Alison Caroline Ng’ethe was managing a hotel’s spa when she realised how difficult it was to get professional beauty therapists. When the time came for her to exit formal employment, she knew her next move: starting a college that will offer professional courses in beauty, spa and fitness instruction. The proprietor of Alison Caroline Institute speaks to LILY RONOH-WAWERU on setting standards in the beauty industry.
Alison Caroline Ng’ethe is 47 years old and unlike many women who are shy to expose their age, Alison wears hers like a crown. And it is important that she clarifies how old she is as she could easily pass off as a 30-year-old. Alison is a fitness and healthy living enthusiast and this has worked in her favour. Standing at five feet, nine inches tall, she has a model’s figure and is in great physical shape.
Alison reveals that she has always been a sucker for fitness. This, she says, she could have picked from her mother who is a certified Pilates instructor. “My mom is 80 years old but she still watches her diet and practices Pilates everyday,” she proudly reveals.
Born of a Kenyan father and English mother, Alison has over 20 years experience in wellness and beauty and is accredited with several international qualifications. While all things beauty was always her passion, she reveals that her father wanted her to be a lawyer. She is grateful that her parents gave her the leeway to chase her dream.
She went to the UK and thereafter to the USA to study beauty and fitness. After her studies, Alison came back to Kenya to work as a manager with the Serena Group of Hotels. “I was managing the hotel’s Maisha Health Club, which included spas. It was difficult to find qualified staff to work in that department and I desired to change that,” she explains.
By the time she was quitting employment, Alison was armed with a crystal clear vision of where she was heading and immense experience in beauty and spa. Her next move? To set up an internationally accredited institute that would offer training in beauty, fitness and holistic therapy.
“The Alison Caroline Institute was opened in March 2003 and it is approved by the Ministry of Education. We have certified trainers and the courses are tailored to meet the industry requirements. Our students sit external examinations to ensure that their certificate is recognised internationally,” she expounds, adding, “The beauty and wellness industry is broad and it incorporates beauty treatments, health, wellness, exercises and more advanced beauty options that border on the medical such as Botox treatments.”
This month, the institute marks 15 years since its inception and for Alison, it has been a learning curve of sorts. Like many businesses, Alison reveals the institute started out with a few members of staff – herself, a tutor and an office attendant – who doubled up on jobs. “I was a tutor, marketing person and also manager. It took us three years before we finally got a steady stream of students and this was after parents were assured that their children would get quality training. We got international accreditation within the first year,” she explains.
Alison explains that one gets international accreditation based on performance and this is always an ongoing process. For her, she is keen that her students get an edge over others in the job market and being internationally accredited is one of the ways of realising this.
“We have external examiners from the UK who not only examine the students, but also the institution, the tutors and re-asses me. They then give us a yearly report. If they notice there is something amiss, they tell us and we strive to rectify it. These processes set us apart from other institutions and ensure we are at par with international standards. Also, with this accreditation, our students can work anywhere in the world,” she expounds.
With this kind of training, it is understandable why her students are in high demand with majority of them landing jobs within the first six months of graduation.
Alison is glad to report that they have overcome most of the challenges including convincing the Ministry of Education what the college was offering was a needed skill in this country. She acknowledges the immense support she gets from her staff that ensures that everything runs smoothly. The school has a current enrollment of 36 students taking different courses in beauty, fitness and spa with the longest course taking one year.
“After the course, they get transcripts from us. They also sit international exams such as the International Therapy Examination Council, which are administered in June and November. They then get their international certificates or diplomas,” she says, revealing that her vision is to ensure the institute continues to live up to its name.
Alison admits that the beauty and spa industry has grown in leaps and bounds. “It has grown hugely and still has so much potential. I was part of the Spa and Wellness Association of Africa and we held an event in March last year. We were honoured to have the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta grace the occasion. When you have such a face behind you, it gives the industry credibility. Stress levels have also risen and those who can afford the therapy find it as an easy way to de-stress,” she explains.
Currently, Alison is on a mission of creating beauty, health and wellness awareness for individuals who are 40 years and above. “People are ageing better nowadays. However, there are those who want to look good but don’t know how to go about it. I want to help them using myself as an example,” she reveals.
She thus started a brand – Body by Alison Caroline (found on Instagram and FB) – with the aim of supporting those keen on healthy living. She also owns the brand SKIN by Alison Caroline, that specialises in skincare, body treatments and all things beauty keeping all those who follow her up to date with the do’s and dont’s.
Alison names consistency in the quality of education, loyalty with staff and open door policy as some of the secrets of success for Alison Caroline Institute. She says she gets fulfillment from seeing her students succeed in their endeavours. As part of giving back, Alison sponsors some students who are not able to pay school fees, yet they are passionate about beauty.
Alison’s mother is originally from the UK and she met Alison’s father while working as a nurse. “This was before independence so you can imagine how strong their love was,” says the younger of two siblings.
Alison is married to Jimmy Kariuki, the managing director of Sarova Hotels. Kariuki is also the chairman of Kenya Tourism Board. Together, they have been blessed with two children – a daughter and a son aged 18 and 16 years respectively. Her daughter is on the cusp of joining university in the UK while her son is schooling in South Africa.
Having been previously employed, Alison urges women with children to try and find balance between work and family. “Good thing is, this stage is not going to last forever. Your children need you not only when they are young, but also when they are older. If, for one reason or another, you don’t get time to spend with them, ensure you communicate this to them,” she says and adds, “Kids need to understand that whilst you’re trying to be a super mum, you can fall short at times. However, if you are on the same page, there will be
Considering her and her husband are very busy, Alison reveals that they make deliberate effort to make time not only for each other, but also for their children. “My husband and I enjoy the same things, this helps,” she finishes.