In Lagos, savvy entrepreneurs in the beauty business face-off the Covid-19 economic crisis by glamming up their online offerings.
From always being fascinated by brushes and make-up products and their ability to enhance a person’s physical appeal, Rasheeda Adeosun, one of Nigeria’s leading make-up artists today, was close to this profession from the beginning. When she was about seven years old, her mother ran a hair-dressing salon in Lagos, where Adeosun would spend most of her time but the interest in taking up beauty as a career came much later in life when she herself became a mother, to three children.
“While I was pregnant, I was working for Lloyds in their headquarters in the United Kingdom and I fell really ill. After I had my twins, my husband said ‘your friends are always coming around asking you to do make-up so why don’t you do something like that’. Obviously being at home, I said I will give it a try,” recalls Adeosun. She posted her wedding pictures on Facebook and people began to take note of her talent.
“People were like ‘who did your make up’, and I said ‘I did it myself’. That is when business started booming. A number of bloggers, like Linda Ikeji, posted [about] me and that is when the customers started coming in.”
But the early days were a struggle. Unlike today’s standards in the beauty business – characterized by significant access to resources and industry entrepreneurs, who can provide mentorship, as well as practically no barriers to entry due to platforms like YouTube and Instagram – Adeosun had no one that would help turn her passion for make-up into a business.
“So, I used to work for nothing and sometimes I would only have £20 left but I always say to people not all free jobs are bad jobs and I did a lot of free jobs in the beginning but I always say I gained a client later,” says Adeosun.
But that was a very long time ago. Today, she is one of the most sought-after make-up artists in the UK and Nigeria, with her established brand, OTS Beauty, boasting some of Africa’s leading celebrities like Tiwa Savage, as exclusive clients. The bridal look has undergone an overhaul. New-age make-up artists like Adeosun are the reason behind it. She has perfected her signature style which comprises of natural and contemporary looks in tune with the trend and she has gained a reputation of amping up the glam quotient of brides on their big day.
“I used to work for nothing and sometimes I would only have £20 left but I always say to people not all free jobs are bad jobs and I did a lot of free jobs in the beginning but I always say I gained a client later.”
This has created a huge demand for her bridal make-up services, which constitute a bulk of her revenue. In addition to this, she can charge a premium for campaigns, video shoots and photoshoots. She charges a uniform price for both celebrities and regular clients, often bringing in anywhere from £3,000-£4,000 on a good month.
But like many industries, the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that entrepreneurs like Adeosun are now faced with an uncertain future as economies continue to implement physical restrictions in a desperate attempt to curb the spread of the marauding virus. Adeosun has seen her biggest cash cow all but vanish overnight. This has led her to pivot her brand to survive the new normal.
“I am now doing a lot of online stuff. Most of my following is not from the UK but rather from Nigeria and Ghana. So, doing online classes has helped. Even though it hasn’t brought in the type of money I am used to, it has helped me make ends meet. Also selling lashes online has helped me to bring in money,” says Adeosun.
There is really no business that has not faced the wrath of Covid-19 as more and more enterprises are being forced to shut their doors due to the nationwide lockdowns in place.
Nnenna Okoye is an Accounting and Finance graduate from the University of Kent in Canterbury in the UK and is now a beauty entrepreneur. She is the owner of Youtopia Beauty, which initially began as an online beauty shop but has over the years morphed into a physical space offering everything from beauty products to skin serums. A bad case of acne, which lasted for over eight months, was the catalyst that helped her to pivot from her nine-to-five job and enter the scary world of beauty entrepreneurship.
“At the time I thought ‘what can you do with your eyes closed’ and you know you love doing and enjoy doing it and still make money from it. And products were the only thing I knew how to do but it was scary and I didn’t know where to start from,” says Okoye.
After failing to get local products that would help her with her acne problem, she had to resort to ordering the products from abroad.
That was when she had her eureka moment. From a beauty blog, she broadened her horizons into the world of beauty distribution and created an e-commerce site where customers in Nigeria could order online. Once business took off, she began introducing her own line of branded cosmetics, the first of which was her best-selling Youskin Vitamin C Serum.
“I felt that vitamin C is the most essential product in every beauty routine especially in Africa where we have exposure to the sun and a lot of pollution. We have about eight products in our line today,” says Okoye.
