Khuraira Musa, is the CEO of Khuraira Cosmetics. She is a US based internationally renowned makeup entrepreneur and celebrity makeup artist. Her story is that of grass to grace. In this interview with ADAM ALQALI, she speaks about her career and how she became the first African makeup¬ artist to achieve success with an affluent clientele.
What is your background and how did you become a makeup artist?
I am a makeup artist and I have been in the profession for 25 years. I was born in Lere Local Government Area of Kaduna state and grew up in the Rukuba/Bassa Area of Plateau state. My adult years were spent in Kaduna, before I migrated to the United States in 1992. I am married and blessed with five children.
I started my business, Khuraira Cosmetics, in 2004 as a service business; however, my make¬up experience began in 1992 when I went to college in the United States. During my studies in the U.S., I also worked in the cosmetics department of a department store.
I really fell in love with the art of makeup, and how much it enhanced both a woman’s look and her spirit. Whatever mood they were in before they sat in my chair, there were always smiles after I finished making them up.
That really made me feel good about my profession as a makeup artist. Then I started thinking that maybe this was what I should be doing instead of working in an office.
I was also very much influenced by my religious beliefs. Growing up, I was constantly told by my elders that as a woman it’s important to have a job that doesn’t involve interaction with men. In Nigeria, my options were either to become a midwife, a teacher or a full¬time housewife.
When I went to the States and saw this opportunity to work in cosmetics, solely with women, I was very excited. Apart from that, the money was also good. Working in a department store, the cosmetics employees earn twice what other employees earn because their salaries are partly paid by the brand that hired them. I started from scratch locally, and then moved on to the regional level.
Ultimately, I was promoted to the national and international levels, training makeup artists and conducting makeup seminars for a high-end clientele in department stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman in the US, Holt Renfrew in Canada and Harvey Nichols in London.
Later I did make up for celebrities, such as Paula Abdul, Brandy, Mandy Moore, Kirstie Alley, Cher, Suzzanne Douglas, Natalie Cole, Trista Rehn and Dr. Susan Rice.
In 2004, after I had my twins, I resigned my appointment and started a cosmetics service business. I wasn’t thinking of starting a brand at that moment, rather I was just tired of traveling for work since I had little children to take care of at home. Instead, I rented a space at a salon with a very affluent client base and offered my makeup services for weddings and special occasions, TV appearances, editorial photo shoots and for anyone who wanted to update their look. I encouraged my clients to bring their own makeup for lessons, but they soon began to encourage me to create my own brand.
In 2006, I started to explore the idea of starting the Khuraira Brand. Before then, I had done product development for companies I worked for with and had an opportunity to establish working relationships with chemists and manufacturing companies, so it was easy to reach out to them.
As a black woman and a makeup artist I was constantly approached by black women or women of colour who were having issues finding the right foundation or concealer to match their complexion.
Hearing their concerns, and having my own issues finding a foundation that worked for me, influenced my decision to create a makeup line with an orange¬-yellow base that works very well on women of colour without causing their makeup to look ashy.
My husband encouraged me to create the orange-¬yellow toned makeup as part of my brand’s product mix to give me an edge in breaking into the market, and to get noticed by the big magazines that cover beauty.
When I met with the chemists they said it would take at least two years for the product to be developed the product was eventually launched in 2008, along with four additional products. Our first editorial was in Style Wedding, the next was in Essence Magazine, and then others followed.
My personal story was also inspiring and unique, being a black African woman coming from nowhere to now work for high-end brands, with a mostly wealthy clientele.
Even in America, that was rare, and it was a definite selling point that helped increasing our sales. In 2009, I decided to introduce the brand in Nigeria and approached Mrs Aisha Buhari, now the wife of the president, about bringing our brand here. She loved the idea and encouraged me to do so.
We slowly started introducing our brand to the market in 2009, and in 2012 Khuraira Cosmetics was registered and launched in Nigeria. The brand quickly got recognition, mostly in the South and then later in the North. And now, a dream of mine has come true with the establishment of our Makeup Training Academy, where we can empower thousands of youth and help create jobs which were hitherto unavailable.
