When Nelly Tuikong, originally from western Kenya, was studying nursing in the United States, she had trouble finding makeup. Drug store brands carried at most two shades for darker skinned women like herself. Buying from the higher-end brands at department stores was also hit-and-miss. Even finding an eyebrow pencil was difficult. “The darkest brown pencil would be the color of my skin, which was too light for my eyebrows,” she says.
On a visit home to Kenya, Tuikong had an epiphany. “If I was having a problem finding makeup for myself, what about an entire continent of people who look like me?” she says. She quit nursing and started her own business, Pauline Cosmetics, in 2013 which is now one of the few local makeup brands on the continent focusing specifically on cosmetics for African women. She travels to China where she sources the makeup, now sold in all of Kenya’s major cities and online. This year their slogan is #ColorsForOurColor.
Urbanization, massive population growth, and rising consumer wealth have meant that Africa’s beauty and personal care market is one of the fastest growing in the world, second only to South America. Nigeria and South Africa are the continent’s largest markets and Kenya isn’t far behind. The cosmetics market in Kenya is projected to reach 6.6 billion Kenyan shillings (about $73 million) next year.
Despite the growth, most Kenyans still depend on the offerings of international brands that offer a limited number of shades for darker skin tones at prices beyond what most local shoppers are willing to pay. Brands like MAC, Estee Lauder, and BlackUp are available at shopping malls but cost as much as 5,000 shillings per product. (Pauline Cosmetics sell for between 500 Kenyan shillings (about $5) to 1800 shillings.) Most Kenyan consumers buy knock-off versions of these brands.