From the current boom of the world’s interest in Afrobeat to the brain drain of its people, Nigerian talent is getting its hard-earned moment. So it is in the beauty industry as well, where African Beauty, or A-Beauty, is having a come-up of sorts, and Nigerians are at the forefront.
Beauty brands by Nigerians and people of Nigerian descent have found their way to many shelves and vanities all over the world. But the people behind the products, the themes, and the far-reaching trends remain the country’s greatest export, growing Nigeria’s beauty and personal care industry which was valued at $1.2 billion in 2021 and reached a turnover of one trillion Naira in July 2022.
For Modaculture’s October – December 2022 Issue, we discuss Nigeria’s blossoming beauty scene with four accomplished industry players: Photographer and Creative Director Lex Ash; Editorial and Celebrity Makeup Artist Uchenna ‘Sutchay’ Enyokwa; Celebrity Hairstylist and Wig Maker Abbey Matthew; Virtual Aesthetician and Skincare Product Reviewer Chiko Okpara.
The Cover Stars
Alexander Ashimole is blurring the lines between subgroups in the beauty industry through his creativity and changing the Nigerian perception of photography, one shot at a time.
Uchenna ‘Sutchay’ Enyokwa
From his childhood in Enugu to redefining editorial makeup, Uchenna sits with Modaculture to discuss progress in the makeup scene, the need for collaboration, and a bit of advice for reluctant investors.
Celebrity hairstylist, wig maker and engineer Abbey Matthew is staying ahead of the curve. He talks about how versatility might be the one quality every player in the beauty industry needs.
Gloria Chiko Okpara
Growing a community of skincare lovers who enjoy science-backed skincare content in a predominantly colourist nation is tough and Chiko wants more respect for creators and better skincare education in the beauty industry.
“Nigerian talent will only get brighter,” – Makeup artist Uchenna Enyokwa on fostering collaboration in the beauty industry.
Makeup is ever-evolving and constantly changing, and its artists are doing the same. For Uchenna Enyokwa, his story is about the constant reinvention of self and the growth of his craft. His journey is a meandering one, from being a hairstylist and becoming a judge on a beauty-centric makeup show, The Golden Brush Show, to working with clients and brands like Lancome and Yves Saint Laurent.
We sit with Uchenna to discuss the evolution of makeup in the Nigerian beauty space and learned a little about how the skill divide between beauty influencers and trained cosmetologists can affect consumers of makeup.
Growing up at the University of Nigeria gave Uchenna all the exposure he needed to find his way to a makeup brush. Born to parents who were staff of the university, he had access to the internet when it first arrived in the country. The school environment also allowed him to meet people from different parts of Nigeria. Like many creatives, Uchenna’s earliest interactions with makeup came from watching his mum indulge in personal care throughout his childhood.
“She used to wear a lot of makeup. She still does”.
Unexpectedly, however, Uchenna’s foray into beauty did not start with makeup – it started with hair. An allrounder, Uche used to style his female friends’ hair and then moved to cater to other people’s hair. On his path to makeup, Uche assisted his best friend Dave Sucre, who was a well-known makeup artist at the university at the time, with makeup and hair at weddings and shows. Dave eventually moved to Lagos, and Uche joined him after, where his career in makeup blossomed, working with MUD Cosmetics, a professional makeup brand.
Being a makeup artist in the industry for decades, Uchenna’s journey sparked curiosity in us. We wanted to know what Uchenna finds to be the big change from when he started till now.
When I started, we were working with less than ten shades. Complexion products for black women were not a priority to the accessible brands as at then. Now there’s an extensive range of shades, even with Nigerian brands. That’s a noteworthy improvement.Uchenna Enyokwa, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
With a hint of pride in his voice, Uchenna also notes how many Nigerian makeup brands are now on par with several luxury or drugstore brands from other countries. However, even though makeup is steadily evolving, Uchenna still expects more from industry players. Just like photographer Lex Ash whom we speak to later in this story, Uchenna reiterates how important collaboration is in the industry. According to him, involving end-user professionals in the formulation process drastically improves the quality of makeup.
I’d like to see brands work with makeup artists and cosmetic engineers outside their team to make better products. The brands I’ve seen adopt this always end up with amazing products. Think Omaricode with Bregha, the makeup artist – that was a lovely collaboration.Uchenna Enyokwa, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
In addition to his thoughts on brand and makeup artist collaborations, Uche brings to light another related and slightly controversial matter: influencer marketing.
“These days, brands are more attentive to influencer marketing and collaborations. Of course, it sells all the time. Though, quite a few know what they’re doing. But then, most influencers lack the experience required to collaborate with brands to make and endorse good products”.
