BusinessPeople Daily

City’s bustling hub of fake beauty products

Sandra Wekesa @andayisandra

Seizing of counterfeit beauty products by State agencies has become the order of the day. Most of these products smuggled into the country from China, Nigeria and Dubai.

It is estimated that Kenya loses about Sh200 billion in taxes annually through counterfeit products, besides threatening lives of consumers.

Even as the beauty industry grows, offering more opportunities for genuine beauty products  to hit shelves in retail outlets and cosmetic shops, it has become harder to distinguish fakes from genuine goods.

A spot check by People Daily on corridors along Dubois Road in Nairobi’s central business district, revealed beauty stalls are quite crowded and chaotic with customers flocking to the shops during peak hours.

As the day peters out, the street is busy with shoppers hoping to get the best make-up in their preferred shades at a cheaper price.

Multiple vendors

Dubois Road is characterised by buildings housing stalls the size of two standard bathrooms partitioned with glass. Multiple vendors stock uniform products ranging from make-up to jewellery, lotions and hair products. The street acts as a wholesale point for vendors and salon operators keen on restocking their shops in estates in major towns.

Competition has driven women, who are either owners or employees of the cosmetic stalls, to seek out customers and lure them to their businesses at the junction between Dubois and River roads.

As you approach the street the chanting becomes louder as  sellers tout for people to purchase their goods.

You will seldom walk through several stalls before bumping into sellers whose faces are adorned with purple patches and tinted knuckles, a clear indication that they are using skin lighteners.

Genuine cosmetic products are more expensive than their fake counterparts. A genuine Mac Matte lipstick, for example retails at Sh3,874 while its fake sells at between Sh100 and Sh200.

Customers are not only lured to counterfeits by the price, but also by the belief that both fakes and genuine products serve the same purpose.

Michael Mwendwa, a retailer, says selling counterfeit products is the easiest way to make money. He makes up to Sh30,000 a bad day from selling his products on both wholesale and retail prices.

“Initially, I used to sell original make-up. On a good day, I would make Sh20,000. This was very little money considering the fact that I would require Sh200,000 to restock,” he says.

He, later discovered a shift in the market and decided to venture into the counterfeit market, a business he says has good returns and needs little investment as compared to selling genuine product.

He, however, has to grapple with constant raids by State agencies. For Ruth Mutisya, a die-hard Dubois customer, price is everything. She prefers shopping at Dubois where prices are pocket-friendly despite the risks involved.

Adverse reactions

“I know women who have had very bad reactions to fake beauty products but I still buy them. Luckily enough, I have not had any negative reactions to this product,” she says.

Fake cosmetics sold on Dubois, are primarily sourced from China. The products can have adverse health effects to the users. The biggest problem is the ingredients in the makeup and perfume.

Some counterfeit make-up products have up to 19 times the legal limit of lead in them. Lead can build up in the human body over the months, leading to lead poisoning which causes memory loss, joint and muscle pains and headaches.

Since counterfeit makeup is not made under the same conditions and standards as the make-up it is posing as, they are often contaminated by bacteria. The fake stuff is made in basements, back rooms, and filthy, small factories with zero quality control.

According to statistics, about 50,000 people buy counterfeit beauty products daily. In a day about 1,000 consumers visit dermatologists due to skin and lip problems, while some of them get admitted to hospitals for lead and mercury poisoning and chemical burns.

Unfortunately, sellers are also passing up fake products as genuine cosmetics, thereby putting consumers at risk of dangerous reactions.

According to the Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA) executive director Elema Halake, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) are the most counterfeited products globally.

“Cosmetic products which happen to be in high demand, fall under the FMCG category. Driven by the latest fashion and trends, consumers often fall prey to imitations which sellers are more than willing to provide,” he says.

He says that it is difficult for a consumer to distinguish between fakes from originals. The only sure way to distinguish the two is pricing. 

“As a consumer, you should know the price of a genuine product. If by any chance you come across a fake, the price will alert you. When the deal is too good thing twice.”

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