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The Beauty and The Brains

Beauty is never really considered a serious subject in an open discussion, unless it is between those already deeply involved in the field. Speak even less of how it is considered as an industry in Nigeria. According to Franchise Help, the American beauty industry generated $56.2 billion in 2015. And I’m not just talking about makeup – which seems to be the first, and sometimes the only thing that comes to mind when beauty is mentioned. This revenue was spread across hair care, skin care, cosmetics, perfumes and colognes, deodorants and feminine cleaning, and oral hygiene. Of course, one cannot pull up the statistics of the Nigerian beauty industry to even begin to make a comparison because no one is paying enough attention to measure growth and revenue statistics in the first place.

There’s no reason why the Nigerian beauty industry cannot also pull in millions annually as revenue. It is left to us to actually begin to look at the industry as more than just people painting their faces or selling powders and lipstick. This is why GL sat down with three leading women in Nigeria’s beauty industry to discuss insights of the present situation and our hopes for the future.

Vanessa Onwughalu


Vanessa Onwughalu is not your average 23-year-old graduate. Having acquired a B.A in Politics and International Relations, and also a Masters of Law in International Law, she went on to do some short makeup courses with the AMF Academy in the United Kingdom. Vanessa was also privileged to have worked with Josie Maran’s consulting department for about three months. After some time in the UK, she returned to Nigeria to officially launch Taos Cosmetics, a line of luxurious and affordable cosmetics.

What was the motivation behind starting Taos Cosmetics?

Taos cosmetics was born out of a pressing need to have makeup for women like me. My aim for Taos Cosmetics was to be a go-to brand of cosmetics for women of colour all around the world. I wanted the everyday woman to have a relatable brand; one that people feel some sort of connection to while using.

What are the challenges you faced in starting up your brand/company?

Taos Cosmetics first started in the UK, and I have to say it was much easier there. UK consumers are more willing to give new products/brands a chance. I believe this is because they appreciate quality more than they do brand name. After that, bringing Taos to Nigeria was a difficult transition for me. Open arms weren’t exactly waiting, and a lot of marketing had to be done for people to be aware of the product. We wanted people to get to know the quality because, at the end of the day, a brand is known for its quality.

So, what would you say really made Nigerians warm up to your brand?

Well, a lot of marketing and word of mouth advertising had been done. Also, at the point when the brand was really coming up, the strobing trend also was a thing. We had this highlighter that was amazing in quality, and that really just put Taos Cosmetics out there. Everyone was talking about ‘The Taos Glow’ and ‘Taos Hollywood’ and that was a really big thing for the brand. It didn’t stop here; our highlighter became popular in other countries as well, and that sort of made us a pioneering brand for highlighter in African countries.

What would you say the reception of Taos Cosmetics has been like as regards getting people to buy more Nigerian products?

Firstly, I believe people should buy products based on quality; whether it’s Nigerian or not. Like I said earlier, Taos Cosmetics became known for its quality. People were able to buy our products confidently because they saw the quality is great, and we happened to be a Nigerian brand. They could also see that our products are more affordable than most foreign brands with the same quality.

What is the philosophy by which your brand operates?

To remain fresh, fun, sassy and luxurious. Luxurious in the sense that we never lose sight of our number one priority – quality. In my opinion, there’s no point in being a cosmetics brand if the quality of your products can’t sell them without a lot of effort on your part. Before we release anything new, we ensure they have been tried and tested repeatedly. In the grand scheme of things, we aim to enhance everyone’s beauty.

What are your thoughts on the Nigerian beauty industry?

I’m absolutely in love with the way the Nigerian beauty industry is going. Nigerians are now believing in Nigerian brands and foreign brands are beginning to see Nigeria as an investment destination. They’re willing to bring their products here to compete on a local level.

If you could change one thing about the beauty industry, what would that be?

I think I would change the perception of the industry. I would love for Nigerian consumers to appreciate and trust Nigerian brands more. Because, when you think about it, the foreign brands they love started out just like the local brands.

What changes do you hope your brand will effect?

My goal for Taos Cosmetics is to be an internationally recognised brand that can compete internationally with foreign brands. It is my dream that we bring a new face to the Nigerian market. We want people to start to think “if Taos can do this, other Nigerian brands can do it as well”.