His qualms are with the follower craze, where people today find it more difficult to pay heed to or trust your work if your account isn’t verified or you do not have a certain number of followers. There is a palpable divide between popular trends and the way makeup should be best done, and that’s something Uchenna wants both industry players and casual consumers of makeup to learn.
People want to gain views on social media so makeup techniques can be exaggerated. These are the times we live in. Be careful what makeup advice you take and always try to filter out the rubbish.Uchenna Enyokwa, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
Aside from his interest in the business side of makeup, Uchenna is still in love with the process. According to him, the best part of being a makeup artist is seeing his client light up with joy once he’s finished with their makeup. Makeup is therapy, and for Uche, it’s essential his clients leave the studio or his high chair feeling better and lighter than when they first arrived.
Uchenna’s advice to readers of Modaculture? “Invest in the beauty industry”. The scene in Nigeria is only going to get bigger. The perception of men in makeup will only get better as well and the talent will only get brighter.
Lex Ash – the multi-hyphenate creative blurring the lines between subgroups in the beauty industry and changing the Nigerian perception of photography.
The beauty industry is an ecosystem: a carefully built, symbiotic ecosystem where makeup artists depend on hair stylists to complement a look, and nail technicians create intricate pieces to complete the creative direction for a concept. In this system, the photographers are sacred as well, being the final glue binding the work together before it gets to print or in modern times, the screens of your devices.
Lex Ash, born Alexander Ashimole, is inventive across the board, merging creative direction, styling, and photography. On some days, Lex is the makeup artist on set and on others, he’s working with a ton of them to create looks that tell stories. As a photographer, Lex Ash may not have beauty as his niche but as it turns out, his work puts him in the same scene as these talented and creative people in the beauty and makeup space.
For this story, we also speak to Lex Ash about his creative journey, from how the beauty industry has improved so far to the things that need to change in the coming years.
“Start, and keep doing” is a quote Lex Ash repeats every time one asks him for a mantra that has guided him thus far. Lex’s journey to the arts was as meandering as his multi-creative nature, where he is a musician, creative director, makeup artist, stylist, and as concerns this story, a fashion and beauty photographer. Born to an accountant father and a mother who was an English teacher, exposure to his creative side – or the nurturing of it – did not begin with his parents. Instead, Lex describes finding his way to photography through TV, his fine arts class in the boarding school he attended, and his first time picking up a camera in 2012, his first year at university.
Lex explains how his love for fashion and style photography was inspired by a visible lack of representation of black people in editorials and magazines, and his passion for colour and design, interior and product included.
However, his interaction with makeup, both as an actual makeup artist and a beauty photographer, did not come until he was knee-deep in the industry.
I love how clothes are constructed and I love how colours work. I believe that love pretty much expanded to beauty. Working with lots of makeup artists allowed me to see how makeup can bring a shoot to life and how so many things get involved in that process.Lex Ash, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
To find out more about the process, we ask Lex Ash what his favourite part of his job as a creative in the editorial and beauty space is. He states the joy of seeing the final image after a rigorous shoot and time-consuming editing as his favourite part. And as candid as his shots, he lists monetary appreciation as a close second.
“People can be pretty interesting to understand”, he adds.
Photography’s role in the beauty industry is incredibly extensive from product to runway and editorial. And while Lex Ash recognises and is grateful for the progress the industry has made in terms of the perception of photography, he still emphasises that there is a lot of work to do.
“Growing up, photography was not as appreciated as it is now. Even now, it is still perceived as a career of luxury. Other than music and film, most people do not appreciate art in this clime, and I believe the state of the economy is one of the reasons why”, he says.
Lex describes the fading yet lingering air of how the arts are considered a career path for “people who have money to be unserious”, or as some would say, “trust fund kids”.
It is a multilayered problem, how creatives and the arts are perceived on this side of the world. There’s also still a lot of work to be done to dismantle that belief, that structure in the industry.Lex Ash, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
In Lex Ash’s thoughts on structure, he mentions manufacturing and the need to shift our beauty product manufacturing from imports in countries abroad to mass production in the country. Nigeria has an importation problem, and Lex Ash believes that a shift in manufacturing will catalyse the industry’s growth even faster. He also mentions collaboration as something that’s lacking in the beauty industry.
Photography thrives with collaboration. You see us photographers working together on projects all the time. Yet, as a stylist and makeup artist, I do not see a lot of collaboration here and that needs to change for the industry to move forward. It’s very competitive on this side.Lex Ash, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
In the final moments of this interview, we turned from asking questions and insights to asking him his thoughts on what every facilitator of the beauty industry should know. As always, he repeats a line you can find repeatedly on his Instagram story highlights: “Start, and keep doing.”
