For centuries, Kenya has been a country renowned for tourism and wildlife. The international media has portrayed Kenya as a land of rich contrasts, the cradle of mankind, home to the ‘Big Five’. People often see its vast contrasts from the howling desert to its snow-capped mountains; from its lush countryside to its sandy beaches. In the past decade, Kenya has also distinguished itself as one of the fastest growing emerging markets in Africa. A much larger middle class has developed, many of whom are former Diaspora returnees. These individuals aspire to the finer things in life and are tired of constantly importing consumer products from overseas. As a result, a bustling cottage industry has grown to fill the niche. Many have expanded to full-scale manufacturing outfits. These small businesses are now exporting their products outside the country. We caught up with a few women whose products are taking East Africa and the world by storm this year.
Mumbi Muturi-Muli – Founder, Harvest of Sunshine – natural hair products without
the use of chemicals
Q What inspired you to create your natural hair product range?
Three years ago I was introduced to the natural hair scene through a Facebook group of women. The focus was on living healthily and finding natural alternatives to the commercial products we had been using. The ladies spoke about shea and cocoa butter and all the wonderful oils that could be used in our hair. I was hooked. I had stopped using chemicals in my hair about ten years prior to this and my children had natural hair, so this was a fantastic opportunity for me. I run a cake-making business so I realised I had all the equipment and basic knowledge to melt and whip all those hair butters and oils together.
Q How did you source ingredients for your products?
I travelled to the markets of Accra and met the women there to find out more about the butters. Surprisingly, this journey brought me back to Kenya where I found macadamia, Baobab and Cape chestnut oils. I researched the properties of the different oils and how they keep our skin and hair happy and healthy. I was also learning how to take care of naturally curly hair, a movement that seemed to start in the US and has taken hold all over the world.
Q Why did you feel compelled to create them?
Most of the products in the market were not designed for natural African-textured hair. The rest were imported and quite expensive. In formulating my own line, the great thing was that I was creating recipes. I had already done this with my cakes, so with a little understanding of why I needed each ingredient in the mix, I was on my way.
Q How did you perfect them?
I created my first line of products with my children, friends and family as the testers, but I was not completely happy. I wanted to develop a one-stop shop for naturalistas. So I added a deep conditioner with avocado oil and a daily leave-in with Baobab oil. I fell in love with African black soap early on my natural journey. I added coconut oil to make it a liquid cleanser. We have two creams or butters to cater for different curly textures: shea butter and macadamia nut oil in our signature buttercream Mwele, and Cape chestnut oil in our Yangu rich cream.
Suzie Wokabi – Chief Creative Officer and Brand Ambassador, SuzieBeauty
Q What inspired you to create your product range?
While in university in the USA, I got my training at MAC Cosmetics as a make-up artist. I also completed an intensive Media Make-up certificate course at the Award Studio Make-up School in Los Angeles. After working in New York within the fashion and beauty industries from 2001 until 2007, I returned to my hometown of Nairobi. Here, I was frustrated by the lack of quality make-up products for our skin complexions and climate. The good make-up brands were grossly overpriced, and the more affordable brands were often counterfeit, with toxic ingredients. I determined to create my own authentic, affordable high-quality make-up brand. Make-up designed and created for the African woman by an African woman.
Q How did you source your products?
In 2009 I began creating my own line and we finally launched it in December 2011. The process involved a great deal of research, travelling to international make-up houses and working with chemists testing various ingredients until we were able to perfect the exact colours and formulations I envisioned. The hallmark of SuzieBeauty products is affordable, great quality, tailor-made for the unique needs of women living in the African climate.
Q What is in your product line?
It is a complete make-up line for all shades of women of colour. This includes various types of foundation, blush, eye-shadow, powder, lipstick, eye and lip pencils, as well as our line of superior quality professional make-up brushes.
Q How did you distribute your products?
I began using them on shoots for fashion shows, television programmes, weddings and magazine shoots. I also sold them at SuzieBeauty booths at shopping malls around Kenya and soon we spread to other parts of East Africa. I have had the privilege of using SuzieBeauty products on internationally renowned models and celebrities and it has been received positively. A great compliment was paid to the brand by Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o when she wore SuzieBeauty’s Zamba lipstick for her appearance on the Queen Latifah Show and posted it on her social media.
The Flame Tree group acquired our award-winning make-up brand in 2015. The brand now has the ability to increase reach on a global level. The company has also established a seasonal school where aspiring local make-up-artists can learn this valuable skill.
Elizabeth Mbogoh – CEO of Green Gold Moringa Products, which packages and sells herbal products made from Moringa and other natural African ‘superfoods’
Q What motivated you to create your Moringa product range?
Since 2009, I have been selling high quality pure powdered Moringa, seedlings and nuts in their natural state. Prior to this, I was working as a film producer and casting director for an international company. However, when my daughter was born, I had difficulty recovering from the birth. My back ached constantly and I could not produce enough breastmilk for her. My husband met with some farmers in his line of work and learned about this ‘miracle herb’, Moringa. I tried it and experienced a reversal in my symptoms. My knees and back no longer ached, I was able to lose the baby weight and my body produced plenty of milk to nurse my daughter. My extended family also saw great improvements in their health. My mother-in-law’s high blood pressure, joint pains and hot flashes disappeared, and there was a dramatic reduction in my son’s bouts of fever, cold and flu. I quit my job in film production to sell Moringa full time. What really motivated me was the miracle of seeing someone’s health restored.
