Suzie Wokabi has watched Kenya’s cosmetic market expanded from a Sh20 billion industry to over Sh100 billion in the past decade. However, this market has been dominated by cheaper imports and global bands. However, Ms Wokabi, 44, is determined to get a piece of the action, and is all set with her make-up brand—SuzieBeauty.
She always knew what she wanted to do from an early age. After graduating from University in the U.S, Ms Wokabi, dove right into the fashion industry.
She was trained by MAC Cosmetics and completed an intensive Media Make-up certificate course at the Award Studio Make-up School in Los Angeles.
To cut her teeth, she worked in New York’s fashion and beauty industries from 2001 until 2007, when she returned to Kenya.
“I found a gap in the retail cosmetics market because at the time all beauty products were imported and unaffordable. So I opted to create, from scratch, beauty products for us, the African woman.”
The company spent its first year in the market doing research and development of its product line. In the second year, the company had moved to product testing while the third year was spent on fundraising, hence registered first revenue in 2012 of about Sh22 Million.
Suzie has been one of the top local make-up artists whose extensive industry experience runs the full gamut from Print Media to Television, Film, Video, Commercials, Runway, and Bridal.
The hallmark of SuzieBeauty products line including facial cosmetics, from foundation, concealer, eye-shadow and liner, mascara, lip-gloss, blush, lipstick, powder and a full line of applicator brushes, and a full skin care range, are affordable, great quality and tailor made for the unique needs of women living in the African climate.
The entrepreneur says that fortunately it was the right time in the market as the interest in local products had begun so it was not too hard to hit the ground running.
“My products are certainly international quality yet more affordable than other good quality ones. The range is from Sh400 up to Sh3,500.
The more expensive range is our skincare.”
The Kenyan beauty brand was propelled to global fame after Oscar award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o publicly announced that she was wearing a SuzieBeauty lipstick (colour Zamba which remains the top seller) during a TV interview on the Queen Latifah Show. Lupita also gave Ellen Degeneres lip gloss by Suzie Beauty at the 2014 Oscars. It was a great endorsement that saw the brand gain more international attention.
Suzie designs and develop her products locally but still have manufacturers in a few different countries as she says that manufacturing in Kenya is still too difficult. She has a vibrant team of about 15 employees.
“I do all that design and development locally and then my mass manufacturers go according to my specifications. The product comes fully packaged and we warehouse and distribute from our offices.”
Suzie feels that she has inspired quite a few other local brands to come up as they saw it is possible to have one’s own brand.
“I consider my mentorships as making a difference especially to the younger generation. I do quite a few talks to inspire up and coming entrepreneurs and more.”
In 2016, SuzieBeauty was acquired by the Flame Tree group for Sh 45 Million.
“We just needed someone who will help us get to the next level.”
Suzie’s goal has been to build a company that will be a major player in the international beauty market, after establishing itself in all the relevant African markets. She says her priority is her customers’ wants and preferences. Key ingredients used tap in to the African core of the line: Avocado, Aloe, Coconut, and Olive Oil, and plenty of antioxidants.
Suzie explains that all ingredients used are non-toxic, allergy tested, and not tested on animals.
Since 2008 she has worked with Kenyan-fashion veterans such as Ann McCreath of Kiko-Romeo and the annual FAFA show (Festival of African Fashion and Arts), which draws several international heavyweights in support of its noble cause.
One of her major clients throughout her artistry career has been MNet, through which SuzieBeauty‘s work has been seen on various TV Shows like IDOLS, The Patricia Show, Catwalk Africa, Face of Africa, and Coke Studio.
She led SuzieBeauty backstage through 4 seasons of Tusker Project Fame. SuzieBeauty sponsors most major fashion events including Fashion & Beauty Expo (FAB), Nairobi Fashion Market, Samantha Bridal Expo, Miss World Kenya, Kenya Fashion Week, and Hub of Africa Fashion Week in Addis Ababa.
In 2018, Suzie was named “The Face of African Beauty” by CNN International in their African Voices feature on SuzieBeauty.
In 2013, Suzie received a finalist award for the Most Influential Women in Business & Government in Africa
At the end of 2015, the brand was acquired by The Flame Tree Group. The brand now has the ability to increase reach and has gained a partner that will help the brand get to the next level and implement all planned strategies.
SuzieBeauty products are readily accessible online and in retail outlets in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and various other towns countrywide.
Additionally, the brand plays a key role in the fashion, beauty, media and bridal industries and has established a seasonal school where aspiring local make-up-artists can learn this valuable skill.