You’ll never know how good you are until you try and fail or try and succeed. You won’t know what to improve on till you try. Show up; there’s no other way to get better at your craft.Lex Ash, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
“It’s okay to be good at several things,” – Abbey Matthew on his hairstyling journey, content creation, and staying relevant in an ever-evolving industry.
When Abbey Matthew gets on the call with Modaculture for this story, it’s clear how exhausted he is. Finger combing his signature hairdo while apologising for his tired look, he blames it on hours of staying up on his feet, working on several clients. Despite his visible tiredness, we see just how much he loves his craft and how excited he gets when talking to anyone about it. For this story, Abbey, born Abiodun Matthew, talks about his journey from child braider to highly sought hairstylist and how his versatility keeps him ahead of the curve.
With a clientele including former Big Brother Naija housemates and celebrities like Ayra Starr and Yemi Alade, Abbey Matthew is a renowned hair stylist, wig maker, and content creator. Abbey’s love for creativity, structure and composition pushed him to pursue a degree at the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), where he spent five years studying Agricultural and Environmental Engineering.
Born into a family of hairdressers, the hairstylist looks back on his journey and can not identify a time when he was not always playing around with hair. Where his mother would make protective styles like didi and weaving for little school girls, his older sister owned a salon where she would make ghana weaving and braids.
In a moment of shared laughter, Abbey shares a story of the time his sister became pregnant with her first child, and he stayed back to look after the salon in her absence. After her pregnancy, she was ready to return to work at the salon, only to find that Abbey had formed an interestingly faithful clientele that wouldn’t let anyone but Abbey touch their hair.
However, Abbey did not stay in the braiding business like his family members. He admits his branch-out stemmed from his dissatisfaction with the time-consuming monotony and low price point of regular braid making. So he moved on to weaves, sew-ins, and eventually installations and editorial hairstyling. With a ton of practice, Abbey learned new techniques from YouTube and a few mentors.
Abbey’s story speaks volumes on how essential family support is in a successful career, a support system not many creatives have the luxury of experiencing.
I’ve seen people who are good but are not able to pursue it because their parents do not like the business. I always had support, even from my dad. It was the norm for me to be able to make hair as a guy because of my family’s support.Abbey Matthew, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
Further, into the call, Abbey reminisces on a time when everyone was into braids with beads, then the sew-ins and pixie cuts for the it-girls, and now frontals being the in-thing.
The industry is quick to evolve. Being versatile enough for any client is necessary to be at the top of your game.Abbey Matthew, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
To buttress his point on versatility, he states an example of how while he is known for clean, flawless, “What lace?” installations, he is still pretty good at braids and hairstyles that require a bit more flexibility and creativity.
For a client like Yemi Alade, African elements are a given. I’m good at that, but I’m also good at other concepts. You should be versatile enough to handle any client, no matter what you do in this industry. It’s okay to be good at several things.Abbey Matthew, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
Working with musicians, beauty brands, and celebrities can get pretty overwhelming, and while Abbey says it’s easy to get carried away with the glitz of it all, he remains grounded in his love for the actual process of hairstyling. From creating mood boards for his client’s outfits to trying out different hairstyles to figure out which suits the mood best, he loves coming up with new ways to construct hairstyles. Here, the initial tiredness makes way for an Abbey who is ready to share the joys and downsides of his work. Every part of the process is challenging and exciting at the same time to Abbey Matthew, even the burns he shows to Modaculture on the call, burns he got by accident from his hot hair tools.
“With hair, there’s a lot of trial and error, thinking of what methods work, what tools to use. It’s all interesting and fulfilling”.
When Abbey talks about staying ahead of the curve in the industry, he means it. In addition to his work as a hairstylist, he shares videos on how to achieve great hair on your own on YouTube. With beauty, content creation is “The name of the game” and video is “King”.
The industry is already going a more video-based route, as it is with TikTok. I think people in the beauty industry need to explore video more and take content creation and curating an online audience seriously.Abbey Matthew, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
Taking us back to his initial dissatisfactions in his career, pricing has unsurprisingly remained a worrisome topic for Abbey. Except that this time, it’s his grievances with consumers and creatives who do not respect professional pricing.
I get a lot of ‘won’t it take just two minutes? Why are you charging this much?’. Yes, it’s 2 minutes. But I’ve been doing this for years. That’s exactly why I only need two minutes to get it done.Abbey Matthew, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
To Abbey and several other professionals alike, consumers and clients are not just paying for the hair, they are paying for quality styling — that can only come from years of experience and education.
Abbey’s advice? Learn to politely walk away when something is out of your price range.
When it’s time for Abbey to leave and finally get some rest, he ends the call with a note of encouragement.