Q Where do you source your products?
Initially I would get Moringa from individual farmers, and then package it myself. I eventually bought land and established a 50 acre Moringa farm. I also work with over 500 organic farmers throughout Kenya to ensure a steady supply.
Q How did you grow your business to become a household name in Kenya?
I worked with the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute to create awareness after I discovered the huge volume of scientific research that proves Moringa’s beneficial phytochemical properties. I went back to university to study nutrition. I made and distributed thousands of brochures to champion this herb at agricultural shows and fairs around the country. In 2012, I opened the first of my Green Gold outlets in different cities in Kenya, as well as supplying several large supermarket chains. I have also started to export my product line to other countries where consumers have shown interest.
Q What does your product line comprise?
Moringa powder, Moringa tea, Spirulina powder from Kenya’s Lake Victoria, botanic detox made with local herbs, pure coconut oil, Moringa oil, Moringa seeds for energy and mental clarity, nuts, Baobab powder, Baobab oil, chia seeds, slimming tea, hibiscus tea and Amaranth grains.
Penny Horsey – a painter and farmer in Laikipia County and Chief Executive Officer of Cinnabar Green
Q How did you start growing and processing your essential oils?
At first, we grew fresh produce on leased land in Ngare Ndare village, Laikipia in 1994. After a few years of hard work, we had to re-think what we were doing with the land. Our great distance from the market, lack of tarmac roads and the quantity of artificial fertilisers and pesticides necessary to grow crops successfully in the area made it difficult to succeed. In 2001 we made the move to organic farming practices. We decided to grow aromatic and medicinal herbs to either dry or distil for export.
Q Where did you get the idea to create aromatic oils?
In the 1950s, Kenyan essential oils were very popular in the perfume industry in Europe. Later, cheaper artificial fragrances took over. The tide turned in the ’90s when ‘natural’ became ‘better’. To get into this market, we ripped out our export beans, planted aromatics and medicinal herbs and purchased a second-hand steam distillation unit. Having finally mastered the art of plant distillation, we were not ready for the fact that our Kenyan essential oils would be considered ‘different’ in their chemical make-up to the oils that the European perfumers were accustomed to. We waited as they were tested and re-tested, watching our stockroom fill up with large vats of essential oils while our bank account emptied.
Q How did you surmount this obstacle?
We realised that the answer lay right at our own doorstep. Kenya provides an abundance of natural pressed oils such as coconut, avocado, macadamia and jojoba while Uganda could supply us with shea butter and hibiscus seed oil. With the help of a natural cosmetics formulator, we started to make a range of soaps, lotions, and hair and body products. By the time the European market confirmed that our oils were fine, we had realised that the future lay in value adding and selling here in Kenya rather than simply exporting raw materials.
Q How was your product line received?
The prestigious Borana Lodge in Laikipia was our first customer. They recognised that Cinnabar Green’s range of products could help fulfil their aim to leave as small an environmental footprint as possible while providing their guests with a premium, locally made product. Cinnabar Green expanded into the bathrooms of other high-end, environmentally conscious lodges as well as the Kenyan retail market. We also began to export to other countries within the region.
Q What products do you currently offer?
We offer aromatic bath soaps, face and body washes, moisturisers and lip balms, shampoo and conditioner, massage oils and room sprays among others. https://cinnabargreen.com
Hardeep Sohan and Jazz Dhanjal are the directors of D’VINE, which makes a high-end cosmetic skincare line
Q What inspired you to create your product line?
My aunt, Deepa Sohan, is a beauty therapist. She trained in the UK before opening her own beauty clinic and spa back in Kenya. She found that the cost of importing skincare and spa products into Kenya made treatments and homecare products incredibly expensive. Eight years ago, driven by the need for a high quality product and her passion for healthy skin, she decided to manufacture her own line of skincare, body care and spa products. In 2010 I had just returned from university in the UK. Before I had the chance to send out any job applications she presented me with the opportunity of a lifetime to develop her cosmetics business. One thing led to another and here we are six years later.
Q What is unique about your products?
D’VINE’s luxury spa and body care products use local ingredients indigenous to Africa. We make our ingredients under the direct supervision of cosmetic research scientist Professor Aubrey Parsons. We use shea butter, extracts of tea, coffee and hibiscus as well as the nourishing oils of almond, avocado, Baobab, macadamia and Marula. Our skincare line works to treat different skin concerns ranging from acne to anti-ageing to chronic dry skin. For example, we use indigenous plants like willow bark extract, sugarcane extract, saw palmetto extract, sesame oil, argan oil and oil from the tropical neem tree to treat acne prone skin.
Q Where did you source the ingredients?
We source as many ingredients as possible locally, such as shea butter, beeswax, coffee grains and oils of Baobab, coconut and neem. We import our active ingredients, fragrances and specialised ingredients like emollients and emulsifiers from South Africa, Switzerland and France.
Q What hurdles did you have to cross?
Like many start-ups, we had limited capital to invest, but we have taken each day at a time and grown slowly. We’ve also had difficulty sourcing raw materials, equipment and packaging in Kenya. However, over the last few years we’ve attended various industry related trade shows and established our contacts. The cosmetic market is difficult to penetrate, as people are brand conscious, and have preconceived ideas that imported products are more effective. By using the products in treatment at our Spa and Skincare Clinic, we have demonstrated its effectiveness and built a loyal client base who have experienced the benefits of our natural products for themselves. We are determined to make D’VINE a credible Kenyan brand that people can identify with.