The changing face of makeup through the eyes of four artists – Daily Nation


It used to be that makeup was something you applied in the privacy of the bedroom, perhaps with a limited range of beauty products on the dressing table. But a revolution in the cosmetics industry and a change in makeup habits has spawned a new breed of well-paid professionals.

Of course Kenya’s vibrant social media space has also played a role — never mind the sharing of jokes like the one about some women getting scared of being rained on in case their makeup washes away and their real look is unmasked; or the tongue-in-cheek advice that a man should go swimming with his partner before marriage just to be sure about her “true colours”.

But while makeup and the artistry around it is sometimes the source of banter, there is a crop of practitioners who are laughing all the way to the bank, taking a slice of the multi-million-shilling Kenyan beauty industry that is still showing signs of further growth.

According to Euromonitor International, a market research company, the local beauty industry was estimated at more than $260 million (Sh2.6 billion) in 2011, placing Kenya at position three in Africa, after South Africa and Nigeria.

In its 2015 report, Euromonitor said beauty and personal care registered “strong” growth and predicted that the industry would grow even further.

“Population growth, projected positive economic growth and heightened marketing activities are set to promote value growth across the industry over the forecast period,” it says in its 2015 report.

“Additionally, growth is set to be driven by increasing the rate of urbanisation, with the rapidly growing middle class increasingly purchasing non-essential products, while the growing young Kenyan population is boosting demand for beauty and personal care,” it adds.

Government data on cosmetics is tallied together with that of jewellery and assembled vehicles. According to the Economic Survey 2017, the amount of revenue that Treasury generated from the three items in 2016 was Sh2.4 billion, up from Sh902 million in 2015. The highest amount that the government has collected in the last five years from the three sectors was Sh2.7 billion in 2014.

That the growth of the market had not escaped notice was evident when the Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich, while reading the 2016 budget, proposed a 10 per cent excise duty on cosmetics and beauty products.


The thriving of the market should come as no surprise, however, when you realise that seven in 10 women prefer buying beauty products ahead of paying for basic needs like rent, buying clothes or even saving. A 2015 survey conducted by polling firm Consumer Insight found that beauty comes a close second to food for the Kenyan woman.

This demand means that more and more people are getting into the makeup business and they are making a pretty penny.

From lipstick, powder, and a dash of blush for a look that screams “nude and natural”, to the dark eye shadow and over-the-top glitter for a dramatic night out, the cosmetic industry has gone mainstream.

Stories of successful cosmetologists and makeup artists are becoming more and more commonplace, with one perfect example being that of Suzie Wokabi, the founder and brand ambassador of SuzieBeauty Cosmetics, who last year sold her company to listed firm Flame Tree Group.

And in 2013, L’Oreal, the world’s largest multinational cosmetics company acquired Interconsumer Products, whose brands included Nice & Lovely, in the multi-million-shillings transaction.

L’Oreal, it was reported at the time, bought the Kenyan brand looking at penetrating the country’s and the region’s low-end cosmetic market. According to Business Daily, the deal was a major coup for businessman Paul Kinuthia who built Interconsumer Products from scratch in the backstreet of Nairobi in 1995 and low-end Kariobangi Estate to a major player in the beauty market to rival giants like Unilever Kenya Ltd, Beiersdorf East Africa Ltd, Haco Tiger Brands and PZ Cussons East Africa Ltd. The company crossed the Sh1 billion sales mark in 2009 and Mr Kinuthia told the Business Daily in an interview then that he was looking for new investors to spread business risks associated with sole proprietorship

Men may rally how much they want a “real” woman without makeup and weaves but it seems the women have long made up their minds — to do as they please to look beautiful.

And because makeup has very much become a part of Kenyans’ lives, the amounts that clients are paying to have their looks perfected are getting higher and higher.

For example, some established makeup artists will charge anything between Sh10,000 to Sh20,000 to work on a bride on her wedding day. The bridesmaids will spend almost half of that. Amateur makeup artists will charge anything from Sh5,000.

Weddings are not the only reason why women engage makeup artists. Some pay between Sh2,500 and Sh6,000 for a face makeup. A “quick fix” session, say for a dinner, sometimes costs about Sh2,000.

The artists insist this is a fair charge due to the high costs of makeup, not to mention the inflated cosmetics taxes.

