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Why I chose make-up over nursing

It is one thing to choose what you want to do, then it is completely another when destiny conspires to take you on a different path. This is what Nelly Tuikong learnt when she had to abandon the career she loved

Faith Gachobe @wangechigachobe

Change can be scary for anyone, but for Nelly Tuikong, what seemed even scarier was allowing fear to stop her from growing. She is the executive director and founder of Pauline Cosmetics, a local cosmetic company that provides make-up products for the African woman.

What is interesting is that she was not always a make-up and cosmetics guru. In fact, barely 10 years ago, she lived in America where she had been pursuing nursing at Indiana University.

She was not from a privileged background either. Nelly’s story begins in rural Kenya. She grew up in Nandi county; Kaptumo village, which was a typical farm life. Although school fee was always a challenge, she was lucky to grow up in a household where they valued education.

By the time she left St Mary’s Tachasis Girls High School in 2002, Nelly knew there was no way her mother; who had just lost her job as a nurse, would afford to take her to college. She decided to move to Eldoret town with her aunt where she got her first job at a teaching college where she would only get Sh50 a month.

She kept looking for a better job and in 2005, she eventually ended up working as a volunteer at Sally Test Paediatric Centre in Eldoret taking care of abandoned babies. During her time at the hospital, Nelly had the privilege of meeting Stephen and Judy Leapman, a couple that would eventually turn her life around.

Having worked with the young girl with bubbling enthusiasm for a while at the hospital, Stephen who was a surgeon always knew that Nelly wanted to become a nurse. “I grew up in a hospital setting.

My mum was a nurse and so nursing was always the natural trajectory for me. One day at the end of my shift, Judy approached me and asked what I thought about going to study for my Nursing in America.

A collection of the make-up products she makes for the coloured women. Photo/TIMOTHY NJENGA

I was happy, confused and couldn’t really express my emotions.

Of course I said yes, but the magnitude of my decision had not yet hit me when I said yes until I had to move,’’ she recounts.

The following year, she moved to America and moved in with her new family. From the time she began going to class, she hit the road running.

She became president of the university student council and was always on the dean’s list.

However, she had a thing for wearing make-up as would many other campus girls.

She loved how it made her look and feel. There was only one problem, getting her right shade of make-up was always an uphill task. To try and solve her problem, Nelly decided to save up.

When she finally got her right shade, it cost her Sh1,000 ( $100). She was frustrated and now broke. In the heat of frustration, an idea struck. How about starting a make-up line that would only cater for the black woman?

“I thought that if I was having trouble getting the right shade of make-up while abroad, what about a whole continent?” she says. Much as she loved nursing, the idea of starting her own make-up brand would not stop nagging her. What had started as a simple thought had now taken over her life. “I really had no idea what I was doing, but I was willing to learn.

There was nothing on Google that taught how to start a make-up company. At one point, I even attempted to make lip-gloss in my kitchen. It was an epic fail, but I kept learning and researching and my interest kept growing,” she says.

At one point, Nelly even stalked Kiralee Hubbard, owner of Eye Max Cosmetics, and a celebrity make-up artist in America. She waited at the parking lot and waited for her to leave her office to talk to her after unsuccessfully trying to secure an appointment with her.

Luckily, she got to talk to Kiralee who gave her helpful pointers, including how to go about setting up such a business that helped in the growth of her own brand. With only the research she had acquired, she began to look for manufacturers and finally settled on one based in Asia. By April of 2010 she had her first batch of products.

After several trials and visits to the manufacturing firm, where she worked with chemical engineers, Nelly had the final product by the end of the year. Even with things looking brighter for her potential brand, Nelly was faced with the dilemma of whether to quit her secure job in the US to pursue her dream, or come back home.

At the time, she had been working in the critical care unit at Indiana University Health, and her husband Peter was heading one of America’s largest renewable energy firms, but was also thinking of change, perhaps moving to California and embarking on an entrepreneurial journey in energy or healthcare.

After months of deliberation, they decided that the risk of moving back to Kenya would be more impactful. They have since been each other’s greatest sources of inspiration. Pauline cosmetics offer a range of lipsticks, compact powders, eye shadows and accessories such as make-up brushes.

Nelly plans to become the go to make-up brand for all coloured women around the world. She’s also working on realising a new line of foundations to complement the compact powders.

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