By Bethany-Angel Chijindu, Staff Writer
This week we continue the series on young African entrepreneurs by featuring Kangai Mwiti, a Kenyan who started her YouTube channel Bellesa Africa about six years ago. Kenya is one of the big economic giants in Africa which has in recent years been driven by a growing entrepreneurial middle class with young people like Kangai venturing into new territories made possible by technological advances.
Kangai, like many young Africans, did not grow up aspiring to be an entrepreneur. Instead, she wanted to be neurosurgeon, which was her aspiration when I met Kangai at university in California where she was initially studying Biochemistry. She later changed her major to International Business Administration with a concentration in marketing, but even then, I could see she had a lot of passion for makeup. I am not surprised at what she has achieved since returning home to Kenya.
When asked how she got into the makeup and beauty industry, she explained, “It was by mistake. When I returned to Kenya from the US, I had with me a small makeup kit, and since I was good at doing my own makeup, several people asked me to do theirs. And that was it.”
One of the new trends in Africa is that many young people who traveled outside the continent to get higher education are returning home, bringing with them new skills. For Kangai, her time in the U.S. prepared her for running her own business and brand.
“Growing up in the US made me more forthright and determined. I know what I want, and I go for it. I don’t let what other people say or do deter me from obtaining my goals. Also, the work ethic in the US is such that one can have multiple jobs and yet have a social life. I transferred the same ethos here, and it’s helped me along the way.”
Deciding to start your own business takes a lot of courage and takes away the security (yet perhaps the confines) of working for others. Going out on their own is exactly what some people need. “I actually didn’t like being employed,” Kangai said. “I realized that I love not having an idea what a week can bring, and that I can schedule my time around my clients and the current work that I am doing.”
Using technology, Kangai has seen her business grow and is recognized by many in Kenya as an important player in the industry. Not only does she provide content for her Youtube channel, she is a makeup artist for brides to celebrities as well. She is often featured on television shows where she shares her knowledge about makeup and skin care with the audience. One highlight for her was in November 2016 when she travelled to South Africa with YouTube and won the award for the Best Channel in Africa in the Beauty, Fashion and Hair category which took her by surprise: “I never in a million years thought I would, but I did!”
Often, we think those who own their own business are those who have always had the entrepreneurial bug, but that does not appear to be the case for Kangai who began working at 17 and only quit formal employment a little less than three years ago. Her choice of the beauty industry as the field to set up her business came out of her love of make-up.
There are many reasons why people are driven to do what they do, depending on who they are and what motivates them. For Kangai, it has been a journey in discovering who she is.
“Recently, what I have noticed about myself is that I am a budding feminist. I really get bothered when the rights of a woman are encroached upon, and I want to be a voice in my own way encouraging women out there that they are amazing and beautiful and wonderful human beings, just the way they are.”
However, starting your own business comes with its own challenges. Scaling and branding are just some of the obstacles Kangai has faced, but along the way she’s discovered the many opportunities that arise, especially with the advancement of technology in a country like Kenya:
“It has completely impacted what I do. Since my beauty brand is mostly experienced online, I must understand and use technology to further my message. I have to know how to operate cameras, software, digital platforms, and much more to get my message across.”
Kangai is one of the African entrepreneurs in Kenya showing the world that African youths are part of the solution and that when given the opportunity, can succeed at anything they put their mind to. Africans also have a lot to offer in the global market. As Kangai says:
“We have a strong and emerging voice right now. Look at our authors, film producers, photographers, videographers, scientists, humanitarians, politicians, liberal voices, enthusiasts—this is where they are coming from. We are moving the world little by little, even though our voices may not be heard now. But that’s just the point—an ocean wave is made up of tiny little water droplets. Most of the time, that ocean wave is gentle. But occasionally, it turns into a tsunami that can take over the world. Wait a few years, and watch—Africa’s tsunami is on its way.”
So, for those young people out there thinking about starting their own brand or investing in something fresh in a place like Kenya, there are opportunities, and as Kangai herself would say: “Do it. Don’t think about it – just do it. And especially since Africa is the new frontier, this is the place to be!”