Etienne Swanepoel heads up a photographic and cinematography business called Paper Plane Media. A beard lover himself, he also started a beard and skin product company. Airborne on the photograph is not a paper plane, but a tinned product of The Gentlemen’s Beard Factory.


When one door closes, another opens


Etienne’s life journey brought him to the campus in Vanderbijlpark after matric, where he became a member of the team representing the NWU’s Vanderbijlpark rugby club on a tour to Poland in 2011.


His rugby skills saw him playing for the NWU from then on and eventually playing Currie Cup rugby for the Falcons. After three years, however, his rugby career was ended by injury.


Luckily, Etienne was as strong in the lecture room as he was on the rugby field and he thrived academically.


He especially enjoyed marketing class.  “Dr Re-Ann Muller had a way of making every class a comfortable learning experience and giving students a practical feel for the subject. I still use what I learnt from him.”


Beard oil and paper planes take him places

No matter what others say, get up and do what you want to do; no one is responsible for your success, only you.


This is the mind-set that saw Etienne Swanepoel start his own photographic and cinematography business after only a short time in the formal job market. He has since branched out into the world of beard and skin products too, showing that the entrepreneurial spirit knows no bounds.

This proud alumnus of the NWU’s campus in Vanderbijlpark graduated with a BCom Marketing degree in 2016. He now heads up Paper Plane Media which he founded with a friend, Arno Greeff, well-known actor in Afrikaans hit series Binnelanders and Getroud met Rugby.


They already have 14 films, four music videos, 254 photo shoots and 34 weddings to their name. This brings Etienne’s own tally as a wedding photographer to an incredible 137 in six years. The company specialises in film, photo and digital content.


Be your own boss


“I always knew I had to do my own thing,” says Etienne. After working in sales for a while, he took the leap of faith to pursue his own dreams, instead of building someone else’s empire.


“I think you work so much harder when you run your own business, because you know what you want to achieve for it.” His work takes him across the country and has seen him sleep in his car a few times, but for Etienne it is all part of the adventure. “When you do what you like, you will never have to work a day in your life.”


He fondly remembers the campus in Vanderbijlpark as a place where you will always find someone who cares. He recalls winter mornings when the fog would roll in from the river and the geese would snuggle around campus in white feathery tufts.


Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur


While studying, he was already starting to build his empire, taking photographs part time and later also importing Powerbalance bracelets to sell to his fellow students.


Etienne regards his time at the NWU as very important, saying that it made him who he is. “No one can take away an education. If I lose everything else, I will still have my degree,” he says.


No doubt that education will come in handy for Etienne in the future as he is also involved in a second business called The Gentlemen’s Beard Factory.

“As a student, I longed for more affordable beard products – I suppose that is where the idea came from.”


At the time of its inception, The Gentlemen’s Beard Factory was only the fourth of its kind in South Africa. It produces beard and skin products, focusing on what the opposition is not offering.


Etienne is also investigating the possibility of taking the photography business abroad, servicing clients in South America and the Portuguese Islands.




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Come rain or shine, Etienne is always ready to capture a moment in time.


“No-one is responsible for your success. Only you. And if you plan properly for tomorrow, you can live for today.”


This photograph that Etienne took illustrates his extraordinary ability to capture nature in all its magnificence.

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