- The pursuit for elegant and fun nails has opened a design envelope for manicurists in Kenya.
- Tatiana Fedulova and Benjamin Okwenju co-founders of Beauty Room Kenya are among the latest entrants in the nail art market.
- The price of nice nails has grown over the years, from Sh200 to Sh1,500 and now to over Sh4,000 for nail designs that last four weeks.
Nails have literally stopped being simple. The pursuit for elegant and fun nails has opened a design envelope for manicurists in Kenya. Every so often, there will be new trends from French or a clean block colour to 3D jelly art with clear bubbles and raised metallic additions.
On Sunday, I discovered there is another latest beauty obsession, Russian dry manicures and pedicures. Consumers are craving fun, opening business opportunities to entrepreneurs.
At Nairobi’s Kilimani, Tatiana Fedulova and Benjamin Okwenju co-founders of Beauty Room Kenya are among the latest entrants in the nail art market, introducing the Russian technique.
“The Russian combined dry manicure (and pedicure) is a technique that uses an electronic file to remove dead skin and scissors to cut the cuticle leaving it with a clean, impeccable trim and polished look,” says Ms Fedulova, who is a Russian national.
The technique, common among Russians and European women, is relatively new in Kenya.
The main difference between this and other types of manicures is the attention to the cuticle.
“The file has drill bits that enable safe and precise removal of the excess cuticle without digging hard into the nail thereby reducing potential damage,” she says.
Back in Russia, Ms Fedulova had been running a successful nail studio and had trained over 2,000 people on the Russian technique.
An astute entrepreneur, it was not hard for her to spot a business opportunity in Kenya. She teamed up with Mr Okwenju, a financial analyst, who at the time was also looking for a job, creating the company in November 2020.
Ms Fedulova says that the technique is ‘Russian’ because it originated from the Russians, who discovered that dentists drilling machines can effectively remove dead skin. It is a ‘combined’ technique because it uses machines and scissors to achieve a flawless look and ‘dry’ because no liquids or chemicals such as water or acetone, staples in traditional manis and pedis.
Russian mani-pedis are done on natural nails only. So, what exactly happens in a Russian manicure which lasts three hours?
Set on the table were the tools of the trade: the electronic file with different drill bits, a metal cuticle pusher and file, and a soft nail buffer. Ms Fedulova begins by first sanitising my hands.
Using one of the drills, the old nail polish is removed. Then a sharp drill, and a cuticle pusher, in controlled motions, are used to remove dead skin and cuticle, separating it from the nail. The cuticle is cut off using scissors. The difference made by these tools is undeniable.
After this, my nail is buffed using another drill and the soft hand-held nail buffer until it glowed, after which they were shaped, painted with gel polish and some extra nail art and finally dried under UV light. Three hours later, my nails looked longer, fuller and picture-perfect.
The price of nice nails has grown over the years, from Sh200 to Sh1,500 and now to over Sh4,000 for nail designs that last four weeks.
Besides the price, nail art has evolved from just being done by salonists. Mr Okwenju says the Russian technique must be done by a competent nail technician because of the detail involved, adding that nail beauticians at Beauty Room Kenya are actually “nail doctors.”
They understand the anatomy of the nails, how different products react with one’s body, and what is safe and healthy for growing strong, and natural nails.
Making nails has also evolved to be appointment-based just like seeing a doctor. At the Kilimani salon, one books at least 10 days in advance, pays a 50 percent deposit and a cancellation fee for showing up late to the appointment, or a fine for a no-show.
“It’s important for clients to know that we value their time and that this is a serious profession worthy of respect. Honouring appointments also means better care for our staff. When well-rested, happy clients are guaranteed,” explains Mr Okwenju who handles the business side.
The salon has been courting a loyal following. One of their customers is Nakia White who found them via Instagram. A political consultant based in Nairobi, Ms White has been booking a monthly appointment for a year now.
“I was impressed by the gentleness of the technique on my natural nails, the application styles and the high level of hygiene,” she says, adding that although you pay a premium price for the nails, you’re assured of the quality of products used and the longevity.
Besides gel polish application, there are customised art designs that can be imprinted on the nails to add a pop to them, as well as crystal art. “We use authentic Swarovski crystal nails made from glass, not plastic, charging Sh1,000 per finger,” Ms Fedulova says.
Ms White has adorned a few on her nails. “They’re shiny, pretty, and last longer,” she says.
Nail bars may have proved a promising venture for aspiring entrepreneurs, thanks to the relatively low start-up costs, but for Beauty Room Kenya, which imports all its products from Russia because what they need is not found locally, the shipping costs are high and they experience delays.
For a business that is eyeing expansion, recruitment is no easy task. “Because we are building a culture of health, well-being and professionalism, we recruit for attitude. Skill we’ll train,” Mr Okwenju says.
Part of the lacklustre in the industry is because people view the job as a hobby, a transitional career before they get a real job.
“As a result, they don’t accord it the seriousness it deserves, yet it’s a source of livelihood for many in Russia. A teachable attitude is crucial if you want to work with us,” he says.
Looking into the future, the opportunity is vast. Already, the Beauty Room is outgrowing the current studio. Besides looking for clients, they are seeking investors for the next phase of business, which includes training people to meet the demand.
“Being a beautician is a career like any other. If we invest and train people, the beauty industry can be a very big employer,” he says.