There is space for everyone to fly in this industry. We need more stylists, more beauticians, more everything. The industry will only get more interesting, and the talent will only improve. Brace up, there is a lot more coming.Abbey Matthew, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
Skincare influencer Chiko calls out harmful skincare, desires more respect for skincare influencers, and draws the line between brands and creative freedom.
Makeup artists, hair stylists, and photographers may get more credit or respect from brands for their work, but it’s a slightly different story in the skincare world. To Gloria Chiko, skincare education and influencer marketing are spaces where harmful misinformation is spread easily and creators are disrespected. And Chiko wants the beauty industry to fix up on that.
Gloria Chiko Okpara is a skincare educator, product reviewer and virtual aesthetician. After numerous visits to dermatologists and estheticians in her childhood and adolescence, she became interested in bottles and tubes of skincare, what they contained and how they worked. As she grew a little older, she decided to explore the possibility of attending beauty school.
With a community of over eighteen thousand people (at the time of writing this) and hundreds of posts on skincare, Chiko prides herself on managing a space where skincare education is factual, science-backed, and patient. But that’s not all that makes her proud of her work. Using her platform, Chiko is vocal about the dangers certain beauty brands pose to health and the misinformation they spread.
As I got older, I realised most of the things people knew about skincare were wrong. I decided to talk about them and help people make better choices.Gloria Chiko, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
Her outspokenness about unlicensed estheticians, false skincare information, and unhealthy practices like bleaching leads us to a small chat about pushback and if she had received any significant ones. She is, however, quick to point out that she surprisingly does not get much backlash. She attributes this to being thorough and open in her research to back her posts up with proof that the brands or influencers she calls out are actually in the wrong.
People have threatened me with their lawyers a couple of times, but nothing ever happens. One thing is clear: there is no scenario where those claims would stand because these brands are always in the wrong by spreading harmful information.Gloria Chiko, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
Only pointing out the wrongs in the skincare community can be exhausting, so Chiko also uses her platform to encourage brands and influencers who appear to be putting in the effort to do things right instead. She talks about the joys of discovering new local brands that prioritise science-backed formulation and pretty packaging, something she and many other “skinfluencers” claim is uncommon with Nigerian beauty brands.
New amazing brands are practical indicators that the beauty industry in Nigeria is growing right? Well, Chiko has a slightly different answer. We asked how far she thinks skincare education has improved in Nigeria and while Chiko acknowledges that improvement has undoubtedly occurred, she thinks the massive control beauty brands wield over the audience, which is huge and attentive, is only getting bigger.
“When I first started, ‘organic’ skincare was everywhere – bleaching creams, pro-mixing, that kind of stuff. While exploring skincare, I once fell into that trap by buying and using one of those dubious products”, she said while touching a scar on her face which she adds serves as a constant reminder to avoid improperly formulated skin care products.
Now, brands are deciding to do better, to formulate better products, to share better information. Retailers are stocking up on good, environmentally-conscious brands. Yet, there is a largely uneducated, gullible and strong-eared audience using dubious brands. Things have improved, yes, but it’s a two-way street, so it can be hard to tell.Gloria Chiko, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
For Chiko, building better beauty brands alone is not the only measure of improvement in the beauty industry. She emphasises the importance of gathering knowledge and fact-checking information as well and how these are good indicators of progress in the industry.
“People are going to get educated in beauty. There used to be WhatsApp classes on mixing everywhere. Now people are asking about actual therapy schools and aesthetic colleges. The progress is slow, but we have come a truly long way”.
Like other subgroups in the beauty industry, the skincare community is a warm, loving one where everyone supports everyone on their journey to healthy skin. However, there are a few downsides to making skincare content or managing a community of skincare enthusiasts. One of such is the borderline hostility with which brands manage paid partnerships with influencers.
”With paid partnerships, some brands like to obsessively control what you post, when you post it and how you post it, with no understanding of the kind of content your audience expects from you. Sometimes when I see a brand coming in too strong, I either end the partnership or opt for a PR collaboration, which gives me more creative freedom. Beauty brands, and the industry in general, need to work on allowing creators more creative freedom”.
In addition to her thoughts on paid partnerships with brands, Chiko goes on a tangent. She talks about how makeup artists need to recognise the line between makeup and skincare.
Quick scroll on Instagram, you’ll probably find a few reels with makeup artists doing too much prep on the skin. Serum after serum, a few minutes of face steaming, followed by holding the face taut to shave the skin, and finally going into the makeup! There needs to be a line, and proper education has to take place.Uchenna Enyokwa, Modaculture Digital “Beauty Issue,” October 2022
Chiko’s last words on the subject?
“Skincare is not like fashion or makeup, or photography where you have more freedom with what you choose to put out. If you’re trying to create content in this field, especially educational content, be big on research. Fact-check everything and don’t make blanket statements”.
Skincare, after all, is healthcare.