“Imagine a Laura Mercier foundation, for example, costs Sh5,000 and you have to buy almost 50 ranges of products, all different kinds, shades and brands,” says Winnie Awino, a makeup artist.


Most of the makeup artists interviewed for this story said that it is not as easy as just buying a brush and a few products. They undergo training and have to invest time and money in order to produce the best results and to keep abreast with current trends.

The most important lesson before picking up a brush or a sponge, they say, is to learn to assess a client’s skin type — including colouring, condition and sensitivity, not to mention the bone structure. These factors determine the type of makeup one uses.

Makeup artists also have to work long hours, and in most of those they are on their feet. This requires stamina and fitness.

To ensure they thrive, the artists rely almost exclusively on “word of mouth” which these days includes social media. Most of the established names in the industry have a huge following on social media, especially Instagram.

One of the most famous bridal makeup artists in Kenya is Kangai Mwiti of Bellesa Africa whose impressive résumé means sometimes she flies out of the country just to spruce up high-value clients.

The demand for make-up tutorials has gone a notch higher and has spawned an industry online, with thousands of video bloggers setting up YouTube accounts to teach people how to apply makeup.

Local celebrities and other influential individuals have also realised the importance of personalised care. From model Ajuma Nasenyana, musicians Wahu Kagwi and Timmy T-Dat, to TV personality Lillian Muli and businesswoman Anerlisa Mungai, the number of Kenyans who have enlisted the services of makeup artists is ever rising.

Lifestyle talked with some of the top-grossing makeup artists on their day-to-day lives.



Steve Koby

The 31-year-old father of one ventured into makeup artistry after spending two years in the insurance industry where he worked as a trained underwriter. Earlier, he had also spent a few months in the online movie rental business.

In 2009, he began studying beauty therapy at Vera Beauty College and wanted to be a hairdresser.

“I love making ladies feel good and more confident about themselves, the priceless smile at the end of every session is worth every second of what I do,” he says.

After taking up massage therapy and makeup artistry courses at the college, he found himself pulled by his love for all things beauty and his highly artistic background into doing makeup — under the guidance and training of the renowned beautician Suzie Wokabi who also gave him the exposure he needed.

His big break came in October 2010 when he started doing makeup for True Love magazine and got to work with big personalities such as former model Bidanya Barasa, and Nairobi Woman Representative Rachel Shebesh among others. Coincidentally, around this time, he met Njanja Koby, a fellow makeup artist. They are not only husband and wife now but together they are a driving force in the makeup sector in Kenya.

Asked what constitutes a decent look on a woman, Koby says: “For me, a decent look is well shaped eyebrows, mascara on the lashes to give them an elongated effect, minimal foundation to even out the skin tone and well moisturised and glossed lips.”

He is now one of the most sought after makeup artists. After working with many celebrities including Elani, Sarah Hassan, Wahu Kagwi, and even going international to celebrities such as Kenyan supermodel Ajuma Nasenyana, Tanzanian musician Vanessa Mdee and Nigerian artiste Yemi Alade, it is safe to say Koby knows his brushes and sponges.

“If I wasn’t a makeup artist I’d still be an artist, drawing and all. If in the beauty industry then I’d be a massage therapist,” he says.


Kangai Mwiti

A 2016 winner of The YouTube Africa Creator Awards, she is a digital strategist whose professional background spans the retail, beauty and IT industries. Her YouTube channel BellesaAfrica was Kenya’s first to be dedicated solely to makeup and beauty tips and tutorials for the average black woman.

The channel currently has over 100,000 subscribers and views averaging seven million. Its impact is felt in over 100 countries around the world.

Kangai began her journey overseas with an undergraduate degree in business. She decided to venture into the makeup business in 2007.

Her family and friends encouraged her to get more involved, and her mother even helped her put together her very first professional makeup kit.

Then in 2008, her friend approached her to do the makeup in a professional shoot for an album cover. She has never looked back since.  

“I love the freedom that comes with what I do. I wear many hats and each project I work on enables me to do what I want, whenever I want. Of course that comes with discipline, which is something I learn more about every day. But overall, I love my freedom,” she tells Lifestyle.

After social media backlash from one of her viral makeup tutorials, she has taken it upon herself to put an end to stigmatisation of women who use makeup.

