Winnie is an experienced Health & Skincare Specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the Health & Wellness and Fitness industry for over 20 years. As a certified Health & Skincare therapist, she holds a CIDESCO Diploma from Camelot International in Johannesburg, South Africa and is also a qualified personal trainer as well as Aerobics instructor from ETA (Exercise Teachers Academy) South Africa. She qualified as a nail technology Educator on a part-time basis while working as a therapist and is a certified Assessor with City & Guilds and Assessment College of SA.
She founded Body Evolution By Winnie, a wellness Centre/spa in November 2006 in South Africa and moved it to Kenya in 2012. Winnie is a member of South African Association of Health & Skincare professionals (SAAHSP). She recently started a beauty training institute, ByWinnie Beauty Training Institute which offers advanced and specialized training in Beauty to existing Beauty and Wellness professionals, aspiring entrees into the industry and fresh school graduates.
Body Evolution By Winnie’s core service comprises Signature Wellness Treatments such as Ozone therapy that helps the body to regenerate itself, Facial, Fat Reduction, Body Contouring, Soy Candle Massage, Body Wraps, Waxing, and Nail Enhancement.
The services are complemented by Winnie’s own products which include a skin care line that is available both professionally and in retail stores.
We caught up with Winnie at her work premises in Hurlingham Court, Nairobi to talk to her about her journey in the beauty and fitness industry as well as her business
How do you categorize your products?
Usually, when we look at products, we divide them into two. We have what we call professional and retail. Professional are the products we use when you come for a massage. For me, the customers will be salons, spas and the like. Retail is the products we have recommended what you need to use. That’s the product we sell to customers to use at home.
How long did it take you to develop a product? Was it something someone gave you and you repackaged or was it something you developed from scratch?
We started by someone manufacturing for us. We call it private labeling. But now we have maybe one or two products that are privately labeled. The rest we are manufacturing for ourselves. With time you realize what are the needs, challenges and things like that.
Who did the formulas?
The manufacturer. I tell them I want a product that will do certain things then they will recommend ingredients. You also say for example I want a product that will reduce oiliness without stripping the natural oils. I’ve also loved Vitamin E because it’s an antioxidant and anti-aging so sometimes I tell them I want a product with Vitamin E and something else and they tell me that can’t work. They help with the formulation. We work very closely with them. As a therapist, I know the end result of what I wanted.
Why did you stop private labeling? Was it because you felt it was generic or was it not catering to specific needs for different African skin?
One of the biggest challenges, when you have a private label is that you have no control. Like you’ve said when it works for my market but it doesn’t work for another market, it won’t make financial sense financially to make the product. So, we have times when products have been discontinued including the issue of prices. Prices can go up. For instance, I’ve spoken to you, I’ve given you your prices. 6 months later when you come I tell you that the quote I had given you has doubled in price so it’s easier to have better control then you’re not held accountable by those things.
So, how did you start? Tell us about yourself.
I’m a health and care therapist by profession. The business I do now is in line with what I studied after secondary school. As a young girl in the village, I would see makeup and think, wow they look nice but you don’t realize there’s more to the skin than just makeup. So I was fascinated and I wanted to go to school after form 4. It was my older sister who told me that you can study this so I went around looking for schools. This was back in 1995. That was when I discovered that the industry is so wide and that makeup looks better on clean skin.
I enrolled and discovered there are nails, body, massages, and others. I did a diploma course and finished. Then the real challenge began finding work. Back in the day people just did manicure and pedicure. They didn’t know much about facials. As I was looking for a job, I knew somebody who told me she worked in a hotel as a masseuse and I got to work but very briefly. While working, I found another industry called the fitness industry. And my first job was as a masseuse at a fitness center. Out of that, I got exposed to fitness and I kind of mixed both together because I was curious about fitness.
At the same time, I realized there weren’t many places I could be employed as a therapist so I ended up working a lot in the fitness industry since there were more opportunities. I also like to do things that are challenging that they say can’t be done by women. Then I realized the correlation between the two. Like you’ve come, worked out and your muscles are sore; you go have a massage. It is also when you work out, your skin looks better and makeup looks better on your skin. With time you see the change.
Hotels started offering mani/pedis, body wraps, and facials but by then, I had really been sucked into the fitness industry. So, I left the country to go to South Africa where I studied fitness and it’s while in South Africa that my first love called me back.
As soon as I finished my year training I went back to beauty. After looking for jobs and failing, one manager recommended that I go back to school since I seemed like I was interested in it and there was also an issue in my certificate not being recognized since it was a Kenyan certificate. So, I went through the 2-year course and never looked back since.
Do you think Kenyan training on beauty is very shallow? And if you do, how can it be rectified?
I love that question because this is why we had the media brief the other day. Like you said, why do you need to go to South Africa if they can do it locally? The one thing is to start with better training. Even if somebody does it in bits can we give a comprehensive training for example, if you want to be a manicurist, can we give it so deep that you want to be a manicurist but able to cover everything?