Kehinde Smith


Kehinde Smith, co-founder of My Extensions, is a fun, easy-going entrepreneur with a burning passion for business. My Extensions is a retailer of completely natural, 100% Fine Virgin Hair. Kehinde had a dream that started in Chicago, and she followed it all the way back home. Being one of disciplined character, she embeds this same trait in the growth and operations of her brand.

My Extensions actually started in America, and then you expanded to Nigeria. Tell us about your experience starting up in Nigeria.

I actually didn’t just come here to start My Extensions. It was the people who already knew about the brand that encouraged me to do it. I didn’t even know My Extensions was known in Nigeria, speak even less of popular, at that point. I mean, I had a few orders from Nigerians in America, but it was never that big a deal. Starting up My Extensions here interestingly wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. As far as building the brand was concerned, a few people here helped us do that far better than I could have imagined – pretty much through word of mouth. You know, when you have a great product, the recognition will come.

Building the actual store is probably where there was a little difficulty. You have to get contractors, make sure they come on time, and do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to be doing it.

You previously shared with Guardian Life that you started my Extensions in Nigeria to bring quality hair extensions back home. What has been the experience thus far?

It’s been spectacular. Not only are we able to bring quality virgin hair to the market, we’re also able to show different methods and styles of wearing these extensions. The hair market is definitely growing and it’s no more just about just sewing tracks on your head, but now more about how you put the hair on your head, the quality, and maintenance.

What has the reception of your brand been like, in relation to the quickly rising “Buy Nigerian” mentality?

People have definitely been very receptive. I was a bit scared at first, because I know a few people were sceptical about My Extensions as a Nigerian brand because it started in America. The thing is if I had been born and raised in Nigeria, My Extensions would have definitely started here. But I was born and raised in Chicago, and so that is where I started my business. But, it’s been the opposite of what I expected. People, from celebrities to everyday people, patronise the brand quite frequently.

What is the philosophy by which your brand operates?

Transparency. Making sure that our clients are aware of what they are purchasing. A lot of people just sell you hair, and they don’t tell you anything about where the hair is coming from or how it was manufactured, or how to wear it properly and maintain it. When you come to the My Extensions showroom or shop online, we make sure you know what you’re buying. We let people know what they should look out for, even if they aren’t buying from us because everybody should have quality hair. Everybody today claims to have virgin hair, and we all know that’s not true (laughs). For instance, we don’t just get the hair from our suppliers and sell it right off. We have a strict process we follow where we make sure it’s washed and deep conditioned with medicated shampoo and conditioner so that it’s clean and safe enough for you to even touch. We make sure our clients are aware of all this.

What are your thoughts on the Nigerian beauty industry?

It’s definitely growing, but it’s still very much underestimated. A lot of people in the U.S don’t know how big the beauty industry is in Nigeria. Myself for example, I didn’t know how huge the market was until I got back.  Makeup alone is a huge thing out here. I think the beauty industry here, might even be bigger than the industry in America because Nigerians come up with so many techniques and methods, it’s almost unbelievable.

What about the industry would you change if you could?

The one thing I don’t like about the beauty industry, worldwide, is how makeup is applied. I think makeup is only supposed to enhance the beauty you already have, and not make you look like a whole other person. So, if I could change anything, I would change the mind-set of using making to change a person’s appearance totally, and just stick to enhancing already present beauty.

What changes do you hope your brand will effect?

Right now, we are trying to instil a sense of discipline in customers. Some customers, when they have an appointment scheduled for 9 O’ Clock, will often show up around 12 or something like that. So, we have a strict policy where a customer who is more than 15 minutes late for an appointment forfeits that spot to someone else. Because when you miss an appointment, you’re affecting other people as well. If you’re late, it means the person who is supposed to be attended to after you will have to wait even longer. So, we’re doing this to kind of teach the women in the beauty industry to be punctual.


Funke Tonye-Preghafi


Funke Tonye-Preghafi, fondly known as “Aunty Gifty”, is a bundle of light and energy. Her cosmetics retail store ‘Gifty’s Daughter’ is possibly one of the more popular walk-in stores for makeup needs in the beauty circles. Not being satisfied with simply stocking products, Funke decided to start her own line of cosmetics – Blot Beauty – to cater specifically to the African woman.

You first made your mark in the beauty scene with your retail store ‘Gifty’s Daughter’. At a time when a lot of makeup stockists were setting up online, why did you choose to set up a physical store?

