacher two years later. While working as a teacher she attended night school to complete matric, which took a few years and then continued to study part time with the now defunct Vista University till she obtained her BA degree at 58 years old, just two years before her retirement.

My Jewish mother (Prof Jill Adler) became the first education researcher to obtain an A rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF), which indicates that she is a world leader in the field. The NRF rating system is a benchmarking system by which individuals that exemplify the highest standards of research, as well as those demonstrating strong potential as researchers, are identified by an extensive network of international peer reviewers. Ratings are based on the quality and impact of recent research outputs (over an eight year period).


rachel zoe

RZ Headshot 2015 (1)My other chosen pioneer is the incredible Rachel Zoe. An unparalleled fixture in the fashion world, Rachel Zoe is a distinguished designer, stylist and editor renowned for her effortless take on glamour. Having immersed herself in fashion and design for nearly two decades, Rachel has been heralded as one of the most influential forces working in fashion today. In an effort to further expand a direct relationship with our audience and share Rachel’s knowledge and expertise, Zoe Media Group (ZMG), a subsidiary of Rachel Zoe Inc, launched The ZOE Report, a free daily newsletter and online style destination featuring her latest obsessions in the ever-evolving worlds of fashion, beauty and lifestyle in August 2009. In response to the growing number of subscribers, ZMG launched an additional daily newsletter, ZOE Beautiful, in October of 2011 focusing on beauty. The newsletter reaches over 1.8 million people to date.

Because of my massive love for fashion, I love Rachel Zoe and I had to share a bit about her(I DIE!)

What was your first experience with Kiehl’s?

My first experience with Kiehl’s was when I fell in love with their Crème de Corps. Then came the Silk Groom for my hair, and there was no replacing that ever – in fact my husband and I still use it. It all happened a long, long, long time ago when I lived in New York City. I just discovered Kiehl’s and then there was no stopping me. I started out with one product, then two, then five and it’s just been an obsession ever since.

Why did you choose to partner with Kiehl’s?

I chose to partner with Kiehl’s because it seemed like a very natural fit. I feel like some of the missions and mantras of our brands really overlap. It was also very organic because I love their products so much. But I felt like the Pioneers by Nature program was an incredible opportunity, and to have Kiehl’s support of two charities that I care about – Save the Children and Baby2Baby – was very meaningful to me.

What inspires you?

I get inspired by so many things. In my subconscious mind there are always icons of sixties and seventies glamorous women – like Bianca Jagger, Jane Birkin, Françoise Hardy, Brigitte Bardot, and Diane von Furstenberg. These women inspire me on a daily basis as a designer and a stylist. But simple things inspire me too like my travels, people that I see all the time when I’m in Paris or Italy or New York or LA. I just get really, really excited about what’s around me.

What does the word “pioneer” mean to you? And what makes someone a pioneer?

The word pioneer to me is funny because it sounds like something from a history class, but at the same time it’s such a profound word and title for someone. It’s very powerful because it really means a leader or someone who started something. And to me, it’s one of the hugest honors in the world to have the word pioneer next to my name – even to be considered or thought of in that way is a huge honor for me and something that makes me incredibly proud.

Stay tuned this week, as I will be sharing my personal favorite Kiehl’s products and get this- I will also be giving them away! See you soon!:)


Leave a Reply