Suzie Wokabi has come a long way and has developed the region’s first cosmetics line for African women. As she tells Mary Mweni, it has been a long but interesting journey.
The first time I met Suzie Wokabi, I thought that there was a light above her head that was illuminating her to reveal a clear, smooth skin. Then she smiled; her eyes glowed, and she moved and the light appeared to follow her.Then I realised I was looking at a woman who understands beauty – not only because she is stunning, but because she has perfected the art of looking good. After all, she is basically one of a few people in our continent who has her own beauty line – one that will revolutionise how women in Kenya apply make-up and enhance their beauty.
BUT FIRST THINGS FIRST
Suzie’s story begins at United States International University (USIU) in Nairobi, where she embarked on a degree in International Relations before proceeding to USIU, San Diego, to complete her final year. While her fellow classmates were applying for jobs at the United Nations and other organisations after graduating, Suzie was pondering about beauty.
“I have a curious mind and I wanted to know why beauty in general made so much news and I got very interested to find out more,” she says. “Then I discovered that the beauty industry supported a lot of people. I was encouraged to dive in and carve out a career from it.”
She started working for an eye-wear company in New York City and discovered her calling. “I immediately enrolled with MAC Cosmetics for initial training which led to further studies at a make-up school in Los Angeles,” she says.
For five years, Suzie kept pushing the odds aside and stayed focused on acquiring much needed skills for her to perfect the trade in beauty and cosmetics. “Sometimes I wondered why I had studied so rigorously for a degree that was clearly not going to be party to what I was pursuing,” she says with a laugh.
Although her first job title at the eye-wear company was Showroom Manager, Suzie did not sit back contented with Management and Administration. She started working with MAC Cosmetics on part-time basis. “Being in close contact with professional models and photographers helped me perfect my skills and build a strong portfolio. I did that for a whole year without any pay at all,” she reveals.
It is these lessons, her studies and passion for African beauty that have culminated in the greatest test of her life. Suzie will be launching a beauty products line called SB (for Suzie Beauty). The product is something that she has been working on for more than a year.
“When I returned home in 2007, I embarked on a full time job with various local magazines and television shows,” she explains.
Working as a beauty expert in various TV shows such as Idols’08, Face of Africa ’09,Tusker Project Fame 2010 and Patricia Amira show, made her realise there was a real need for products that are made for our colour and texture of skin. She decided to develop her own cosmetic line and then tried out her products on people during her work for magazines and films.
Celebrities, TV and radio personalities have been sampling her products, as part of test-market procedure. She says the feedback has been excellent with users confirming colour quality and smooth natural finish. Some of the celebrities who have been on Suzie’s cosmetics are Patricia Amira, Angela Angwenyi, Amani and Kaz and dozens of brides and their lines of bridesmaids. After a year-long product development incorporating a lot of research and finding the right manufacturer, Suzie is about to launch her beauty line. She has already worked on packaging and marketing.
“Financing, though has been a major challenge,” she admits. For her to get her product out in the market, it will cost millions of shillings that she is yet to secure. “Starting a new business requires passion, but you also need to come up with the money to transform your dream and hard work to reality.”
Currently, she is exploring avenues of financing her company through equity offers and other forms of financing and is open to ideas and partnerships. Her company is up and running and her website, www.suziebeauty.com, has become a popular site.
Suzie, however, will not let financing issues slow her down. She is energetic and determined that she will manage to share her products with Kenyans before the end of this year. Her determination is inborn and comes from within her – from what makes her Suzie Wokabi.
Born to a Kikuyu father and a mother from Indian/Meru backgrounds, Suzie is a beautiful lady both inside and outside. Conversing with her, one understands that she just had to venture into the beauty industry to compliment her swiftness to serve others.
The last child in a family of four, she says she had it easy while growing up, but she felt a little stifled by all the attention at home. “I always said I had five parents: my three older siblings and my parents. Everyone seemed to care for me so much that sometimes I got overwhelmed.”
Her father and mother instilled in her a sense of discipline and told her that the world was hers to conquer.
But in a matter of time, as the wise people say, she found herself moving out of her parent’s home. “It was a great relief to finally do my own thing, just as a girl.” Not so long after that, she met her better half with whom she tied the knot on 08/08/2008.
Suzie says her husband has also been a great and priceless motivation. She is most grateful to him for believing in her skills during the making of her career. She says it would not have been easy if he did not see her persistence and the huge potential that lay ahead.
“Although a corporate guy, he has believed in my pursuits and passion for the beauty industry and that caused him to invest immensely in the project development.”
Together they have a vibrant one-year-old son Maceo, who has not come between her and her new project.
She says that within two months her giving birth to Maceo, she was back at work for the Patricia Show.
Although she is a “natural homemaker”, Suzie still finds time once per week to hang out with her girlfriends. “It is rejuvenating to network, especially with people of like mind and those who genuinely support your cause,” she avers. Always a go-happy girl, Suzie looks far younger than her age. Already in her 30’s, she would easily pass for a 25-year old. And that perhaps could be as a result of the love and care she has for her family. “I am a home girl. I like spending time with my baby and my husband.”
Her mother has also been her beacon. She has given her continuous financial and moral support. “I could not ask for a more supportive, motivating, amazing mother,” she says. “Motivation is important if you are going to succeed in your ventures.”
Her greatest motivator in the industry was the late Kevyn Aucoin (pro¬nounced Kevin Okwan) whom she describes as an amazing artiste of all time. “His work is outstanding. He put together a small line of products which are exclusively available in the USA.”
She has great admiration too for the founders of MAC Cosmetics especially on the marketing front. “They never advertised but chose to test products on colleagues and close acquaintances. They are now multi-billionaires”.
Coming home for Suzie was more to settle in her home country than starting a cosmetics line. However, it was not long before she started wondering why beauty consultants were not flourishing in this otherwise lucrative career.
“I realised that the cosmetics retail industry was lacking in quality products. The few that were available and of good quality were unaffordable to the average Kenyan wishing to make use of professional services,” she says.
She networks considerably on Face book, Twitter and she even has a blog, all building up towards the upcoming launch of SB products line.
Suzie has a piece of advice for all practitioners in beauty and cosmetics industry: “Humility is extremely important. Don’t take your customers for granted,” she says. “This is not an everyday career. Be passionate, humble and willing to pay your dues in order to get that much-coveted success.”
If the light that appears to illuminate Suzie Wokabi’s movements is a sign of things to come, then soon you and I will probably be trying out her SB products made by one of us, the right way, just for us.
Photographs by Osborne Macharia (www.kulture63.com/photography)
Styling: Silvia Njoki