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Kenyan trader has eye on US beauty market

WORK LIFE
By Wainaina Wambu | June 5th 2021

Brand Ythera Beauty product founder Anna Njoroge (center) joined by models display new body sprays that come in 3 scents of frangipani, tuberrose and vanilla orchid.[John Muchucha, Standard]

While residing in the US, Anna Njoroge-Ngaruiya was frustrated by the scarcity of skincare products meant for women of colour.

And when she returned to Kenya after 16 years, the same frustration persisted.

“Finding locally-made beauty products of high quality, affordable and designed with the African consumer’s taste in mind was still a challenge,” she said.

So in 2016, she turned this frustration into a business idea, and Ythera Beauty was born.

Now, she is among a select class of entrepreneurs who locally manufacture fragrances, facial care, beauty and personal care products.

And next month, the Ythera brand is set to hit the US market.

“I lived there for a long time. I visited recently, and I know the challenges that they have,” said Anna.

“We founded this brand to address skincare issues that we (women of colour) have. Our skin reacts differently with ingredients. We need something that protects the skin and nourishes it,” she added.

Beauty and cosmetics have become a multi-billion-shilling industry in Kenya over the years, buoyed by a rising middle class that appreciates luxury and is highly conscious of its looks.

Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD) is dotted with beauty shops to feed this demand.

Recently, e-commerce beauty store BeautyClick announced plans to list at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) in a move to commercialise its product offering and accelerate growth in Kenya and the region.

However, most of the beauty and cosmetic products in the country are imported, mostly from Asian and South American countries and are not made with black skin in mind.

For example, Anna noted, the majority of women of colour cannot buy a moisturiser and use it alone but have to add other oils or glycerine.

“Why do we need to add all these other things to make it work? Why not make something that just works? Black skin loses a lot of water through evaporation. Therefore, it needs ingredients that repair the barrier and seal the moisture in,” said Anna.

Ythera skin and personal care products, Anna explained, are made with women of colour in mind.

Her first products were body scents. She has since established a factory in Kikuyu from where she manufactures her beauty products.

She imports fragrances from France, cutting the red tape in accessing high-quality raw materials.

Ythera products are currently found in over 43 local stores and across the region in countries such as Tanzania and Burundi.

According to Anna, sourcing the raw materials directly helps her control the supply chain, ensuring that the quality remains top-notch.

She said although the selling point of her brand is “locally manufactured,” the process has not been easy.

“It’s easier to outsource manufacturing to countries like China and bring the finished product, but I want to create an industry. As a country, we need to develop and create jobs,” said Anna.

She currently has five full-time employees.

Ahead of her entry into the US market, the Ythera brand has been partnering with various corporates in a campaign to increase the visibility of Kenyan brands abroad, especially by female entrepreneurs.

She said Ythera is “limitless” and is inspired by the “power of the African Woman.” 

“I wanted to build a brand that celebrates this beautiful woman and being limitless is about embracing everything you are as a woman...,” said Anna.

“It’s not about letting go of tradition or culture, it means taking it and incorporating it into who you are,” she added.

Anna has partnered with fashion house Vivo, make-up producers Pauline Cosmetics, hair product Mosara and locally made jewellery by the House of Cindimini.

“It’s about celebrating this limitless woman and everything she is and can be,” she said.

Anna said Kenyans have been warming up to the local skincare brands such as hers.

“There are others like Pauline Cosmetics that paved the way, and in the last four years, we’ve seen commendable growth. Kenyans are amazed at the global standards of our brands,” she said.

Most of the beauty products target women, but Anna noted that there is also a market for male fragrances, which she hopes to venture into soon.

Men are mostly confined to deodorants, colognes and lotions, but Anna noted that this is changing. 

“Research shows that men in committed relationships start using beauty products, which are bought by their partners... so we have to capture the women market first,” she said.

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