Fashion

The big dilemma in beauty budgets

Maureen Njeri

Maureen Njeri a beauty-preneur sorts hair weaves at her beauty shop in Nairobi on November 15, 2023.

Almost every month, a Kenyan woman, not wealthy, spends about Sh7,700 on grooming. This is money spent on hair, nails, body oil, perfume and make-up (lipstick, lip balm, eye pencil, eyeshadow palette and face oil).

Then there are the other well-to-do women who set aside over Sh20,000 a month to buy face products starting from moisturiser and primer, sunscreen, foundation and concealer, eye pencil or eyebrow pomade, eyeliner or mascara, lipstick and, lastly blush powder.

These have been their budgets until recently when the weakening shilling pushed up the cost of beauty products, most of which are imported. Now they are staring at higher beauty budgets.

But as the beauty-preneurs mull increasing prices, can the grooming industry survive the rising wigs, make-up and perfume prices?

Khyati Rana, a bridal makeup artiste in Nairobi, says the rising prices of products attributed to fluctuations in exchange rates, and perennial rise in fuel and shipping costs, have left beauty-preneurers at crossroads.

Do they add prices and lose customers as many Kenyans cut back on non-essential spending? Or do they keep the prices steady, meaning that their profits will drop significantly? Does the allure of a makeup artiste’s touch justify the steeper price tag?

Another dilemma Ms Khyati says, is that some of their customers made bookings a year ago and it may be difficult to adjust prices now.

“I have bookings from brides, for instance, they made commitments a year ago, so we can't change the price. This means that my business is bearing the hit,” she says.

Weaves

A variety of weaves on display in a beauty shop in Nairobi.

Maintaining a delicate balance between providing quality makeup services and managing the impact of rising product prices is another concern.

Achando Waswa, another makeup artiste says she opted to add prices to stay afloat.

“I had to adjust the rate card, and passing on some of the burden to clients became a necessity so as to keep up with the rising costs of doing business,” she says.

Perfumes have also become expensive. Eunice Waithera, the founder of Best Aroma Scents in Nairobi says there is a significant increase in prices. Sellers have had to move to less-expensive import markets such as Turkey but it adds an extra layer of complexity; some of the best-seller perfumes are not available in these markets.

Wigs are also facing a similar challenge. Every week, Maureen Njeri from Beauty and Bold in Nairobi’s Dubois Road, a street with tens of shops selling products, says she is asked to pay a higher price, distributors pointing a finger at the dollar rate. 

She sells wigs, accessories and oils.

“The products that we use to make wigs used to cost Sh500, now we pay Sh650. In addition to buying the hair, I need to buy a wig cap, pay for the hair attachment, and compensate the person who sews it together, all in the pursuit of making a profit,” she says.

Hair pieces

A trader sorts hair pieces on sale at Mlango Soko Market in Kawangware on May 12, 2023.

She used to sell a complete wig at Sh8,500, now she sells it at Sh10,000.

“It is tough,” she says.

Mercy Mwende, also at Dubois Road selling body oil and skincare products, says every week, the prices keep going up by Sh100.

As a new seller, she says, she is finding it hard to navigate the complexities of the beauty business.

“Being a new seller and not knowing the ropes, I find that I'm getting my products from the distributor at a different price every week,” she says.

Dennis Karuri, a makeup artist, whose TikTok posts get about three million likes and has about 400,000 followers combined on social media platforms, says adjusting prices has become necessary but some customers have stopped coming.

He says he has seen a noticeable drop in bookings following the announcement of new prices, with more people enrolling in classes to master the art of applying make-up and cut out the need to go to the saloon. 

He also has had to change tack.

“I opted to buy less stock,” says Dennis, “I have also had to diversify my income streams, incorporating training as an alternative source of revenue.”