The company has had to make several changes to its business model over the years. Firstly, Okoye’s dream of creating the Amazon for beauty products was short-lived due to the logistical challenges in Nigeria.
“When I started, people did not have that trust to use their cards online and they had Jumia, which had an order without paying method but they are a much bigger company so they could afford to do that but we couldn’t. So, we had to devise a method where we could also do it properly,” says Okoye.
Her Nigerian consumers wanted to see the products and have a mini consultation before purchasing and it soon became apparent that Okoye would need to open a physical space in order to attract her consumers.
And that is exactly what she did. Youtopia Beauty now had a physical address and an online presence and the move led to an influx of sales.
Since then, the company has been enjoying unprecedented growth. In addition to Youtopia Beauty and Youskin, Okoye subsequently launched the Beauty Hub, a one-stop shop catering service for all the beauty needs of the Nigerian woman. Then disaster struck. Nigeria’s Covid-19 lockdown order came into effect in March and since then, Okoye’s beauty space has remained closed.
“Since the lockdown, we have seen a total decline in people walking into the Beauty Hub which has been disastrous. I shut down completely because we couldn’t do anything due to the curfew in place in Lagos. In the middle of May, I decided not to stop selling,” says Okoye.
Luckily, her major sales came from the distribution of her products, which were still being sold in essential shops like pharmacies and supermarkets that were still allowed to open their doors during the lockdown.
“Because of the pandemic, people couldn’t go out and now people who didn’t care about their skin decided that this is the time to focus on skincare. So, we are selling out on our skin products with some of our lines selling about 100 soaps a day. I have actually seen my numbers rise in the skincare products category but not the make-up line and Beauty Hub,” says Okoye.
Kwame Opoku, CEO of Reset Global and a futurist, describes the trend of increasing sales in the beauty industry during a pandemic as the ‘Lipstick Index’. “Research has shown that historically, an increase in lipstick sales occurred during difficult times like the 9/11 crisis in 2001. This was first established by Estée Lauder who saw their lipstick sales double during this period and this is used as a reliable metric to gauge consumer confidence,” says Opoku.
Kika Osunde and Chioma Ikokwu are the owners of Good Hair, a high-end provider of quality hair products for the discerning and upwardly-mobile professional woman. The starting prices for their hair units can fetch up to a $1,000 a piece. Over the years, the brand, which the women started when they met in university over 12 years ago, has attracted the crème de la crème of society like the First Lady of Ghana and the wives of politicians.
“We saw a gap in the market. There were less than 10 people selling hair and it would sometimes take you up to a year to find a good supplier. So, the market was ready for us. Girls our age could not attain and have access to luxury hair. We always knew we wanted to be a luxury brand and fresh and we targeted young professionals, our aunties and affluent people,” says Osunde.
Their love for premium hair has been supported by their wealthy clientele over the years, which has resulted in the two diversifying their brand with a presence in the UK as well as launching the Good Hair Space in Nigeria with a beauty salon, a barbershop as well as a restaurant and bar.
Today, however, the hair market is a lot different. They have still stuck to their unflinching compromise for good quality hair but are no longer the only players in the space. Instead of only a few suppliers, there are now thousands of people selling hair. The proliferation of social media means it is easier to find suppliers from all over the world. Furthermore, cheap hair products from China provide affordable alternatives to premium hair which has created a mass market.
“Even though the salon is closed, we are still selling hair to clients in Nigeria and the UK,” says Ikokwu. “In Nigeria, we offer a product and a service and in London, we only offer a product. So now, we focus on selling our products. We have started creating more content to increase the demand of our hair units and sales have surged during this period. We definitely fall into the lipstick index- the only thing that has changed for us is the delivery times as the post office wasn’t open six days a week anymore in the UK.”
For most entrepreneurs in the beauty space, content remains king. Providing engaging content to their followers either through tutorials and giveaways to keep online audiences engaged has become the new norm if they want to keep building brand loyalty. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to changes in every industry and for the beauty sector, these new changes will require entrepreneurs to put in more hours in front of the camera and utilize social media to remain connected to their consumers, until the world returns to a semblance of its former self.