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Mwaluma Arts Founder Ayub Mwaluma draws a client a tattoo at his tattoo shop in KCS House along Mama Ngina Street on May 26, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG


Piercing, tattoos open business window for young entrepreneurs

Check around TikTok, Instagram or even Linkedin and notice a fast-emerging trend among Kenyan women—a peeping tongue piercing, jewellery on the eyebrow or lip.

These body piercings may seem like things for rebellious teenagers, but now the middle-aged, career woman is finding it fashionable, opening business opportunities for young entrepreneurs who are setting up beauty parlours.

Ayub Mwaluma of Mwaluma Arts and Tattoos, in Nairobi, is among those who have opened tattoo parlours in Nairobi. He says he studied in South Africa, under a licensed medical practitioner who taught him about anaesthesia and body modifications during piercings before he went into full practice in 2016.

“When I started, I mostly had youthful clients in their 20s, but now I get just as many women in their mid-30s and 40s. Men too, but in their 20s,” he says.

A body piercing option is a fashion statement that is no longer discreet and the artistry has evolved too.

“Body piercing has become an art that demands precision, creativity, and above all, a deep understanding of human anatomy. Before I pierce a client, I take my time to understand their personality and the need behind the piercing, then perform my magic.”

With rising demand, piercing practitioners, often referred to as piercers, have evolved beyond mere technicians, becoming artists who collaborate with their clients to transform visions into reality. 

The artists have had to learn newer piercing techniques and materials used, such as dermal anchors—piercings that embed a small metal base into the skin for attaching decorative jewellery—and biocompatible metals like surgical-grade stainless steel and titanium, which are safer in body jewellery.

“The entertainment industry is causing the growing trend and interest in body piercings because people see celebrities with them, and they look good. So they want them too,” says Mr Mwaluma.

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“Business has been growing quite well in the past few years with more and more people craving, either piercings or tattoos. I noticed a surge around 2018-2019, and it has been growing ever since.

“I get piercing clients every day, about one to three clients. For tattoos, I get at least five people in a week,” he says.

The most common body piercings requested by Kenyans are belly and tongue. Belly and tongue piercings go for Sh2,000.

“Belly and tongue piercings are common. Following those, we also receive clients who want facial piercings, [eyebrow or lip] then there are also skin piercings. There’s also a new one called dermal piercing, which involves placing a small anchor or plate underneath the skin’s surface, with a decorative piece or bead protruding through a single puncture hole. Unlike traditional piercings that involve passing jewellery through two entry and exit points, dermal piercings have only one point of entry, which makes it the most expensive piercing,” he says.

“A dermal piercing costs Sh10,000, it’s more like an implant on various parts of the body, like the face, chest, back.”

Body piercings, though appealing to the eye, have always attracted just as much criticism as admiration. Piercing fanatics would tell it better.

Njoki Kuria is among those who have body piercings. Her first piercing was a result of “peer pressure from friends and family”. Her beauty addiction started with a simple earlobe piercing.

Tongue piercing
Tongue piercing

She then got a nose ring, a choice met with resistance from her family. Attending family gatherings and church events wearing a nose ring drew lots of attention and questions.

“The backlash I got from my family, especially from the older generation was enough for me to pack my bags and leave Earth,” she says laughing.

“It was December, we went upcountry for Christmas and you can’t imagine I was being asked to remove the nose ring so that villagers don’t judge’. It was such a challenge to convince them otherwise. I ended up attending church with it, no one seemed to care (the locals) and from then my family got used to it,” she says.

For Sara Nderitu, piercing was a means of expressing herself.

“I have a nose piercing and multiple ear piercings. I’ve had them for about five years now. I don’t regret any of my piercings at all. In fact, I love them! They add a bit of personality to my look. I got my nose piercing and ear piercings as a way to express my individuality. When I got them, I felt a mix of excitement and nervousness, but it was totally worth it,” she says.

Sandra Jane has a navel piercing, something she wanted to do for years.

“I have a belly button piercing and a few ear piercings. I’ve had my belly button piercing for almost a year. When I finally got it done, I was so thrilled. It was a little painful during the process, but the excitement outweighed any discomfort,” she says.


As they say, ‘regret is a form of punishment itself’ and Anne Wokabi is one to attest to the adage following her experience with a tongue piercing.

“I have a tongue piercing and a cartilage piercing on my left ear. I’ve had my tongue pierced for three years and cartilage pierced for two years. I have mixed feelings about my tongue piercing. At times, I regret it because it can be a bit uncomfortable, especially when I accidentally bite it while eating. But overall, I’d say I don’t regret it. It’s unique, and I’ve grown used to it,” she says.

Esther Njuguna, an entrepreneur and tattoo artist at Ink City in Nairobi, says as the piercing trend heightens, more people in their 30s continue showing up at her parlour.

“It has become more of a fashion statement than a taboo like the old days. In 2015, I’d predict, which ages would walk into the parlour, but these days I can’t, it’s a blend of all age groups, apart from 60s of course,” says Ms Njuguna, adding, “Business is not bad. I get around five clients in a day, walk-ins and those on appointment.”

When Ms Njuguna started the business in 2009, she had very few competitors. A quick Google search of “where to pierce my tongue near my locations” now brings up about 50 parlours. A social media search yields higher numbers.

“There were very few body piercing parlours in Nairobi, and the clientele was low. As the business got hyped over time and started to grow, more parlours came up and competition became stiff,” she says.