Despite the beauty industry being dominated by women, men have gradually penetrated it, taking over the spaces in makeup, hair, manicures and pedicures.
Unlike before, they also now have beauty products exclusive to them.
It is no longer a wonder for a female walking in the streets of Nairobi to be stopped by young men holding up nails and asking if they require the services at a great price.
In 2016, Francis Kakande came to Kenya from Uganda as a refugee. He had dropped out of school in his home country and did not have any work to do when he landed in Kenya.
“I had dropped out of school in Uganda and life became a mess. So when I came to Kenya, I had nothing to do and I had a friend who did nails as his main job,” he said.
While in Kenya, he would visit a close friend who owned a beauty shop in Kangemi.
“I would admire his work and wonder how they would make the nails. It got to a point I told him I wanted to learn about the beauty industry,” he said.
With the help of his friend and a donor, he enrolled at a local Rongai beauty school for a short course. The course would take about three months to complete.
However, a month into the course, he realised that what he was being taught at school did not match what he saw his friend doing.
“In school, you had to pay for more courses to reach the professional level. It turns out my three months’ course was for standard knowledge,” he said.
WORK AND GENDER
After two months of school, he decided to join his friend at the salon to acquire more practical skills.
“Because I had the interest, within a month I was good, so we began working together and after that, I left and went to another salon,” he said.
When he left his friend’s salon, he started by doing manicures and pedicures.
He worked at another salon for a year before he joined his current employer at Elegance Beauty Salon in Rongai.
At his workplace, he might have three to five appointments in a day and the rest are walk-ins. The charges for makeup, pedicures and manicures begin from Sh500.
Francis, who is also a self-taught freelance make up artist, says even growing up, he was always interested in the ‘girly’ products.
“I was raised with girls and was always interested in things such as their lipsticks, so I am very comfortable and I like beauty,” he said.
The beautician, who is also a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, says despite people having different perspectives, work, finances and employment have no gender.
“If you have the passion and the talent, you can find anything you can do, so I think people who say men should not be in the beauty industry are wrong,” he said.
Francis also said from his experience, people are not very interested in the sexual orientation as they are with the results.
He has managed to retain a few clients he started with in 2016, and adds he has not faced any discrimination doing his work.
“My clients and employer know who I am and they are fine, as long as I am doing my work. This is also what motivated me to be comfortable and pursue makeup,” he said.
The makeup artist added some men he knows are passionate about the industry are not queer.
“I can appreciate that the Kenyan community knows how to be professional and they look at the work you are doing,” he said
VENTURING INTO MAKEUP
A lot of salons, he says, shy away from offering makeup services because the sector requires expensive investment.
However, as his interest in makeup grew, and adding from the knowledge he got from his workplace, Francis started watching YouTube tutorials on makeup and trying to follow them.
“It took a while but with time, you go learning and becoming better,” he said. “But beauty products are expensive.”
For instance, his startup kit with products such as foundation, primers, lipsticks, eyeshadow palettes, brushes and setting spray cost about Sh60,000 cumulatively.
“It is expensive to have good makeup and with my current job, I am not earning enough to afford all these products,” he said. “So I have to look for other ways to get the revenue to buy the products.”
Given that beauty products range, sometimes makeup artists will clash with clients because they have different brands of the same product.
“You go to someone and maybe what you have, they did not expect. You may be having Maybelline and someone else has Mac products and you collide,” he said.
Having products that are not to the client’s preference may also affect the pricing previously agreed on.
“Ideally, you are supposed to have all the products, which is difficult. However, some clients are willing to let them use their makeup if they have specific preferences,” he said.
“When a client rejects your products, you may lose morale, wondering when you will have all those products.”
The artist says the best makeup products are expensive because different people have different skin types, and one has to know them all and what works best.
In 2014, American makeup artist and YouTuber Jeffree Star started Jeffree Star Cosmetics.
Over the years, Star grew his makeup company to a multimillion-dollar empire with an estimated net worth of Sh7.5 billion.
His YouTube channel currently has 17.5 million subscribers with over 300 makeup reviews and tutorials.
Last year, Jeffree worked with fellow YouTuber Shane Dawson to release a makeup collection that sold out in hours.
For Francis, he hopes to resettle into the US and also grow his makeup empire.
“In five years, I want to own a beauty spa, a big beauty brand and be a makeup and beauty trainer,” he said.
He currently uses social media, Instagram and Facebook to do weekly promotions for about Sh500.
Despite challenges such as language barrier, competition and the expense, the market for beauty is friendly and welcoming.
“I would encourage more guys to get into the industry because men actually do it better and I have found ladies prefer being served by men,” he said.
Other popular male makeup artists include Dennis Karuri (Kenya), Manny MUA (US) and James Charles (US).
Njeri Mbugua/The Star