Fashion

How eyelashes became a big business

lashes

Njanja Kimani of N&K Lashes during the interview at her Westlands studio on November 19, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • In downtown Dubois Road in Nairobi, a new kind of business is booming. Fake eyelashes, also known as falsies.
  • A few years ago, the buying, selling, and fixing of eyelashes was not a downtown affair. Falsies were rare and a preserve of the wealthy women.
  • Synthetic lashes are made from silk fibres and are thicker, curlier, fuller in appearance, affordable and dramatic.

In downtown Dubois Road in Nairobi, a new kind of business is booming. Fake eyelashes, also known as falsies. Tens of shops on this small stretch of road, which has turned into a one-stop shop for beauty products, restock fake eyelashes on almost a monthly basis.

“Eyelash extensions are big business. I sell up to 100 pairs of lashes every day, to both retailers and wholesalers,” says one shop owner.

“The uptake has been so high, the trend ever-evolving that sometimes, it’s the clients who inform us on the new eyelashes that we need to import,” says another seller.

A step away, a young woman is buying three boxes of falsies from the next shop. Then there is a middle-aged woman buying magnetic ones in yet another shop, and another requesting for the reusable eyelashes which are out of stock.

A few years ago, the buying, selling, and fixing of eyelashes was not a downtown affair. Falsies were rare and a preserve of the wealthy women. Now, it seems, they know no social class, age or cultural limit and the increasing fixation with false lashes is earns beauty entrepreneurs tidy profits.

Njanja Kimani, the co-founder of N&K Lashes, is among the lashes entrepreneurs and users.

“There’s a point where makeup reaches and fails to deliver. A pair of high-quality falsies will drastically transform your appearance from fabulous to striking,” she says, adding that even with minimal makeup, lash extensions lend character effortlessly.

The lash extensions in the market come packaged in three forms: strips, clusters, or individuals, made from materials such as mink, faux mink and synthetic.

Synthetic lashes are made from silk fibres and are thicker, curlier, fuller in appearance, affordable and dramatic. Mink lashes are made from mink fur, which is more natural-looking.

Ms Kimani began wearing lashes because her profession as a makeup artist demanded that she looks the part. Unfortunately, she was unable to secure high-quality lashes for her use.

Sensing a gap in the market, she began importing and selling mink strip lash extensions at Sh1,500 per kit that also contains glue, scissors, tweezers, a lash applicator, and curler.

Just as the name suggests, strip lashes are individual lashes put together into a band that is applied using a removable adhesive.

“They’re lightweight and blend into your normal hair. They’re also reusable. The flexible band makes it suitable for all eye shapes,” she explains.

Her clients are women from all walks of life from college students, corporate women, to brides and party attendees.

Strip lashes must be worn and removed daily. The wearer must therefore master the art of putting them on and removing them to prevent damage to both their real and bought lashes.

Most of Ms Kimani’s clients come already aware of the process, thanks to YouTube tutorials.

For those who may not have the time, applying individual lashes are a welcome alternative. Cindy Njoroge, founder of Karey Lashes Kenya fixes individual lashes.

“Individual lashes result in a classier and more natural look than strip lashes. With these extensions, each lash (silk, semi-human, or mink) is attached to the lash line using semi-permanent and waterproof glue. The process normally takes two hours and the results last four weeks,” Ms Njoroge, a beautician for six years says, adding that a touch-up is required every four weeks to maintain the look.

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Kary Lashes Kenya founder Cindy Njoroge shows the single eyelashes she uses during the interview on November 19, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Lashes were not so common six years ago when she started. She had to “do a thorough job of advertising” just to get one client.

Ms Njoroge’s business grew during Covid-19, not only because it is a mobile salon service where she goes to a client’s home, but the wearing of masks made the eyes the focal point of the face.

