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How my chapped lips gave rise to my thriving lip balm product line

By Wainaina Wambu | Jan 8th 2022 | 4 min read
By Wainaina Wambu | January 8th 2022

Wanjiru Waruhiu, founder Kiwa Kosmetiks. [Courtesy]

A look at the local cosmetics industry shows it is a preserve of large multinationals.

However, local beauty entrepreneurs are slowly making their mark in this space, riding on products specifically developed for black skin.  

Wanjiru Waruhiu, the founder of Kiwa Kosmetiks, is one such entrepreneur carving a niche for herself with a line of lip balms that have healing qualities.

“I realised that the Kenyan market was filled with lip balms from abroad, a majority of which were not even up to standard. So I decided to fill the gap by manufacturing ones with healing and lip repair quality,” she told Money Maker.

Wanjiru’s entry into the beauty, cosmetic and personal care industry can be traced back to her childhood, tinkering with her mother’s make-up kit.

But the transformative moment came when she came of age and started using beauty products herself, especially lip balm.

“I had used this particular international brand for the longest time. I kept applying it, but it dried out fast,” recalled Wanjiru.

She even thought that her chapped lips were because of not drinking enough water. But research on the ingredients on some of the products by the international brands convinced her even more to create an indigenous cosmetics line offering organic products like lip balms made from natural oils.

She also watched countless YouTube videos and read online research materials on the raw materials that make lip balms.

Wanjiru came across pure essential oils that were used, for example, by vegans and had no preservatives.

She first tried her hand at making lip balm by producing four samples for herself.

After using the products for some time, Wanjiru noticed changes to her damaged lips. Later on, she gave one of the samples to a friend who gave positive reviews.

“That’s when it hit me that I could turn this into a business. That’s how Kiwa Balms came about,” she said.

Wanjiru realised that her lips had been reacting badly due to the harmful chemicals such as preservatives used in the imported lip balms.

Her products have a one-year shelf life.

Kiwa Kosmetiks. [Courtesy]

Wanjiru’s training is in International Relations, and her entry into the beauty sector is purely passion-driven, having taught herself everything from online resources.

She sources her materials such as oils from local importers.

But her business journey has also not been a walk in the park, especially when it comes to marketing.

“Most customers have used a certain brand for over 10 years and end up going back to the international brands,” said Wanjiru.

Her products come in flavours - mint, vanilla, strawberry and lemongrass. Flavours such as mint and vanilla are popular with men, which she said goes to show the products are not just for women.

Another major problem for her business has been capital, with the ingredients she uses being quite expensive.

“Sometimes, I a shortage of money slows down production,” said Wanjiru.

Competition from cheap imports is also a key concern, especially from firms in the US and China.

“Their lip balms are very cheap, easily accessible and are already very well accepted in the community. Convincing people to buy a Kenyan made lip balm can be hard,” said Wanjiru.

She regrets not having been very active online at the beginning, which cost her potential customers, with social media now a big marketing tool for many businesses.

But in the last four months, she has aggressively used social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, to reach more customers.

Organisations such as Her Hustle have also been part of her business journey.

The organisation has partnered with Meta Technologies to help women acquire entrepreneurial skills through their She Means Business training programme, which aims to train over 3,000 women, entrepreneurs by equipping them with digital, financial and business management skills to boost their entrepreneurial resilience in the face of crises.

Kiwa Kosmetiks product. [Courtesy]

Wanjiru said the programme has taught her online marketing, content development, and how to operate a business on low capital. She recently won Sh50,000 Facebook Ads credit through the Her Hustle accelerator programme.

Wanjiru advises budding entrepreneurs to roll up their sleeves and get to work instead of sitting on their ideas.

“Don’t overthink, just start… I’ve wanted to give up many times, but I keep going. You never know who is watching. Be committed and focused,” she advised. Wanjiru said brand consistency is also key in attracting and maintaining customers.

“This has given me return customers who were attracted to the quality of my products,” she said.

The budding entrepreneur said one also needs to keep growing their portfolio to scale up their business.

She’s introducing a range of new products, including face and lip scrub, face masks and essential oils.

And she has big dreams for the future. She plans to have a large manufacturing plant producing up to one million lip balms annually, some for the export market.

At the moment, Wanjiru is waiting for regulatory approvals to roll out her lip balms in retail outlets, including supermarkets.

And with her business picking up fast, she has now left employment.

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