Mary Kuol: Why we need to be proud of our melanin skin
Within the establishment of Yam Hotel in Juba’s Tongping area is Melanie Make-up Studio, safely tucked away from the hustle and business of recreation at the hotel’s bar and restaurants. In an interesting symbiotic relationship between these two different businesses, the make-up studio ends up getting some clients from the hotel and vice versa.
In the petit and air-conditioned studio, measuring about 10 by 10 feet, Prince Collins is fine-tuning his boss’ weaves before we can start the interview. As a woman running beauty business, Mary Kuol does not want to appear out of place when the story comes out.
Collins has eight years’ experience in hairdressing. He is a hair stylist with in-depth knowledge in wigs and weaves as I soon establish.
“He will tell you more about himself shortly,” Mary tells me as we settle down for the interview.
Next to us is Eunice Njeri, a seasoned make-up artiste and trainer from Kenya. She is here to set up Melanie Beauty Academy up and running. But it is the beginnings of this business that I am interested in first, before I get to learn where it is moving to – in future.
“I was always conscious about my appearance, which is the very reason I got interested in cosmetics and make-up business. While I could perfectly do my own make-up, I could not do it on someone else. So when at some point I thought of opening a business, this idea became number one. But I had to do a feasibility study,” says Mary.
At the time, she was working with Nile Petroleum (Nilepet). She served the company from 2012 to 2015 before she discovered a market for cosmetics businesses.
“It was around this time that human hair and even the artificial ones gained a lot of popularity in Juba. With a capital of $4,300, “I traveled to China and bought different kinds of cosmetics for skin care, human hair and wrist watches,” she says.
For the next three years she runs her business until 2018 when for some personal reasons she stopped. But come 2020, she was back with African fabrics which she would source from West African countries like Ghana, and Nigeria, and Kenya for the Maasai fabrics.
“This business really picked because my biggest customer base was brides. I discovered that in South Sudan we have no problems with embracing others cultures as long as they as stylish,” says Mary.
The melanin story
Through her own experience growing up in South Sudan as a woman, she saw the influence that would become too much for the women and girls born dark – which ideally is Africa’s unique identity – to the point that they would go for any cream or pill that promised to lighten skin.
“I realised there were far-reaching. They were, and are still available over the counter. So my first impulse was that if this continues for long, we will have a generation that killed their identity, and yet cannot fit in the ‘borrowed’. That is why I named this Melanie Make-up Studio, and as I work towards establishing an academy that I have already registered, I keep urging our girls and women to be proud of the dark skin because melanin is very expensive. It is unique and designed for the strong sunlight in Africa. While we can destroy it, we cannot make it once it is lost. I can be white but a white man or woman cannot be black,” she says.
A look around the studio illustrates the message she intends to drive. Portraits of beautiful women. Beautiful in the dark skins. Glowing. This is what she wants to see for the current generation of South Sudanese women and girls and those of the future.
Their billboard off Airport Road along UNMISS Road is a collection of South Sudanese women models after make-up, no doubt a beauty of a kind that can only be found within the borders of South Sudan.
The making of the first beauty academy in Juba
But now she is training her eyes elsewhere; she wants to establish the very first beauty academy. She is already one step ahead as the business is already registered.
“We are up already but only training a few as we look for a bigger space. When we advertised on social media that we will be taking them up for three weeks training, the responses were overwhelming,” she says.
And to ensure that the trainees get the best that they can get from Juba in terms of professional training, she has brought in Eunice and Collins from Kenya, who have a wealth of experience and training in various aspects of beauty and hairdressing.
The microbiologist who fell in love with cosmetics
Eunice Omito holds a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Nairobi. In a perfect example of a clash between profession and passion, Eunice only lasted in her professional field for as long as she was studying. As soon as she was done with field attachment, she was out of microbiology and whatever else came with it.
“While I was doing my internship at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) in Nairobi, I noticed that some women would come with really poorly done make-up. I would always do this myself, and it would come out nice. “This is something I loved, though it had never occurred to me that I would plunge into it at some point,” she says.
Eunice, who came in recently to help with the training of prospective make-up artists, would take her time to go ask at a cosmetics store in Nairobi what could have been wrong.
“I was told that the problem was who was drawing them, not the cosmetics products they were using. And then they asked me if I could join them given I had shown interest in the business, and the store was equally new in town,” she says.
From 2015 to date, Eunice has worked with big brands in Kenya from Suzzy’s Beauty to Lintons Beauty Academy in Nairobi where she was working as a make-up trainer until Mary Kuol came knocking.
“There is beauty in South Sudan, and the women here love to look beautiful.” Unlike in Nairobi, for instance, where women can just step out anyhow, here it is different. A woman will have to wear make-up before stepping out,” she says.
She has also noticed that while there are several make-up artists in Juba, there is no academy that offers professional training on the same.
“I may not know where they trained or whether they trained at all, but the fact that there has been no beauty college provides an opportunity for us to churn out professionally trained make-up artists. This is something that I am very glad to be part of,” she says.
This is a job she is going to do hand in hand with Collins, who is a veteran wigologist (from wig) and weaveologist (from weave).