Ceasarine Nyaseda, 37, an American-based Kenyan businesswoman, was not fond of make-up when she was growing up. Nonetheless, she has now plunged into the world of beauty and cosmetics. She is the founder and owner of Kavirondo Beauty; an idea, she says was borne ‘after a boardroom meeting with God’.
“I was going through a lot of self-reflection and seeking guidance on what direction to take in my career and life. I remember not knowing exactly what industry or venture I would pursue, but what was clear was that it had to be original, serve a great purpose and be inspired by my origin. The Lord directed me to the story of the Kavirondo women, who I was fascinated by,” she says.
Like most Africans, Ceasarine travelled to the US for further education. She earned a doctorate degree in International Marketing from Alliant International University in 2008 and worked in various industries primarily in project management, finance, software, healthcare and biotech, but never really had a direct role in marketing in which she holds a doctorate degree.
“It was a little disheartening not to find opportunities to work in an area I had trained in to such depths,” she says.
It was after that ‘board meeting with God’ that Ceasarine noticed a gap in the beauty industry. Very few brands were catering for the African market and yet the African consumer of beauty products was becoming more engaged and willing to spend money on quality products.
“As a marketer, I was also keenly aware of the fact that most products in the industry defined beauty in a Western light, leaving African consumers and people of colour with little or no choice,” says Ceasarine. Consequently, in 2017, Kavirondo Beauty was born, to celebrate African beauty and vibrant tradition. Historically, the word Kavirondo was used in the 1920s by colonialists to describe the Kavirondo people’s stance on war, thus describing them as the people who sit on their heels; kukaa
virondo in Kiswahili.
In Luganda folklore, the word is pronounced as Kabalondo
and is believed to be a fusion of two words in Buganda. Kabaka (royal) and Londo (throne).The name Kavirondo was used to broadly define people who lived in the valley of the Nzoia River, on the western slopes of Mount Elgon, and along the northeast coast of Victoria Nyanza. “I was encouraged and inspired by the women of Kavirondo; how they excelled in traditional female roles while dabbling in what would be considered male roles such as hunting and warfare. These women were given such glowing reference at a time when women were seldom celebrated,” she says.
Her connection with God and the story of the Kavirondo women instilled in her the desire to take back ownership of what we consider beauty.
The initial investment into Kavirondo Beauty was roughly Sh2 million ($20,000), which went into the cost of research, development and production. There were additional costs over time that included entry into the US and Kenyan market. When she began the business she was all by herself, but over the six to nine-months period of operation, she has partnered with companies and individuals both in US and Africa. She has over 15 active partnerships.
However, all these successes did not come without challenges. One of the hurdles she faced was the fact that most people do not realise that the beauty industry is as much a man’s world as it is a woman’s, which poses a problem when it comes to funding the business. But that does not deter the aggressive Ceasarine from working smarter and looking at failure as part of the equation to success. “Being a minority in this industry will only create a point of uniqueness that allows me to see opportunities where most people are not focused on. And eventually when we succeed, the fact that I am female will be secondary to what we achieve as a brand, “she says.
There was also the issue of cost. As someone who has had the experience of being a consumer of beauty products both in Kenya and abroad, Ceasarine had observed how multinational beauty brands would hike their prices in Africa. This factor drove her to operationally meet her business obligations and profit targets while providing the African customer with a fair price. Her price range is Sh1,600, which includes free delivery within Nairobi. In terms of being different from other brands, Ceasarine is keen to amplify that her products are primarily focused on the African consumer. While her story inspires women of all origins and walks of life, her products are designed to serve this often-ignored African consumer.
“We have a unique story that forms our brand name and identity. Because an African conceptualises our product, there is a connection to the market we serve and not just an episode of opportunism and dumping, as is often a common trait of multinational,” she says.
To the upcoming businesspeople, Caesarine advises them to be unique and true in themselves and always endeavour to identify gaps in the industry instead of being driven by greed. “Embrace failure; I call it Vitamin F. Failure will help you recalibrate your strategy and measure your progress. Learning from mistakes makes for a better experience than being a perfectionist. Failure is how true success is built,” she advises.