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African Voices meets makeup mogul Suzie Wokabi

CNN International meets Suzie Wokabi, founder of Suzie Beauty, Kenya’s first makeup brand.

Wokabi explains why her love for beauty was not popular when she was a teenager: “In Kenya, we grew up among people who were not wearing makeup.

[People] were opposed to it because there were only certain women that would wear makeup, women who walk in the night.

It was looked at negatively, but [I think] it’s wonderful. I love doing makeovers because when I make someone up, especially if they have never been made up before, they walk differently. They have a spring in their step and I love watching that transformation.”

Although Kenyan born Wokabi always desired a career in the beauty industry, she describes how her parents encouraged her to study at the United States International University in Nairobi: “My parents were very much: ‘You need to have a college degree’. So after four years, I handed them the college degree.”

However, it was Wokabi’s senior year at college that transformed the trajectory of her career:

“I did my final year in the San Diego campus. [At the time,] my sister lived in New York and she had this fancy, glamourous life styling celebrities and working for Giorgio Armani.

I moved to New York because of that and I ended up working in so many areas of the fashion industry. I think that’s where I discovered my love for beauty and cosmetics.”

After spending six years immersed in the New York fashion scene, she returned to Nairobi to work as a makeup artist. However, Wokabi explains how she struggled to source the cosmetics she loved in Kenya: “I would call my brother in New Jersey to ask him to send me products. I needed products for myself and for my work. One morning in January 2009, I decided to just make my own because there was a gap in the market. Suzie Beauty was born there and it was Kenya’s first makeup brand.”

Wokabi explains to the programme how she had to overcome many obstacles as she worked to establish Suzie Beauty: “There is nothing easy about being an entrepreneur. My 24 hours is a complete rollercoaster. Starting a company and running a business was an evil process. Fundraising was the worst part, I would not wish that upon my worst enemy!”

Suzie Beauty launched in 2011 to immediate success, with Wokabi winning Kenya’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government Award twice.

Despite this, the brand faced more challenges four years later: “In the beginning we had some investors, then we had a bank loan… We would just learn on the job because we had never done this before. So in 2015 we made a decision: we need to get a strategic partner, someone who is going to take this business to the next level, because it had plateaued. There was only so much we knew to do.”

In 2016, Suzie Beauty collaborated with a leading manufacturing group and the brand transformed into a successful cosmetics line, which is seen as makeup made for the African woman by the African woman.

The makeup mogul hopes that she can inspire others to also pursue their dreams:

“The best advice I can give is to do it from the right place. You cannot do this without becoming completely passionate about it. You have to live it and breathe it for it to succeed.”

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