Returnee Spotlight: Nelly Tuikong Is Taking African Beauty Products To The World

Nelly Tuikong at her office
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She grew up in rural Kenya as a farm girl, looking after crops and farm animals. As a young girl, she frequented the nearby river to fetch water for cooking, cleaning, and so on. After high school, her education journey sort of came to a standstill. Subsequently, she was fortunate enough to get sponsorship to Indiana University—School of Nursing. She is none other than Nelly Tuikong. Today, we tell you how she became a successful cosmetics entrepreneur. Let’s get started!

Who is Nelly Tuikong?

Nelly is a Kenyan entrepreneur. She is the founder and executive director of Pauline Cosmetics Ltd. This makeup brand specializes in creating products for black women. She is a former critical care nurse at Indiana University hospital and clinical researcher at AMPATH-Kenya.

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Nelly quit her nursing job to focus on her cosmetics company. Today, her company competes with international brands. Her impact in the African beauty industry has attracted national and international attention. In 2017, Business Daily Africa featured her on its list of the top 40 under 40 women in Kenya.

What Entrepreneurial Advice does Tuikong Disagree with?

Tuikong disagrees with people who advise that one needs to stick to his or her field of expertise to succeed in entrepreneurship. According to her, this kind of thinking puts off many aspiring entrepreneurs who want to take a leap but don’t have industry experience.

She strongly believes that you can succeed in an industry that you don’t even have a background in. She says her success in beauty is a testament to this belief. Tuikong is a qualified critical care nurse. Before starting her company, she had zero background in business or beauty. What she had was a vision and then she worked hard to achieve it.

Nelly Tuikong’s Background and Journey to the US

Tuikong was born in Kenya in 1985. She grew up in Kapsabet, rural Kenya, as the only girl in a family of three. Nelly started schooling at Kapsabet Academy Primary School located in Nandi County. She then joined Eregi Girls Boarding Primary School in Kakamega. After acquiring elementary education, she attended Saint Mary’s Tachasis Girls High School and completed secondary education in 2002.

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Soon after high school, Nelly had high hopes of joining college. Unfortunately, her parents couldn’t afford her college fees. Her mother was the breadwinner since the father had lost his town clerk job. Nelly started figuring out what to do and eventually, she resolved to find a job. She moved from the village to Eldoret town. She started by working as a secretary in a college where she earned very little.

Later on, she quit her first job and got employed as a shop attendant. As time went by, she ended up working in a hospital under AMPATH-Kenya. Nelly developed an interest in nursing because of being around nurses most of the time. Little did she know that a great opportunity was waiting for her.

One day she met an American couple—Stephen Leapman and Judy Leapman—that decided to sponsor her education in the US. That’s how the Kenyan cosmetics entrepreneur went on to join Indiana University and later graduated with a BSc in Nursing.

A Nurse with Entrepreneurial Spirit

Nelly Tuikong at her office
Nelly Tuikong at her office [Photo credit: Nelly Tuikong Park]
After graduating, Nelly worked as a critical care nurse at Indiana University Hospital in the cardiac care unit. Nelly says she developed an entrepreneurial spirit early in life. Back in high school, she used to bake cakes and drop them at nearby shops. Then, she would come back in the evening to collect money.

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After high school, she opened a shop in her hometown. At the time, women used to buy hair extensions from very far. Consequently, she bought several hair bunches from the city and started charging a little higher for convenience. Even while in the US, this entrepreneurial spirit was still in her.

Reasons for her Return to Africa

While studying in the US, Tuikong couldn’t find a makeup that was good for her. There were many brands in the market but she couldn’t find her own. At that point, she began realizing that the cosmetic market had either nothing or very little for the African woman. While speaking to Business Daily Africa, she said,

“The makeup market at the time had an influx of products for people with fairer skin complexions and I remember walking into shopping malls and cosmetic shops unable to find makeup that could match my complexion.”

Like women from other parts of the world, African women like to look good. They take pride in how they look, from hair to toe, and makeup products help them to look even better. Nonetheless, Nelly Tuikong discovered there was a gap in the makeup industry. She asked herself, “If I was having a problem finding makeup for myself, what about an entire continent of people who look like me?”

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Subsequently, she decided to establish a business that would fill this gap. She started researching about makeup that was suitable for African women. Around that time, she also started looking for a job back home in Kenya. Luckily, a former employer, AMPATH-Kenya, offered her a job. Subsequently, Nelly quit her job in the US and returned to Kenya in 2012. After settling, she started figuring out how and where to start her cosmetics business while working.

The Genesis of Pauline Cosmetics

Tuikong launched her makeup company in 2013. She named it Pauline Cosmetics and choose Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, as the best location for business. Soon after, she started moving a lot between her workplace in Eldoret and her business location in Nairobi. Juggling work and business soon became expensive and very tiring. She couldn’t run her business from Eldoret.

Subsequently, she quit her nursing job in 2014 and moved to Nairobi to concentrate on her cosmetics business. Pauline Cosmetics develops makeup products with African women in mind. In particular, the company caters to the eye, face, and lip needs of women in Africa. Its line of beauty products covers eye shadow, foundation, lip gloss, powders, mascara, eyeliners, and more.

The cosmetic company provides high-quality and affordable beauty solutions that fit the beauty lifestyle of an African woman. Nelly named her business after her mother, Pauline. The cosmetic mogul describes her mother as strong, bold, and fearless, and beautiful. She says this is the nature of a mother. Today, her business celebrates not just her mother but every African woman.

How is Nelly Tuikong Currently Coping

Nelly Tuikong
Nelly Tuikong [Photo credit: Nelly Tuikong Park]
Over the years, the Kenyan makeup mogul has grown her company to become one of the leading makeup brands in Africa. It is also among the few cosmetic brands in Africa that focus specifically on cosmetic products for African women. So far, Nelly and her company have realized great achievements.

Pauline Cosmetics was the first African makeup brand to get an invitation to exhibit at the Dubai Beauty World Expo, which is one of the leading beauty expositions in the world. Pauline Cosmetics is present in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Ghana. The director says,

“I’m proud of having built a local cosmetics brand that is competing neck and neck with international companies in the market. Right now I can walk into a beauty shop and my stand is right next to the giants–it is so incredible. I’ve also been able to build a distribution network that reaches all corners of the country, whereas many brands just get tied up in Nairobi.”

Tuikong’s Message to Aspiring Entrepreneurs

The Kenyan cosmetics entrepreneur urges aspiring entrepreneurs to start small and understand the market. She also advises them to do their industry research well and understand consumer markets. According to Nelly, anything is doable if you have a vision and passion for it. In addition, she discourages people from establishing a business based on assumptions.

“I’m glad I didn’t start out with a set of assumptions, and that I figured it out as I went along. Many people have been burnt by having a bunch of assumptions on how business in Africa works, only to see their ventures collapse. Whatever you read in international case studies or business books doesn’t necessarily apply to rural Kenya.”


Nelly Tuikong established Pauline Cosmetics to redefine the beauty of African women. She realized the markup market lacked products for black women. Subsequently, she decided to create markups for African women. Nelly is one of the visionaries changing the African narrative by making Africa a continent that creates solutions to African problems. What is hindering you from creating solutions to problems in your community? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

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