US-trained nurse who is making her mark in the booming beauty industry in Africa
Nelly Tuikong always travels with her tool of trade — a sleek metallic box which holds neatly packed products.
“This make-up box is like a surgical N box, it contains anything and everything we need to transform a woman’s look,” Ms Tuikong says, chuckling. The box has beauty products of her company Pauline cosmetics.
When she got a sponsorship to pursue an under-graduate course in nursing in the US, she knew all too well that her dream career was close to fruition. But something different struck her.
“While on my final year, I noticed that there was a lot of consumerism in the US.
In fact, there are a lot of make-up brands and new ones keep coming,” explains Pauline cosmetics director, a startup that has presence in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru and Eldoret.
The 29-year-old entrepreneur, who says women are economic drivers, notes that she saw opportunity back home and didn’t waste time to grab it.
“Splendidness has always been integral in our African culture. For instance, the Maasai braid their hair and decorate it with red ochre. There has also been a great shift in the African fashion scene.
So I want to slowly integrate our precious culture into products so that they become appealing to an African woman.” She got consumed by a burning flame of excitement with the idea of starting a makeup brand so much that she began experimenting in her scullery. “I got an encyclopedia that contained all the cosmetics’ ingredients and started experimenting with various makeup recipes I found online. At one point, I almost burnt my kitchen while trying to make lip gloss” With her thirst unquenched, she sought the help of a pioneer in the cosmetics business, Ms Kiralee Hubbard.
“She advised me that I should start with small products and slowly add more with time,” narrates the beautician, whose company specialises on lipsticks, lip gloss, mascara and eye shadows.
Then, she couldn’t escape the problem of seed capital. “Many banks shied away despite seeing the business plan.
So I turned to friends, family and two sponsors, who helped me raise $60,000 (about Sh5.4 million).” However, Ms Tuikong regrets that dreams of young entrepreneurs are shattered because of lack of mentorship, apart from the ever elusive seed capital.
Immediately, she approached manufacturers who took considerable time before making the final product. And in 2013, she started to ship them to Kenya.
In order to nature her venture, she quit her job at Indiana University Hospital but Ms Tuikong couldn’t escape startup challenges back home.
“First, my family and friends thought I was going insane. I was very new in Nairobi and I didn’t know a lot of people.
I started by having women host ‘makeup parties’ where they invited their friends.
That is how I started marketing since it was hard to convince shops to stock my products.” Born and raised in Nandi County, the nurse-turned-entrepreneur has set her hopes high in the relatively untapped cosmetics segment in Africa. “I want to expand my business to East African market since I have already received calls from neighbouring countries such as Uganda,” she told Money.
She is happy for the two years she has been in business. “Now we are in many shops and forging new partnerships.” “In December 2014, we were able to break-even, which is very impressive because that was in about 17 months. Many businesses break-even after two years.
We expect our cosmetic business to grow in triple digits this year,” the employer of seven notes.
Resonate well She says her goods resonate well with expectation of an African woman. “This lipstick is made from shear butter, which works well to moisturise lips giving them desired colour. The lip gloss comes as two in one, women can apply from one side when running their daily errands, and switch to evening look with the other side,” she notes.
“Our products transcend to every woman because they are affordable. They range between Sh600 and Sh900.” And she doesn’t conceal her big plans.
“I want to go global in the next five years.
Who said Africa must import these products forever? I think we should change this perception.” “We are currently distributing in Beauty Wholesale store on Kimathi Street and Mama Ngina Street, in Nairobi, Super Cosmetics in Mombasa as well as in its three branches in Nairobi.” Pauline cosmetics has also turned to social media to reach out to customers. “We have big online store partners such as Jumia, Rupu, mzoori.com, and Kilimall which has grown tremendously in seven months. We also partner with select beauty salons in Nairobi, Eldoret and Mombasa. We are currently in talks to build partnership distribution with Nakumatt, Uchumi and the big stores”