I’ve always believed makeup should be an experience, and I liked the fact that I could walk into Sephora and see the physical products. For we women of colour, there’s a colour of the product you see online, and it’s sometimes different when you actually use it. This happens mostly because we don’t get to see what it looks like on different skin shades. So, I’ve always felt it’s better to come into the store and try it on before making a decision; instead of buying it and end up dumping it. For me, it’s, “come into the store, try it, buy it if you like it, and become a customer for life”.

What difficulties did you face trying to become a distributor of some of the foreign brands you sell?

For a lot of them, financing was a problem because they want you to do a minimum quantity order of $5,000 to $10,000. Another issue was delayed responses and sometimes even no response at all. I would get responses like, “Thank you for your interest, but we’re not looking at your region as part of our global expansion strategy.”. So, you know, those kinds of responses could be very demoralising; especially when you know there’s a gap here and their products will do well.

You went from being a beauty retailer to making your own products. What prompted this move?

I just felt the time was right. Being a beauty retailer, I had the opportunity to experience a lot of products and could see how they could have done better with their marketing, packaging, texture and various other things. Our weather is very peculiar, and most products don’t do well with it. No one has actually taken the time to find out which products will do well with our weather and which products will be okay for the average African woman. That prompted me to do my own research, and so I did. I went to a lot of trade shows and looked for manufacturers, until I eventually found one that could do what I wanted.

So what was that like; the manufacturing process?

Manufacturing is a very interesting process. From formulation, to ingredients and quantities. Then there’s packaging, branding, artwork and content creation. It has been a very long and hard process, but the rewards, I believe, are okay for now.

What is the philosophy by which your brand operates?

I always call Blot ‘a progressive niche brand’. Our focus is to solve the problems women are having in relation to beauty and makeup. Blot is for the woman who wants to look on point, and wants her makeup to take her from morning to evening. That’s why we have our matte lipsticks, our face primers, our brow gels and our mascaras. These are key areas where women have issues – face priming, matte lipstick that stay all day, lashes and mascara. So, we are a progressive brand. We actually listen to the customers to find out what their problems are and we try to solve them.

Thoughts about the Nigerian Beauty Industry

The possibilities are endless. I only wish we could step back from our culture of imitation. I would prefer that someone be bold enough to put their own name on a brush set, instead of making cheap imitations and still putting a big brand name on it. If we can break away from this imitation of a thing, the sky is our limit.

What would you change if you could change anything about the beauty industry?

I would change the way we are perceived. I feel the global beauty industry is a billion-dollar industry. But when you come down to the African level, we’re still struggling for relevance. We’re struggling to be recognised as a serious industry where you’ll get venture capitalists coming in to invest in brands they believe can take the beauty industry to the next level. I believe we should be seen as serious-minded people, not just people who sell lipstick and eyeliners.

What changes do you hope your brand will effect?

My hope, and my mind set, is that we’re going to dominate the African beauty industry. Currently, we’ve recorded a single digit increase since we came up; we’re now targeting a double digit increase by the end of 2017. Our focus is to be in every make up bag; everyone should own at least one Blot Beauty product.

So, would you say your brand is developing a more “buy Nigerian” mentality among beauty enthusiasts?

Definitely. My philosophy about the buy Nigerian movement is that if the company is hundred percent Nigerian, the idea is hundred percent Nigerian, and if it’s only the manufacturer that isn’t Nigerian, it’s still a Nigerian product. A lot of buyers on social media are the ones actually comparing for us. We, as manufacturers, may not have taken the time to compare our products with foreign ones, but you’ll realise it’s the people who buy these things that compare it and come to their own conclusions. They may realise what we have here is actually cheaper and better, and end up being the ones to actually push the brand.


One thing all three women have in common is their passion for the growth of Nigeria’s beauty industry. They are using their acquired knowledge and personal experiences to build brands that compete internationally.

At a time when we need to rebuild the value of our currency, it is important that we not just tout the phrase “buy Nigerian” for trends’ sake. We can rebuild our economy by investing locally, and one of the best ways to do this is by investing where it counts. Funke, Vanessa and Kehinde are key players in an industry that rarely takes an economic hit. There may not be any money, prices may go up, but women will always invest in their beauty.



Creative Team

Photography: Niyi Okeowo

Makeup: Jumoke Tychus for Eyesome Beauty

Hair: BeautyAce7

Styling: Henry Uduku


Funke: Top; Tobi Ogundipe Skirt: Amarelis Atelier

Vanessa: Amarelis Atelier

 Kehinde: The Keeper of The Wardrobe.

In this article:
Vanessa Onwughalu
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