The 1940s

Extending one’s eyelashes by fixing fake ones is not a new thing. The beauty trend dates to the Hollywood glamour of the 1930s and 1940s, is making a comeback. There was a lull period when women considered a natural look as sexier but now very few women walk into dinners or parties without falsies.

For two years, Tracy Obinju has been wearing falsies having discovered them through YouTube.

She uses eyelash extensions to add volume and length to her short lashes, she says.

“It was the next natural thing to do. Lashes are the icing on the cake; the bridge from a great to mind-blowing look,” she says.

Depending on the look desired, there are many factors to consider when choosing the correct ones. Curl, volume, length, and re-usability.

Volume ranges from minimal to mega and is defined by the number of individual lash extensions clustered together. The larger the cluster, the more volume there is, which varies from 5 millimetres to 18 millimeters.

Sh225 million

The beauty industry has contributed immensely to Kenya’s growth. Globally, the false eyelashes market was valued at $ 1.4 million (Sh157 million) in 2021 and is projected to reach $ 2 million (Sh225 million) by 2028.

Ms Kimani sells an average of four pairs of lashes daily while Ms Njoroge works with an appointment, seeing up to 14 clients a week, charging between Sh5,000 to Sh7,000 for the initial sessions and half-price for the follow-up touch-ups.

Also, the demand for lashes has spun off related industries such as lash brushes and cleansers, eye-sensitive adhesives, eye-liners, and mascaras for use of falsies.

What is behind this growing acceptance of this beauty product?

Ms Njoroge points to women empowerment. That unlike before where modesty meant walking around with zero makeup and unflattering attires, today women want to look good, more feminine, resulting in them making investing in things that support the achievement of these goals.

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Kary Lashes Kenya founder Cindy Njoroge shows the single eyelashes she uses during the interview on November 19, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

This has been proliferated by increased awareness, ease of accessibility, and general reception of these beauty trends, making them a lifestyle.

One of Ms Njoroge’s clients is Shiku Gachengo, a gospel artiste, who spends Sh4,000 monthly on lashes.

“I’ve had scattered lashes my entire life. Seven months ago, I stumbled upon falsies. Until I discovered them, I didn’t know I needed them. Now they are just part of me, an item that I need,” she says.

For older women, eyelash extensions wipe away the effects caused by the unrelenting passing sands of time.

“They make one look younger since they add volume and length to one’s natural eyelashes and are discreet,” Ms Njoroge adds.

For the young women looking for bold, dramatic looks, they can create such by putting the lashes.

This is the kind of expression that Sheila Kaberi goes for when wearing lashes. In her collection, she has the 3D, 6D and 8D strip lashes costing between Sh200 and Sh1,500. Everything she knows about lashes was learned from YouTube videos.

“They aren’t heavy as people think nor do they obstruct my vision,” Ms Kaberi, a student and makeup artist says, even though fixing them was “messy and sticky” in the beginning. “Without them, I feel like something is missing.”

For busy women, lash extensions considerably reduce the amount of time spent on applying makeup.

Ms Gachego chose individual lashes because they’re natural-looking, comfortable, and easy to manage and ascribe a “wake up and go” lifestyle effortlessly.

The temporary aspect of the lashes also makes them attractive. If you do not like the look, you can change it or do away with the lashes altogether.

Eye infections

Beyond the initial investment in purchasing them, falsies have to be maintained to look prim and proper and avoid infections.

“Strip lashes should be washed and cleaned with warm water and an eyelash brush,” Ms Kimani explains.

“For example, a pair of mink lashes if well taken care of can be worn up to 25 times.”

As for individual lashes, once fixed, avoid water, moisturisers, and any type of oil for two days. Brush the lashes once or twice a week.

“If done by a well-trained technician, there’s no risk of infections,” says Ms Njoroge.

“Eyelashes are here to stay. I should say that lashes are very addictive. Once you start, you never go back,” Ms Gachengo says.

“I compared my pre and post-lashes photographs. This is a look you want to keep,” she says.