Fashion

Modern man’s beauty quest

salon

A barber’s station at the Luxury Spa salon and Barber in Kileleshwa, Nairobi on February 16, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • Male grooming is booming thanks to social media, increased awareness, intense marketing, and the rise of men influencers in the beauty industry.
  • Research and Markets, the world’s largest research store, notes that the male grooming industry will be worth at least $81 billion (Sh8.86 trillion) by 2024.
  • No one has witnessed this shift better than Yves Rocher, a France-based cosmetics and beauty company with shops in Nairobi.

Once upon a time, Kenyan men’s grooming kits only had shavers. A man using shaving cream was celebrated. One using deodorant was an outlier. Things have since changed. Today’s men’s bathrooms are bursting with facial cleansers, moisturisers, anti-aging creams, under-eye creams, beard balms, and oils for different parts of the body. Their weekend routines are filled with appointments for spa treatments, manicures, and pedicures.

Male grooming is booming thanks to social media, increased awareness, intense marketing, and the rise of men influencers in the beauty industry.

Research and Markets, the world’s largest research store, notes that the male grooming industry will be worth at least $81 billion (Sh8.86 trillion) by 2024.

No one has witnessed this shift better than Yves Rocher, a France-based cosmetics and beauty company with shops in Nairobi.

Maryanne Muigai, the country brand manager of Yves Rocher says that when the company set up shop in Nairobi in 2016, they stocked beauty products specifically for men but the uptake was very slow.

The race now is to keep up with demand.

BEARDGROOMINGA

Beard Gains co-founder John Kiilu displays Pristine beard balm and Vanhalla beard oil on February 16, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

“Our best-selling product is an anti-aging face cream called the Energie Homme. It is a four-in-one product which has components for anti-aging, firming up, revitalising, and hydrating the skin,” she says, adding that most male consumers do not buy complicated products. One bottle with everything they need sells fast.

Shaving foams, hair shampoos and anti-hair loss products are also flying off the shelves. The modern man is also conscious about his health, favouring organic and fragrance-free products.

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Yves Rocher foundation brushes for men. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Most men walk into the store looking for skin-type based products —cleansers, moisturisers, and anti-aging creams. Only a few know the name of the product they are looking for, thus they communicate by sharing the result they want, whether it is to be wrinkle-free, clear the dark circles under their eyes, or dandruff, acne, and face pigmentation, or to prevent hair loss.

While the art of wearing makeup is not new to men, what has changed is how it is being used. In older civilisations like Egypt, for example, it was worn by the Pharaohs to ward off evil spirits and to show wealth and status. In modern times, it is used to cover up blemishes to achieve flawless skin, boosting one’s confidence.

“Men, like women, want to look and feel good,” says Ms Muigai.

Pampered men

The gay male community has also spurred demand for skin complexion products such as blemish concealers, face powders, foundations and makeup brushes.

Similarly in spas and beauty parlours, men are looking to be pampered. At Posh Palace Hair Studio and Spa, the only services on offer for men, in the beginning, were haircuts and colour treatments.

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“We had two seats in the corner of the salon,” Zilly Apondi, the manager recalls. As time went by, the male clients became unhappy.

“They didn’t appreciate being lumped with women. It was also too noisy.”

The two seats have since given way to a whole section dedicated to men, in the two-floor salon situated in Nairobi’s Kilimani.

The Man Cave is heavy with a musky scent and minimally decorated with complementing shades of black and dark brown, and masculine interior pieces with a woody look. Sports magazines are neatly arranged on the tabletops. In this private space, with an ambiance found in high-end hotels, men can talk about sports, politics and just relax by themselves.

There is a space where a fully-stocked mini-bar once stood but due to Covid-19, it has been done away with. Services offered have also increased.

There is growing demand for facials, manicures, and pedicures.

“We serve 120 male clients per month up from the 40 when we began in 2016. And these are just the return clients,” Ms Apondi says.

Posh Palace has studied its clientele and has capitalised on express manicures and pedicures because “men don’t like to spend a lot of time in the salon.” This has proven to be a winning strategy.

Do men seek out elaborate services like spa treatments?

“No. A man, for example, will come in for a haircut. As we are finalising on the complimentary head massage, the barber will tell him about the need for a facial scrub, or body massage,” she says, adding that most men agree, and once done, they tend to come back.

Because of the newness of the treatments, the first interaction is geared towards answering questions which are normally about what the process entails, the products used, and how long it will take.

“Conversations about money come later on. It's the last thing on their minds,” she says.

At Posh Palace, an exotic body massage goes for Sh8,000 while facials start from Sh3,500.

Beards are also not following traditional grooming routines. John Kiilu makes beard kits. Each contains beard oil and balm, a wooden comb for the beard, and a steel one for the moustache.

Shifting masculinity

“The beard culture is growing,” he says.

“There’s a shift in what masculinity is. Bearded men seem more masculine. Plus our forefathers, even those in the Bible, kept beards,” he says.

The entrepreneur co-founded Beard Gains to meet his own needs. He started growing a beard in 2015. Beard growing is no mean feat, as he found out because it itches. Unfortunately, he could not find beard oils and balms in the county and was therefore forced to import. “Some oils were expensive, others of poor quality, and others just smelt terrible,” he says.

In 2017, he met Zach Stevenson, an American, and together they founded Beard Gains.

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“Stevenson was already selling the kits in the US. I helped him enter the African market,” Mr Kiilu says.

The oils became popular with men because they deal with the itch and most importantly, they smell good.

Each kit retails at Sh3,000 with the main ingredients being essential oils, among them, the East Indian Sandalwood oil, which alleviates inflammation of the skin and acts as a conditioner.

So, why are these men taking grooming so seriously?

Ms Muigai says that men have become self-aware. Social media influence has also helped whet the desires of these well educated men with high purchasing power. They want to take care of themselves. Women are also setting high grooming standards.

Yves Rocher stores serve Black, Asian and Caucasian populations who are mostly over 35 years of age. Most Black clients buy foundation and fragrances, Caucasians and Indians spend on anti-aging face creams and anti-hair loss products.

At the height of the coronavirus last year, they recorded a 35 per cent increase in skincare products sales as men had more time at home to do self-care as they became aware of the need for proper hygiene.

“We’ve had clients spend up to Sh20,000 in one go,” says Ms Mungai.

The same is true for Posh Palace. Their clientele is made up of people with financial muscle, between their late 20s and 50s, who know the benefits of the treatments.

“We get very few men who come in because they have been gifted a spa treatment. When they come here, they’re here to spend on themselves,” says Ms Apondi.

“Men are also more open to hearing, learning, and trying out grooming products than ever before.”

Male beauticians

Another factor contributing to the growth is the increase in number of male beauticians.

“We’ve just finished interviewing people for some vacancies and we had two gay men show interest. One is a beautician and the other a makeup artist,” Ms Apondi adds.

Mr Kiilu sells over 50 bottles per month. His oldest client is over 60 years old and the youngest, in his 20s.

“Millennials and Generation Z take their appearance more seriously than their predecessors because of social media where appearances matter,” he says.

Furthermore, women want their men to look and smell good.

“I’ve sold my products to a lot of women too.”

Noting potential in this field, Angela Livu, the founder of Luxury Hair Spa and Hair Salon, located in Nairobi’s Kileleshwa, has also carved out a men’s section where she offers services such as pimple extraction and electrofacial for men, which involves zapping the face with tiny electrical currents to stimulate, tone and tighten facial muscles.

Barely a month old, she has already served six men.

“Men’s grooming is here to stay,” she says.