There’s definitely a shortage of skills in Kenya despite the fact that there’s so many of us out there but as a businesswoman that’s one of the biggest challenges. I’ve had, for example, the facials equipment we use someone should be able to use it without retraining them.
The training has to go deeper especially the theoretical. When clients come here, we start with a consultation and they say I just want to do my nails why do I have to look at my medical history. This is why Bywinnie Training Institute was born and to ensure we don’t slack; we need someone responsible. Hence, the partnership with iTech Accreditation who dictate our curriculum and even recommend books. Again, getting books in Kenya is another issue.
How long does the course take? Is it broken into parts and how much is each part?
We do something called guided learning hours. You can come in today; we teach you how to do nails then you can stay for a year before moving on to something else. So, guided hours ensure those are the hours you do with us while in training. It’s broken into so many courses. We chose what we felt will be appropriate.
We have diploma courses. They go up to different levels. For instance, level 2 is Beauty Specialist. They will do facials, waxing, mani/pedis and more. The guided hours are 300 hours which equates to 4 months. This is the most common available qualification in Kenya right now.
But we wanted to cater to people who also want to go higher. So, the next one is a diploma in advanced beauty therapist. That covers all body treatments, for example, facials, slimming with extra machines. This one is usually 9 months but some offer for 7 months. And of course, there is nail technology which stands on its own in case one wants to be a therapist and a nail technician. It takes 3 months. We also have a refresher course for all beauticians in the market. They can refresh, upgrade or formalize their certification. It takes 2 months and costs Ksh 50, 000. For this one, we provide all manuals and products.
Why would you encourage someone to take the course?
For other schools, they charge Ksh 80,000 but don’t offer anything other than school work. For us, we offer manuals and kits. We also give extra training on CV writing and other skills to help you find employment.
Where is the school?
The school is on our premises. We have 5 rooms in total and specialists in each room.
The technicians that you have now, have they gone through your training?
I had one whose training was based on having come as an employee and she did the Training of Trainers course and completed it. We then went to a school in Kibera, took some girls who had just completed beauty school and trained them for two months for free.
How did you get into the beauty products business?
You can’t do this business without products whether its massages, facials etc. Over the years, I worked with so many products. I also realized regardless of the product you need to market it as well so I thought what about having a product of my own. Then the manufacturer who was doing our private labeling closed down so that drove me to want to create my own brand and that is a journey that has taken 3 years.
How is that working out for you?
So far, I have a manufacturer. When we started we had one product, jojoba oil. We also work with a consultancy firm who give us client feedback.
What’s your plan for your products?
I’m still deciding about supermarkets because women have the wait and see buying habits and a lot of times somebody hasn’t ensured that it’s the right products for them. However, some of our products can go into the supermarkets.
In our products range we have White Silk and Clear Orchid products which I’m in talks with potential distributors. We’d also want to get into pharmacies since we tend to buy our skin care products from chemists.
What is your product range?
Eventually, I think I’d want to get into makeup but for now, let’s start with the skin care. And even for the skincare, we’ve started with the basics we want to get into serums and things like that. But having said that, opportunities just happen and I’m open to them.
What’s the importance of machines and people?
Machines are giving us the opportunity to be more accurate and thorough with the services we offer. However, the industry is very personal. I tell people we underestimate the power of touch. For instance, there are places that have massage chairs but they can’t compare to the power of touch.
However, machines help take things a notch higher. For example, for facials, if you come in and you have an acne problem, after doing extractions the machine helps in the healing process by calming the skin. We also have a testing machine that tells us the condition of your skin and if it has improved since your last treatment.
Do you think there will be a time when people will prefer machines to personal touch?
I hope not. The personal touch is what keeps us in the market. And there’s also the aspect of wellness. This is where you’re stressed out or tired and you come in and vent about the traffic you sat in. A machine will not give you that.
Where do you see your company in the next 10 years?
In every county. Products will be all over Africa. We’ll have trained so many therapists that will change the industry within the continent and outside.
What advice will you give a young entrepreneur?
I wish I understood the running side of the business. So, for all our trainees we offer them mentorship. We’re teaching them about the cast of business and how to get the clients. Then the value of good customer service.
Looking back at your journey, is there anything you would do differently?
I don’t think so. I’ve learned that doing business in Kenya is not easy but do I wish I knew this earlier? I don’t think so. I’m also a strong believer in things happening at the right time.
Where can people buy your products?
Currently, on location. But we are sorting out our online store. We also encourage people to get a proper skin analysis before getting any product. We’re also looking to partner with the right events.
What makes your company stand out from the others?
We’re taking a holistic approach to the client doesn’t just come in and get a facial. We check their medical records. We’re also keeping up with the latest in the industry. We also realize international accredited school is important since we don’t have any in Kenya.
I am a creative writer and blogger with interests in lifestyle and fashion. I have previously worked in the scriptwriting industry and I am looking forward to new experiences. My biggest fear is a wearing the wrong shade of foundation