Her biggest work ethic, she says, is learning to work with the client’s facial structures.

“I try not to exaggerate or go overboard; which I can, however, do if the client requires it. What this means is that I work with what you actually look like, and I don’t use products or techniques that would change who you are,” she says.



Phoina Tosha

A young Kenyan makeup artist with an entrepreneurial mind, Phoina is already a boss, having her own beauty and makeup shop plus a hair products store. She took a plunge into the beauty business in 2013 as a freelance makeup artist under mentorship from popular makeup artist Muthoni Njoba.

She also gained skills from watching YouTube videos and says most of her inspiration comes from her fellow makeup artists. Joy Balogun, and Kangai Mwiti are among those who top her list.

She has over 20,000 followers on her Instagram account and over 2,000 views on her YouTube channel, besides having over 10,000 followers on Facebook. In fact, her first client was from the social media.

“It was a random person who saw my work on social media and I was very excited to have my first paying client, the rest were just friends and family as I built my portfolio,” she recalls.

Known for her fabulous makeup and spectacularly designed hair wigs, Phoina is changing the face of Kenyan women’s hair and beauty by turning her clients into international-esque super models, one at a time.

Her work has highs and lows and she likes how it makes her feel proud.

“The best part of my job is when I get to mentor my makeup students, when I meet new clients who become friends and also when I get to travel as I work on destination weddings on my beautiful brides. Lastly, the satisfaction on my clients after they look into the mirror and fall in love with themselves and their look,” she says.


Jenna Keysha

Keysha is a millennial who owns several businesses related to the beauty industry. She began working on her passion in makeup artistry as soon as she had the ability. She has over 20,000 followers across her social media sites, some of them celebrities and public figures.

She has worked with Lilian Muli, Anerlisa Mungai and Timmy T-dat. She began her makeup journey in 2014 after she finished her undergraduate studies course and attributes her talent to passion and drive.

Asked what the best part of her occupation is, she says the travel opportunities she gets makes her life blissful.

“The fact that I am able to visit new places and get to meet new people that I can learn from and vice versa is amazing,” she says.

However, her job also comes with setbacks. “Some people don’t take my art of makeup seriously. They don’t understand that makeup artistry is same as being a doctor,” she says.

Jenna is a testimony that the makeup industry pays, and she believes that the only way to spread self-actualisation among the youth is by training them to be reliable entrepreneurs in the sector.

Her brainchild, Miss Keysha Makeup Academy, which has a student capacity of 20, was opened in October 2016 and is thriving. Keysha takes part in the training of the students in the art of makeup application and wig making. She ensures that her students come out as experts and quality service providers.



Quick questions to the four experts


What is beauty, in your opinion?

Inner beauty is a feeling of self-acceptance and appreciation while outer beauty is accentuating the stronger facial features and concealing the not-so-strong.

How would you describe your signature look?

My signature look is simple yet elegant. Less is always more. I love making my clients feel they still look like themselves and not overly done.

Which is your favourite makeup brand?

I don’t particularly have a favourite brand though I use high-end products, whatever works for me is what I go for. At the end of the day it’s all about results and not the name.



What three makeup items or products can’t you leave the house without?

Lip balm, lip balm and more lip balm.

What is beauty, in your opinion?

Beauty is innate. It’s unchanging. It’s not something that can be purchased. It’s within you.

What is the most common makeup mistake many Kenyan women make?

Eyebrows. I’ve seen the most uncreative eyebrows walking the streets of our cities and I think it’s just lack of knowing what to do for your face shape.



How would you describe your signature style?

Mine is a look that is wearable and can easily be switched from a day to a night look.

If you were stranded on an island and had to pick only one makeup product or item, which would it be?

I would pick my brow gel because once the brows are fleeked, I’m good to go.

What are the beauty staples every woman ought to have on her dresser?

Every girl needs to at least have her brows done, foundation and put on some lipstick.



What is beauty, in your opinion?

Beauty is being confident with how you look and not letting anyone point out your flaws and make you feel disadvantaged.

How do you handle “too much makeup” criticism?

Negative criticism should never affect anyone, and in this case women. There’s nothing like too much makeup. Contour that face, honey!

Who is your dream client?

Kim Kardashian. Kim is the epitome of beauty. I love her face structure and I can’t wait to use my brushes on her.