To many people, makeup is just makeup but to Rose Ntong’ondu, makeup is a tool for women empowerment – economically and appearance-wise. Through her venture, Makeup by Rose, she not only transforms many a woman’s face, but also supports aspiring makeup artists through training, mentorship, networking opportunities and advice. She spoke to LILY RONOH.

Who is Rose?

Rose is a professional makeup artist, a trainer and mentor. She is mother to two adorable kids and has been married for eight years. She is also the proprietor of Makeup by Rose – a makeup services company.

What inspired you to venture into the makeup industry?

When I was young, my elder sister had a salon in Meru and I would spend my free time at the salon. I was fascinated at the transformation women underwent once everything had been done on their hair. When I cleared high school, I knew what I wanted to do and it had to do with beauty. By then, my sister had relocated to the US where she operated a salon. Hence it is in the US that I studied cosmetology. I had an affinity to the face and thus concentrated on makeup.

How did you make inroads in the industry?

I came back to Kenya in 2000, as my dad was sick and there was no one to take care of him. I dabbled as a makeup artist in between looking after him. I wanted to find my footing in the industry but I did not know anyone and I really needed mentorship. By chance, I met Dr Irene Njoroge, a skin care specialist and makeup artist guru who was at the time writing a beauty column in the Nation. She took me under her wing.

How was the experience?

I worked under Dr Njoroge for a year and it was a good experience. I got a chance as a stylist for the Hair and Beauty segment in the Daily Nation and makeup artist for the Saturday Nation cover and although it wasn’t a paid for job, it provided the boost I needed. I did so many other jobs without pay so as to get my name out there. So much so that my landlord almost locked me out due to rent arrears.

Really?                              

Yes. I used to stay in a bedsitter in Umoja Estate and the rent was Ksh 5,000. It was pretty hard especially since Dr Njoroge relocated to Kerugoya where she had set up a clinic.

So how did you manage?

I knew I had to do something else apart from makeup to supplement my income so I started making and selling popcorns. I noted that the popcorns being sold in the area were plain and to set mine apart, I added butter and it made all the difference, as clients preferred them to others. Within no time I was supplying to two supermarkets and a school. I thereafter opened a hotel.

Had you given up on makeup?

Oh no, makeup is my first love and I couldn’t let go of it. While running the hotel, I used to save money to enable me buy good quality makeup. When I had saved enough, I closed the hotel and went back to makeup.

When was the big break?

It took sometime for me to break even. The hardest part for a makeup artist is to get a constant stream of clients but when you do, you are home and dry. I needed big jobs to help me get by so I made fliers and circulated them in salons, who in turn called me when they had brides who needed a makeup artist. After grappling for a while, the break came when the Standard Group contracted me as a makeup artist. Thereafter the county First Ladies came calling; all the 47 of them and things have never been the same again. In 2015, I was among the Top 40 Under 40 Women in Kenya.

Do you work alone?

No. I have a team that I work with. When I started out, it was just my husband and I but we have since grown. He actually left what he was doing to come support my work as a marketing manager.

You described yourself as a trainer and mentor. Expound please?

I really struggled to get someone to show me around the makeup world and I thank God for Dr Njoroge who mentored me. The makeup industry is very competitive and it is very easy to get lost. I don’t want other aspiring artists to go through what I went through trying to make a name for myself. So what I do is take aspiring artists under my fold, train them and mentor them. By the time I release them to the world, they already have a footing and they know there is someone urging them on and holding their hands. I am grateful that many of them are doing well.

How do you make yourself better?

I pray a lot and I work hard.

You are a very busy woman. How do you juggle family and work?

In everything I do, my family comes first and my husband supports me 100 per cent. I have a three-year-old son and a two-month-old daughter and he takes care of them whenever work calls.

Published June 2016