When Winnie Taylor went to South Africa to pursue a course in fitness, she discovered the beauty industry is much more than glitz and glamour
Within the confines of a spa in Hurlingham, where lights are dimmed, pleasant aromas dominate the surroundings and soothing music plays in the background – pandemonium of the city feels so far away. Rooms are draped in purple curtains and dotted with comfy recliner beds.
It’s a setting so tranquil, but beyond giving soothing massages and offering calm amid chaos, the spa is concerned with client’s general wellbeing. Wellness is the backbone on which Body Evolution by Winnie, a wellness and beauty centre founded by Winnie Taylor, has been built on.
Body Evolution by Winnie, which also comprises a beauty product line and a training institute, was established in November 2006 when Winnie, then a beauty therapist in South Africa, decided to take a bold step to venture into entrepreneurship. The business was the culmination of a life-long dream to establish a career in beauty; a dream that had seemed far out of reach when she was growing up.
Winnie grew up in a pristine rural village in Juja Farm, Kiambu county, where early mornings involved chasing zebras out of their shamba before embarking on an 8 km journey to and from school.
The 41-year-old grew up at a time when there was little knowledge and exposure to make-up, especially in the village. Her mother, a housewife and father, a marketer in a textile company and also her Sunday school teacher were determined to give Winnie and her four siblings a proper Christian upbringing. Issues beauty were rarely discussed at home. The little information she had on beauty, she read from books and magazines.
But that did not stop her from getting fascinated by photos of women wearing make-up that she saw in magazines.
Her mind was set on what she wanted to pursue as a career and so after completing her secondary education in 1994, she settled on a beauty course at a college in Nairobi.
“Convincing my parents about my decision was not easy. I made a pact with them that if I did not succeed in establishing a career in beauty, I would reconsider any course they wanted me to pursue,” recalls the mother of two.
There was no turning back for her. “The excitement I felt after wearing lipstick and perming my hair for the first time after joining college is indescribable,” she says. After completing her training and getting into employment, she learnt vital lessons that changed her perception about beauty in a significant way.
For a long time, she had struggled with tension headaches. Massages turned out to be a good remedy. “I realised that there was more to beauty than just looking good,” she says.
Besides, she did not want to just be known as the masseuse given that at the time the job was largely misunderstood. After six years of working in beauty parlours and hotels, she developed interest in fitness as a way of complementing beauty and ensuring general wellbeing of clients.
Interactions with guests at Stanley Hotel, Nairobi, where she was working at the time, revealed a big opportunity in the fitness space. Guests, especially from South Africa, often told her that training in fitness would give her an edge. There were no established fitness training institutions in the country at the time so she left for South Africa in 2000 for one year training.
Her stay in South Africa opened her eyes to numerous opportunities in beauty that existed in the country. It became apparent to her that her passion in beauty was still alive. She then enrolled for a two-year course in beauty at Camelot International that would serve as complete game-changer.
For one, her qualifications from Kenya were not recognised and she had to start the training right from the basics. She also realised that the industry was broader and not just about massages. It was about making people look better, feel better and also give them a chance to live longer.
It’s while partaking the course that she learnt that as a beauty therapist, her work involved offering treatments that would not only make people look good, but also relieve stress and restore wellness.
After graduating in 2002 she worked in salons and spas before opening her own spa in 2006. South Africa served as a favourable launching pad for her business to take off. First, because trained therapists were readily available and second, the country had diverse beauty products.
Years after making the bold step, the business has weathered challenging times such as the recession that hit South Africa in 2009. Six years ago, the company moved its operations to Kenya.
Her decision to move back home was informed by the fact that data from the Spa and Wellness Association of Africa (SWAA) indicates that according to market research and analytics firm, Euromonitor International, Health and Wellness Tourism in Kenya recorded a value growth of nine per cent in 2013 to reach sales of Sh2.5 billion.
Over the last five years this has grown to a Sh5 billion industry. However, venturing into this market has been a learning curve for her. Initially, she struggled with getting Kenyan products that would work for her clients with different needs.
After three years of research and working with a manufacturing company from South Africa, she has developed her line of products known as White Silk that comprise cleansers, sunscreen, creams and toners. She hopes to one day manufacture the products independently. Recently she opened a training institute borne out of her quest to bridge skills gap in the industry.
“Getting trained therapists in Kenya is a huge problem. Not just for me, but for other industry players,” she says. Trainees will have a chance to get theoretical training in an environment where they can put their skills into practice under the ITEC, UK accredited course.