BY SHIRLEY GENGA
Nelly Tuikong PHOTO: COURTESY/STANDARD
They say that everyone has a purpose, a reason for their existence. Some know their calling from the moment they are born, and others find it in their teen years. Then there are those who have their light bulb moment while following a different path, as happened to Nelly Tuikong.
Nelly is the executive director and founder of Pauline Cosmetics, a local cosmetic company (only the second one in Kenya) that provides make-up products created specifically for the African woman. But three years ago, she was based in America and living a totally different reality.
She got her calling to start a cosmetic line specifically for African skin back in late 2009 when she was working as a critical care nurse in the Heath Care field in America.
“Pauline Cosmetics started as a simple idea; I didn’t know how I would make it a reality. I didn’t know anything about registering a company let alone making lipstick. But I have always loved make-up, and even before I left to study Nursing at Indiana University, I had a small shop where I sold make-up,” Nelly says with a smile.
Although she was determined to actualise her vision, her entrepreneur bug could not have come at a worse time on a personal level.
“I knew that my dream involved having to move back to Kenya, but my husband, Peter, had just been promoted, and I did not know how to broach that topic with him,” she explains.
However, Nelly could not stop thinking about the make-up project. What drove her was the fact that cosmetics giants often neglect African skin.
“I really had no idea what I was doing but I was willing to learn. There was no article on Google that taught how to start a make-up company. At one point, I even attempted to make lip-gloss in my kitchen. It was a massive failure, but I learned a lot and my interest increased,” she says.
“I got an encyclopaedia of all the cosmetics ingredients, so I could understand exactly what I was putting in the products. I wanted to immerse myself in this and the experience was exciting, challenging and frustrating, all at the same time. I came home to Kenya in 2010 to conduct market research.”
Nelly knew she needed to learn about the different tones of African skin and how they respond to different types of make-up, and so she enlisted the help of a make-up guru.
“I literally stalked Kiralee Hubbard, who owns Eye Max Cosmetics, and is a celebrity make-up artist in America. I went to her office without an appointment. I didn’t even know what she looked like, or if she would agree to see me, but a miracle happened and she agreed to hear me out.
“I explained to her my dream, and she agreed to train me. She gave me personal lessons and tailored the course according to what I wanted to know.”
Armed with her personal research and training, Nelly began to look for manufacturers, and finally settled on one based in Asia. By April of 2010 she had her first batch of products. After several trials, and visits to the manufacturing firm, where she worked with chemical engineers to get the ingredients just right, she had the final product by the end of 2010.
Following one’s dream often means leaving a comfort zone, and Nelly had a tough decision: Stay in America or return home?
“I had to decide whether I was ready to quit my secure job in the US to pursue my dream. I worked in the critical care unit at Indiana University Health; I had a wonderful salary and impressive health insurance and a house, and life was great. Moving meant a drastic shift, but I knew this was it,” she continues.
Around that time, her husband began talking about moving to a new state.
“When my husband started to talk about moving to San Francisco, California, because his field, renewable energy, was big there, it was the perfect time to ask what he thought about moving to Kenya.
“We discussed it on and off for a long time. Some conversations were difficult, and rightfully so, because we were thinking of taking a big risk. Peter eventually agreed to the move. He has been incredibly supportive, and his MBA background has come in handy.”
So the couple began looking for jobs back home in Kenya.
“Luckily, we had good contacts and were able to get jobs. I could not wait to get home, so I travelled back first in early 2011.
“It has taken time to settle and set up my business, but I cannot think of anything else I have done that has given me this much joy.”
Why the name Pauline? “I thought hard and long for a name that was feminine and had meaning to me. Nothing had more meaning to me than my mother, and her name is beautiful and feminine.”
When Nelly first began thinking about a local cosmetic company, her mission was to give women practical solutions.
“I wanted to create products that are uncomplicated because people don’t want make-up that takes an hour to get right. So, for instance, our lip gloss is a two-in-one; one side is a more muted shade suitable for the office, and the other side has a more dazzling colour for more casual events.
“This also reduces the number of items a woman needs to carry in her bag. We carry too many things around,” she explains.
Pauline Cosmetics has four products: “We have lipstick, lip-gloss and eye shadow, each in four colours; as well as mascara in one colour. I designed the containers in an hourglass shape, like a beautiful, curvy African woman.”
Nelly says her cosmetic products are infused with shea butter and vitamins A and E, to which she attributes the popularity of the Pauline lipsticks and lip-glosses.
The company, which has six permanent employees, also aims to go the extra mile by teaching their customers how to use the products properly.
“We offer training on the basics of make-up and how to apply make-up. Many women tell us they feel lost when they enter a make-up store. We offer services and a tonne of resources to make the make-up process as easy and as fun as it should be.
“We hold Pauline Make-up Parties, where about ten friends get together and learn how to enhance their beauty using make-up. While some women like one-on-one training, others make our make-up parties a present for birthdays, bridal showers or chamas,” says Nelly
What are the plans for the future? “We have designed make-up brushes, eye-liners and lip-liners, and they will be ready before the end of the year. We are also formulating a foundation, but this is likely to be out next year.”
Nelly juggles her job in clinical research in Eldoret, with running Pauline Cosmetics.
“I am, however, cutting back on the hours at my research job as my company gains momentum. I love every process; the good, the bad and the ugly.”
She has her sights set on bridging the gap in the make-up industry in Kenya.
“I think we are lagging behind, especially for a society that really prides itself on how we look. My goal is to be the largest Kenyan-owned make-up company that caters to all women from all socio-economic backgrounds, because everyone wants to look good and feel great.”
-Nelly Tuikong comes from a family of three; she is the second-born and only girl.
-She attended Kapsabet Academy and Eragi Girls Boarding primary schools. She then proceeded to St Mary Tachasis Girls High School, where she completed her secondary education in 2002.
-After high school, her mother, the family’s sole breadwinner, could not afford college fees. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Nelly volunteered at Sally Test Paediatric Centre, where she met Stephen and Judy Leapman. They were so impressed with her that, not only did they pay for her university education at Indiana University, but also hosted her in the US.
NELLY TUIKONG cosmetic Pauline Cosmetics