A lot has changed about Huddah Monroe. Dressed in a yellow-print flowy dress, she walks into dusitD2 Hotel in Nairobi during the launch of Mula Shops, an e-shop by Cellulant, like an entrepreneur.
Now she is one. Her lipsticks which she has named Royalty, King Jazmine, Vamp and Angel are among the first products to be on Mula Shops.
The success of her cosmetics brand has seen her become one of the first entrepreneurs on Cellulant's augmented reality platform where buyers can try products before they purchase.
“I have seen this technology in Europe and I am excited that it is finally in Kenya and my cosmetics are pioneer products,” she says.
Given her background, many would scoff at her modest success, but the speed of her cosmetics business growth may be hard to mock.
In 2016, Huddah, who was born Al Huda Njoroge, started her own lipsticks line. She started with a few lipstick shades and as demand especially from millennials grew, she increased the range to 11 shades, eye-shadow palettes and make-up wipes.
“The funny thing is that when I launched, I did not think they would do so well. First, because of my name and all the bad things that have been made up about me. But unbelievably, we were sold out 10 days after launching Huddah Cosmetics,” she says.
In a market with established foreign beauty brands, she priced her make-up favourably at Sh1,000 for a Huddah matte lipstick for instance, finding a niche among buyers who do not want to spend too much on make-up. Her lipsticks are also favoured by buyers who love unique, rich colours.
“People ask me how I managed to make the brand a success and I tell them it’s because I was able to bring into the market a product that complements the African skin. I have been a victim of buying expensive make-up from Europe that don't complement my skin colour as make-up should do,” she adds.
A person’s skin tone, the weather are some of the factors that women consider when choosing a cosmetic brand. Luckily for Huddah, she says, she knew people who manufacture cosmetics. She approached them and explained her desire to start a cosmetic line for black women.
Just like many established entrepreneurs, Huddah says it was not easy to get the perfect formula for black women because for years manufacturers have been catering for the light skin tones.
With a substantial influence on social media, one might argue that this propped her brand's success. But she disagrees.
“When you launch cosmetics, quality is one of the biggest issues. You can be Huddah but if your product is not good, no one is going to buy it. So Huddah Cosmetics is doing well because of the time and energy put by my dedicated team to produce a product that can compete in the international market,” she says, adding that she sells her cosmetics in Paris through sales representatives.
As she settles into her entrepreneurial role and makes money from her love of beauty, her past life is hard to erase and she comfortably talks about it.
“I started by posting my bikini pictures online but that is what I liked then. But we all transform from caterpillars to butterflies. I drew the line somewhere and started focusing on serious things. I was tired of travelling the world doing nothing, so I sat back home to do something for the people.”