It’s 1986, yet another coup had taken place, a new general is on the Nigerian throne and uncertainty is rife across the country. At the same time, an oil executive at now-defunct Unipetrol decides it’s time to hang up the corporate boots and start a business selling make-up products to the undersupplied beauty products market.
She doesn’t have the resources to launch a nationwide network of distributors and sales agents but she starts with one shop in Lagos’ famous Isale Eko market. That oil executive is Kudirat Fashola and today her make-up business, Kuddy Cosmetics, spans over 18 stores in four Nigerian cities.
Kudirat was born into a large family of 54 children and her father was lifetime president of stockfish importers in Nigeria. The family was very enterprising and her mother, at one time, had the biggest store in Lagos’ Balogun market and Kudirat would often help out at the store after school. At age 9, she started selling Oranges and Coconuts without the knowledge of her parents, marking the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey.
After high school, she studied secretarial studies in London and returned to Nigeria to work with the National Supply Company before ultimately joining Unipetrol. It was while she was at Unipetrols she started the first sales of what would eventually become Kuddy Cosmetics. She would take flights to New York after work on Friday to purchase make-up products which she would sell after returning to Nigeria on Sunday to resume work on monday. That was the original business.
She would use the opportunity to buy enough brand name make-up products to stock up her small shop in Lagos Island as well as sell to customers within and outside Unipetrol at the time.
“I started business with Macys in New York where I buy fashion fair products. Once I arrived, customers were already waiting. I don’t think we are two doing that business then. I continued like that until the business got bigger and bigger. We started buying brand names from the beginning and this we are still doing,” she told Sun News Online in a 2018 interview.
After her third child, this arrangement was no longer sustainable. So she quit her job at Unipetrol and focused on Kuddy Cosmetics full time. She started to look for better deals with retailers in the US and managed to secure an exclusive distributor deal for Black Opal make-up products in Nigeria. When she made a sale, she would include souvenirs that had her brand name printed on them. She still maintains that distribution deal till date.
By the late 90s, Nigeria was experiencing a boom in the fashion and lifestyle market and Kudirat soon started to look into selling make-up products under her own brand name. She found a manufacturer abroad to make the products and the Kuddy Cosmetics line came to life. She still maintained the brand name make-up sales and the Black Opal deal and has grown those into a multi-million naira business with over 18 locations in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Abeokuta. She currently employs over 120 staff and the Kuddy Cosmetics line has over 50 products in it. 2019 BBNaija contestant Diane Russet is a brand ambassador for the company.
Overall, the African beauty and personal care market was estimated at €6.93 billion in 2012 and it currently increases between 8% and 10% per year against a global market growth rate of close to 4%, according to a report by Be. It was expected to have reached €10 billion in 2017. According to global cosmetic juggernaut, L’Oreal, Nigeria’s beauty and cosmetics industry was expected to surpass €2.5 billion by 2017. Currently, there are less than six home-grown cosmetics brands in the country.
From a kushy, well-paying oil job to building one of Nigeria’s biggest make-up juggernauts, Kudirat Fashola has become an inspiration to many. She has six children and is a very active member of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). “Do not despise your little beginning, work with what you have,” she said in a 2018 interview. She has certainly done that.
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