If you're in need of a mid-week (or even mid-career or mid-life) pick-me-up, today's interview with professional make-up artist, Muthoni Njoba, may do just the trick. It is possibly one of the most inspiring interviews I've posted on Afri-love yet.
Muthoni's story is one that exemplifies the power of passion: being a self-starter; working with what you have; keeping your dream alive even when you cannot concentrate on it 24/7 (i.e. when you have a 'day job'); listening to your self when your situation doesn't feel right and; doing something about it! Essentially, it's a story about realigning your choices in the service of your passion. Muthoni shares how doing that not only led to contentment and success but, how it also had an invaluable impact on her well-being and her relationship with her son.
Being able to pursue your passion and make a living from it is a gift and, it's one that we can share with others when we champion our professions and mentor younger generations, especially given how the creative professions are still not widely respected in our part of the world. By encouraging our peers, we are challenged to push ourselves. Think what we can all achieve with collaboration and exchange, rather than holding on to a competition mindset.
Enjoy the interview.------------------------------------------------------------------------
What's your passion?
Since I was 9 years old I've been so passionate about make-up – everything about it was intriguing. My mother worked as inflight crew for Pan American Airlines. Seeing how confident my mum and her colleagues were, looking so glamorous in perfect uniform, hair and make-up, really caught my attention. I was amazed at how make-up would transform a woman's face and later on, I came to appreciate how it even had an effect on her self esteem. If she looked good, she felt even better.
Naturally, Art was my favorite subject at school and Theatre Studies too because then I had the opportunity of using make-up on myself and friends during school plays and performances. I absolutely love the world of make-up and how diverse it is today. You can literally transform anyone into anything with the right tools and skill. I must say I am extremely grateful for my God-given gift with make-up artistry. I have never had an opportunity to go to school for Make-up and I know it's my passion for it that has driven me to be the best I can be with the resources I have available to me.
What inspired you to become a professional make-up artist?
All through my A-levels and university, I would take any opportunity I had to do make-up on friends. It was something I loved doing! It sparked my creativity: I was always excited when given the chance and there was always something new to learn from the different faces I worked on. After graduating in England in 2006, I moved back home to Kenya and had the amazing opportunity to work alongside the top make-up artist in Kenya at the time, Hassan (may he rest in peace). The first thing he told me was that I had to develop my own style at doing make-up and that there was no rule to follow in doing so. He taught me the basics but always gave me room to experiment which, was always fun.
At the time, the make-up industry was not a stable, reliable source of income and so, after having my son in 2007, I opted to sacrifice my passion and work in corporate which was the "safe and secure" option. In 2008 and 2009 I was working in the investment world, juggling work and school (I was studying Human Resource Management). It was a great job, great pay and wonderful benefits. If I was not at work or at school, I was spending time doing charity work with the IDP's who suffered during the post election violence in 2007/2008. Being a single mum, I was very passionate about helping single mums who were displaced. I had a lot going on and still I made the effort to take on brides on the weekends, just to have the chance to keep my passion for make-up alive.
After two years of working in the cutthroat corporate world, I opted out! I would watch how colleagues were so passionate about their work and I felt like it was a struggle. It was a painful experience to wake up every morning to go sit in an office slaving over work I really didn't enjoy and get home so late everyday that I never got to spend time with my son.
I always struggled through working days. Everything felt like I had to really make an effort to absorb information and process it in a way it would make perfect sense whereas, on the weekends when I did make-up, it was effortless. It challenged me but it was a challenge I looked forward to taking up. Every time I work on a client it's like I am in total harmony with what I am doing.
Being a mother was my true inspiration to become a make-up artist: I wanted my son to grow up watching a passionate, happy mother doing what she loved most. All the stress from the job I didn't like was affecting my relationship with my son – I didn't have time for him or good energy and I was always worn out mentally, emotionally and physically. When I left to be a make-up artist, not only was I a joy to be around I actually got to know my son because I spent more time with him.
What has your greatest obstacle/challenge been?
