Suzie Wokabi (34) is the founder and chief executive of Kenya’s SuzieBeauty Limited. Though she holds a degree in international relations from the United States International University (USIU) in San Diego, Wokabi ditched the corporate world to pursue a career in the beauty industry. Regina Ekiru sat down with Suzie Wokabi to talk about her company and building a business in Kenya.
How did you start SuzieBeauty Limited?
While in the US, I worked as a freelance make-up artist with leading cosmetics manufacturer MAC Cosmetics. It is during this stint at MAC that I started toying with the idea of starting my own cosmetics product line. When I returned to Kenya in 2007 I started SuzieBeauty Limited, which offers make-up services to a range of clients. I later developed my product line branded SB, an abbreviation of SuzieBeauty. I realised that most of the quality products available in the market are unaffordable to most Kenyans. I wanted to develop a product line that offers quality at an affordable price.
Tell us more about your cosmetics line
The SB product line comprises of a full range of make-up (foundations, powders, concealers, eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, blush, lipstick, lip gloss, lip liner), skin care products (moisturisers, eye cream, eye make-up remover, lip moisture), and application brushes. We have been using the SB product line in all our make-up services contracts over the past year. Our intention was to try it out on our clients and get their feedback to help us improve on the products. We are so far confident that the product is of good quality based on the feedback of our clients.
The beauty market in Kenya, which is estimated to be worth over Ksh.15 billion ($185 million), is flooded with mostly foreign products. My research shows that the development of products to fill our specific market needs has the potential of becoming a big and profitable business. Our beauty industry is highly untapped considering the lengths people would go to buy beauty products. There are women who would forego buying groceries for their families just to buy a lipstick. Beauty is one of the industries that were not affected by the recession. Apart from this, beauty is my number one passion.
Are you ready to hit the market?
In a few months the product line will be available for sale at selected beauty stores. Products will retail for between Ksh.600 (US$7.4) and Ksh.2,500 ($30.8). This is a capital intensive project. I will not go into how much I have spent but to start a product line in Kenya one would need at least Ksh.20 million ($246,000). We have to assemble all the raw materials abroad and use the chemists there for testing and formulation of the products after which we import the ready-made products. It would be very expensive to manufacture from Kenya since we do not have most of the essential facilities and equipment here.
What lessons have you learnt about entrepreneurship?
I have learnt to be patient. It took a long time to undertake research and develop the product range. I have also learnt to never say die. I have met people who thought I was crazy to imagine a project like this, but the passion I have keeps me going. I have never stopped believing in my dreams.
What are your future plans for the company?
I would like to partner with other investors in establishing a cosmetics manufacturing plant in Kenya. This would cost around $2 million. Such a plant would create jobs for hundreds of Kenya’s youths. In the next three years we hope to expand our product line to other countries in the East Africa region and later to the whole of Africa. My dream is to turn SuzieBeauty Limited into a household name for everything beauty on the continent, and internationally. I want to become the MAC of Africa!