How much do you think the average Kenyan woman of means spends on makeup a month? Maybe Sh2,000 or Sh5,000?
Wrong. That's just the price of one or two items.
Quite a number of Kenyan women spend over Sh20,000 a month to buy face products starting from moisturiser and primer, sunscreen, then foundation and conceler, eye pencil or eyebrow pomade, eyeliner or mascara, lipstick and lastly blush powder.
The history of makeup spans over 7,000 years. And with the passage of time, advances in cultures and technology, the world continues to witness the emergence of even more complex forms of makeup.
The beauty industry has grown, turning many entrepreneurs into billionaires as seen in the recent Forbes list of richest self-made women in the world which had seven newcomers who have earned their wealth from cosmetics.
Kenyan consumers on their part are driving a local cosmetics boom as well-known global makeup brands make a beeline for Nairobi.
Some of these international firms are also partnering with local entrepreneurs like Joyce Gikunda, who owns Lintons Beauty World, an empire that is growing fast.
In most major shopping malls in Nairobi and Mombasa, there are three or four makeup shops lined with popping lipsticks or dewy foundations of different shades made for women of colour.
Even products that have been around for decades are being rediscovered by Kenyans following a renewed focus on dark-skinned women.
What is boosting makeup sales is the increasing number of young and old women addicted to having flawless skin. In previous years, most make-up sellers focused on 25 to 40-year-olds, but now the age target has changed to 18-60 year-olds, representing the reality that there is an increase in the number of people buying beauty products.
“We have older people embracing basic make-up, especially in Nairobi and Mombasa. Social media, reality television, movies and advertising are all contributing factors to the enlargement of the bracket of active make-up users,” says Andy Nicole, a lead trainer at Lintons which has grown over the years and has over 200 employees.
With availability of genuine make-up from global brands such as MAC, Yves Saint Laurent, Clarins, Estée Lauder, Clinique, Black Up, Black Opal, Nimue, Yves Rocher, Epara among others, more conscious Kenyans have ditched the downtown shops that bring in fakes.
“Make-up is a worthy investment if you buy good and authentic products,” says Ms Nicole, adding that on a low day, one store gets about 20 walk-in customers of which 10 will buy cosmetics. On a good day, she says one Lintons store gets 100 walk-in customers.
According to Ms Nicole, it is the transformation process of make-up that is exciting.
“Beauty products resolve skin flaws and improve confidence. In Kenya, people have also started embracing facial creams that reduce skin ageing … this is something exciting to observe,” she says.
Suzie Wokabi, the founder and chief creative officer of SuzieBeauty, acquired by Flame Tree Group for Sh45 million three years ago, says Kenya's beauty industry is constantly improving.
“The cosmetics industry is growing by the minute, so we hardly have any risk investments in the make-up world because of this. Our primary target market is 25-45 ages but in reality, we find that we have a broader and continually growing market that is both older and younger than the primary buyers we targeted,” says Ms Wokabi who recently launched a new product line.
For a newbie
The entrepreneur says a basic starter beauty pack costs Sh20,000 which includes skin care range and make-up.
Karen Macharia, who loves make-up says she started applying it when she was 19 years old.
“I can’t really say what drew me to make up but I think it appealed to my artistic side. I also realised that apart from making myself look beautiful, I love making people feel good about themselves. And that is how I eventually found myself in make-up art,” says Ms Macharia who is in her 30s.
She mostly buys her make-up on need-basis, so she estimates her spending at Sh10,000. The must-haves on her make-up table are: brushes and beauty sponges, eye shadow, one morphe palette, gel, eyeliner, mascara, contour kit, lip liners, lip gloss and lipstick.
She leans more towards the nude colours, bronzer or blush, foundation and concealer, eyebrow pencils and eyebrow powder, and setting powders. She buys most of her make-up abroad during her travels or sends friends and family because the prices are lower.
“I mostly buy my make-up in the US. When I don’t have the time to wait, I can buy it here as a last option,” she says.
Despite the many brands churned out almost every year, Ms Macharia says she rarely experiments with new products.
“Honestly, make-up is expensive. Unless there is something that really excites me, I tend to stick with what I know,” she says.
Winnie Wanjira, a 25-year-old, on the other hand says she started using make-up at the age of six.
“I admired how my mum dolled herself up for work. I requested her to make me up as well and that was how my love for make-up started,” she says.
The complete make-up bug bit her when she was in university. Her cheapest lipstick now costs Sh1,500 and since she prefers MAC products, her foundation does not cost anything less that Sh5,500.
Even when she does not feel like applying make-up, she says, she cannot step out of the house without lipstick and eyeliner.
“When it comes to my skin, I go all the way; I want quality therefore I go for the best brands,” she says.
Ms Wanjira is quick to add that women who understand the value of make-up will not really look at the price.
“In Nairobi, I shop at MAC stores or at Lintons Beauty World. Otherwise, I am an online shopper from the original stores and the stuff gets shipped or I send someone coming from abroad,” she says.
Her make-up routine involves 15 to 30 minutes on ‘normal’ days and between one and two hours when she has a special occasion. Her make-up basket contains foundation, concealer, eyeshadow, primer, strobe cream, powder, bronzer, highlighter, brushes, eyebrow kit, eyeliner, mascara, lip gloss and lipstick. “When I get more income, I will definitely invest more in make-up. A girl can never have too much make-up,” she says.
As demand for high-end cosmetics grows, emerging young entrepreneurs have turned to beauty vlogging and its power has had a big influence on millennial make-up users.
Nancy Mwai, a beauty blogger who describes herself as a self-taught make-up artist says that her interest started when she was a teenager.
“I wouldn't go on very serious corporate occasions without make-up. I believe the purpose of make-up is not to change or hide your real appearance but to enhance beauty. On a scale of one to 10, I would give make-up enhancement an 8 and leave the two for the natural look which is equally important, once in a while,” she says.
She says make-up makes her feel a lot better than when she has none. In her collection, she has eyebrow pencil, foundation, brushes, mascara, setting powder, concealer (which she bakes using sacha butter cup), primer, setting spray, highlighter; a translucent finishing powder for those oily parts that need to be puffed once in a while, lipstick and gloss which she also carries in her handbag.
“Make-up comes at a cost. I mostly shop online or at a cosmetics shop where I have contact with the product and can try out. On an average I spend between Sh4,000 and Sh5,000 a month,” says Ms Mwai who is also a make-up influencer.
Ms Mwai confesses that she has an immense love for make-up and if she had more money, she would definitely spend more.
“I try out new products but not as often. I feel like what I currently use, especially foundation, works well with my skin; but with products like lipsticks, glosses, liners and lashes I am open to experiment,” she says.