How did it feel to be the first African makeup artist working with high-end consumers in the US?
Because of my upbringing and belief, I know I am not responsible for this, that I am where I am for a reason. I felt it was time for me to come back home and make a difference, and that makes me feel happy because I am not just doing it for myself. I am trying to share my experience and wealth with others that don’t have.
I don’t look down on anybody because I know that, given an opportunity and with the will of God, anyone can be anything that they aspire to be. It really makes me feel lucky that I’ve been given this opportunity and now I can give back. That’s how I think, and I always pray that I’ll live a long life so that I can build a lasting legacy, that others will continue to be helped long after I’m gone. That wish has always been in my prayers.
You launched your Academy in Abuja, what exactly is the vision behind this project?
Well, the vision of my partner Njamba Koji, and I is to train young people who are passionate about makeup artistry to be the best they can be.
Nigerians are super talented people, all they need is guidance. We want to create exceptional makeup artists, amazing entrepreneurs with high standards of customer service. That is the vision of Khuraira Beauty Academy in Nigeria is to establish high standards so our graduates will be considered the best at what they do in the field.
How do you convince those to who working in cosmetics and makeup industry may not make much sense to the potential and opportunities in the industry?
Well, the opportunities are endless because whoever attends the academy and successfully graduates can work as makeup artists for weddings, which take place here all the time, for TV shows or with magazines.
They can also become makeup trainers or cosmetics resellers they can be whatever they want to be or even combine all of these. And maybe one day they can even create their own brands. So, the opportunities are endless. If they have a passion for the work, with a little push and guidance, the sky’s the limit.
You have also established a sort of model primary school in your village, specifically for orphans and children of the poor. What inspired that school?
The idea of the school came when my aunt died in 2012 and Islamically, when a loved one passes away, you set up something to benefit the general public so that the reward will go to the deceased. This could be a school, a water well, a tree, or a mosque.
My aunt was so passionate about education.
Whenever I sent her money, she would call me and say she needed more. And I would say, ‘Kai, my old lady, what did you do with the money I just sent you?’ And her reply would be, ‘Do you remember that man in so and so village? His son doesn’t have books for school so I had to help them.’
That had always been her excuse. When she passed on I decided to set up a school and name it after her, Zainab Memorial School. I believe that is the only thing that would have made my late aunt happy She was selfless and always wanted to help people, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion.
The second reason I started the school has to do with the idea of building bridges of understanding in my community. This is because in 2009 there was a crisis in Plateau state and so many of our Fulani people were killed in an ethnic conflict, which later became a religious one.
I have sickle cell traits (AS) and grew up as a Muslim amongst Christians. I remember there was a time when I was very sick and needed a blood transfusion. Within my family, there was no one whose blood type matched mine but we had a Christian neighbour, who happily agreed to donate his blood to me. He could have easily made excuses; like he is not fit enough or I’m not a relative. His compassion saved my life and I’m forever grateful to him and his family.
To then hear that my community had become a killing field was something I couldn’t understand. So, the primary school we created is comprised of students who are Christian and Muslim and of different ethnic groups. That factor has been able to unite people in the community because children have a way of fostering good relations between parents and caregivers.
When a child keeps coming to tell you good things about another child who is of a different faith or tribe, over time you will learn to like that other child and his or her parents. Now, there is an opportunity to build really incredible relationships between inhabitants of the community.
As a ¬renowned makeup artist from a humble background, what is your message to young girls from similar backgrounds?
My message is to have passion. Whatever you do you need to have passion, don’t ever go into anything purely for money. If you go into a career because you simply want to be a millionaire, it will not work. What I have achieved today didn’t come with ease it was a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of work and a lot of hearing No’s before getting a Yes. But if you have passion all that becomes child’s play, it becomes exciting, especially when you finally succeed.
Passion will never allow you to get tired. So, don’t just go into a business simply because you heard about someone who is making it big in that business –that person has passion for it and that’s why she was able to make it a success, and it also took her time to do so. In business, respect your customers and employees good relations and customer service will see you through. If you have a dream don’t be afraid of challenges, stay focused and be the best that you can be.