When I decided to be a professional make-up artist, I decided right away that I wanted to offer a luxury service. My clients would enjoy a worldclass experience comprising of high-end products from international brands; extreme discipline with hygiene and the quality of tools used and; most of all, a positive experience of what the world of make-up has to offer. With good quality comes high costs so in the beginning, it was difficult to explain to clients why the service was priced as it was. However, as soon as one client bought in, she would share her experience and soon I came to learn how powerful "word of mouth" is when offering such a personalized luxury service.
The other challenge I had was when I decided to introduce body art to the Kenyan market. I loved body painting from the first time I came across it in university. My favorite body painter is Joanne Gair – her work is amazing, very inspiring. Lucky for me, the products were available in Kenya for the first time so I quickly invested in them. I then decided to invite a good friend from my high school art class to partner with me (she's incredibly talented at charcoal art work). I invited her to create beautiful one-of-a-kind body painting pieces inspired by local African painters, sculptors and jewellery designers. We would basically take their work and interpret it in our own way on the human body – the body was our canvas. Getting Kenyans to see this as an expressive art form and not nudity was a challenge.
How have you dealt with/overcome it?
First thing I did was invest in a website so that I could present the work in an elegant manner and, have a blog in which I could educate and share the knowledge of why it was important to invest in good products and service when it came to make-up. The more information I shared, the more open my clients were to the luxury services I offered and they were happy to keep coming back at any cost. Thanks to Tribe Hotel we were able to show people how the body painting could be used at events for branding and just as an added fun activity to the celebration. With art, the only way to overcome a challenge is to educate people about it and show them why it should be appreciated. It's all about presenting an art form that can bring people from all walks of life to appreciate why and how make-up and body paint can be made relevant to them and their needs.
What has your greatest achievement been?
My greatest achievement has been making a good living, as a single mother, from my passion. Many friends and family members thought I had lost my mind leaving a secure job in corporate to follow my dreams. They said a lot of discouraging things. Luckily I had the gift of my passion for make-up and so I was immune to any negative energy that came my way. I never take it for granted that I have this God-given talent – I stay humble and grateful for the opportunities I have been given.
I love that my passion has allowed me to travel for work in Addis Ababa, Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Juba and Dubai. I am grateful for the support I have had from loyal clients, friends and family.
Where will you be in 10 years?
My dream is to be the most sought-after make-up artist from Africa, flying around the world doing what I love, much like my favorite make-up artist, Pat McGrath. She travels the world doing make-up for all high-end brands at the fashion weeks. I would love to do the same, taking along with me talented Kenyan make-up artists. I believe in supporting those who share the same dream. They challenge me, teach me and help me to be a better artist.
Vipodozi Ltd ('vipodozi' meaning make-up) is my company. Under it I have the Make-up Lounge brand which is what supports my team of artists. I created a company that would protect artists from being exploited by production houses or individual clients who undermine the job role. My dream is to see make-up artists in Kenya thrive in success and to be respected for what they do. It's a continuous challenge but it's worth it. Some people think I take it too seriously and that its "just make-up" but, truth be told, make-up is an essential part of a bride's day, a corporate woman's image, a billboard advert, television appearances, magazine photo shoots and much more! I would love to see teenagers look at the make-up industry in Kenya and proudly say, "I want to be a part of it".
How does Africa inspire you?
Africa is a clean slate for many things. For example, make-up was seen as a foreign concept for many years and now we have embraced it. Look at the hidden talents we have in the creative world. There is so much to do in Africa – it's a place where we can bring back knowledge and share it with those who have not had the opportunity to travel to the West. I believe Africans are the most creative, inspiring and genuine people you can find on earth. My decision to move back home right after graduation was the best thing I ever did for myself. I got to enjoy watching and being a part of this shift in the creative industry. Its an honour to be African!
Anything else you'd like to share?
I believe that anything you want to achieve – you can. Stay humble, give thanks, lend a helping hand to those who need it and most of all pray. God has placed each of us on earth to shine! Tap into your passion and the rest will follow because everything you do from your heart will be blessed and it will be successful.
Images courtesy of Muthoni Njoba
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