Make-up grows a following, and industry professionals

Mr Koby grooms a client at a photo shoot, and (right) Ms Hassan applies make-up on a male model’s face . Mwikali Lati
Mr Koby grooms a client at a photo shoot, and (right) Ms Hassan applies make-up on a male model’s face . Mwikali Lati 

The Kenyan make-up industry is growing in leaps and bounds. It has spread its wings way beyond the bridal aisle and TV studios — spilling onto streets and into offices.

Of all aspects of the beauty industry, make-up is growing fastest — spreading faster than fashion, hair and skin care products.

Supermarkets have not been left behind in the rush to stock make-up either. Many stores have stands dedicated solely to make-up, stocking all sorts of international brands including Sleek and Golden Rose.

Nairobi’s beauty shops now sport all manner of make-up. L’Oreal East Africa, part of a global cosmetic giant, has set up shop in the capital city.

The easy access to Internet and cheaper satellite TV have changed women’s attitude to make-up from being seen as a concealer of imperfections to an enhancer of facial beauty.


This growing appreciation of make-up has seen its artistes make a good living from the trade.

“The attitude is changing as women realise that they can have flawless skins like those of actors on TV,” said Fatuo Hassan, a leading Kenya make-up artiste.

When she entered the business five years ago, make-up was viewed as a powder used to hide facial blemishes.

Make-up cosmetics have evolved, due to technological advancement and competition among manufacturers, to cater for every woman’s needs.

Apart from colour variety, make-up types carter for different skin types and come in liquid or powder from. There are also moisturisers, sun-screens and so on. Cosmetic companies have come up with pills that promise flawless skin.

The wide variety can be quiet confusing for a newcomer to make-up. “When it comes to applying make-up, it is a matter of educating the public,” said Wacuka Thimba, a make-up artiste who has been in the business for the last four years.

She shares her knowledge of make-up with anyone who cares to listen. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have made it easier to do this.

Ms Hassan uses her Facebook page to disseminate information, especially on counterfeits, and well-known international brands.
This is in addition to her one-on-one consultations. Others have taken to blogging, like Muthoni Njoba — another leading local make-up artiste. Even the mainstream media features make-up tips. Indeed there are shows dedicated to make-up such as Ms Hassan’s Magic Makeover that ran for two seasons on NTV.

“Men nominated their wives to be part of the show,” she said, adding that the move proved that they too understood the essence of make-up and love seeing it on a woman’s face.

Professionalism in the industry is on the rise in tandem with the growing demand for the service.

“Going to beauty school is just the beginning, the challenge lies out here. There are a lot of techniques out here,” said Ms Hassan.

To learn the techniques, an apprenticeship under an established artiste for at least one year or two is mandatory.

Ms Hassan worked with the late Hassan Mbaruk, one of the first professional make-up artistes in Kenya, for two years before branching out on her own. Now she is a mentor. Steve Koby, one of the few local male make-up artistes, is studying under Suzie Wokabi of Suzie Beauty. Ms Wokabi recently launched her own make-up line brand.

“It is not a business for lazy people. It has been a long journey, it took me two years to fill up my two suitcases with products,” said Ms Hassan.

Grow the industry

Making it as an artiste takes patience, cleanliness, and being punctual for every job, she said. She has been a make-up artiste for over 300 TV commercials.

Ms Thimba said that the experience has improved her skills and opened a lot of doors.

Local TV productions have also helped grow the industry. Ms Thimba said that when an international movie is shot in Kenya, those behind it look for a local make-up artiste to do the job before considering bringing in their own. It takes dedication to make it in an industry that is growing but is still small. Mr Koby said that those who succeed in the industry are driven by passion. Starting out in the beauty industry, he gravitated towards make-up which reminded him of his love for drawing.
His friends did not understand his decision, two years ago, to fully work in the female-dominated occupation.

Today they flood Mr Koby with requests to join him on sets or shoots to see what he does.

“I see the industry growing because male artistes are joining. I can only see it get bigger. There is no going back to where it was,” he said.