Njoki Njoroge, 30, started a skincare line called Mandevu to cater specifically for men who want well-groomed facial hair.
For a long time, there’d been this misconception that men don’t take care of themselves, and that they don’t want any grooming and skincare products made exclusively for them, let alone for their beards. Perceptions are however changing – men are conscious of how they look. They want to be well groomed and put together.
“I saw this with my husband. I’d been making products at home for my natural hair and he started using them for his beard. I was trying several products made from different butters and oils. I remember him shouting from the bathroom, ‘Babe, which one should I use first? The shampoo, the conditioner or the oil?’ I figured that if he wants to groom his beard, then there must be other men out there like him. He inspired me to make products for men’s beard care. This was early 2016. Our products went into the market November 2016.
“We learned from our research that men want easy-to-use products. They want them in a travel-friendly size that they can carry in their gym bag or suitcase, even their back pockets. They want their packaging simple, clean and minimal. They want the scents faint because they don’t want to be overwhelmed; the products are going on their face, after all. They want the products light.
“I’d been in advertising and marketing before going into Mandevu. I graduated from USIU in August 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and management. I chose to pursue this course because I’d always imagined working with the UN and delivering world peace.
That never happened. Early 2010, before I graduated, I relocated to Lagos to intern as a project marketer with a company that sold advertising software. We travelled around Western Africa a lot. The thing I loved most about Nigerians is that they were confident and boisterous; they never bottled their opinions. It grew on me. I remember coming home to visit; my mum and younger brother picked me up from the airport and they asked why I was speaking so loudly.
“I relocated to Gambia to manage one of the firm’s West African projects. On June 1, 2012 – I’ll never forget that date – my mum called to tell me that my brother had been involved in an early-evening accident on Lang’ata Road and had suffered brain damage. He was in a coma. I broke down. I was in anguish, looking for a flight to get back home from Gambia. Never before in my life had I felt so far from home and so far from the people I love.
“I returned home and I never left. There was nothing more important in the world than to be here with my family. My brother’s bedroom was turned into a hospital room; he had fulltime nursing homecare. He’s 24 now and still in physiotherapy, but he’s doing much better.
“Months after sitting at his bedside holding his hand, I shook myself back into the reality of my own life and the career I’d paused. I got a job as a media manager with an advertising agency. My tasks jolted me into growth but the hours were strenuous; we’d clock in up to 2am. I didn’t see my family much and I lost sight of why I’d relocated home in the first place. I quit less than a year later, in mid 2013. My partner and I founded our own communication and digital agency. We ran it together full time until 2016, when I went into Mandevu.
“A beard – bushy or close-cut beard, a moustache or goatee – gives a man character. A groomed beard will grow healthy, soft and shiny. What Mandevu won’t do is magically grow a man’s beard. That’s all to do with his genes. Our biggest competition is men who shave their beards.
“I make all the products in our kitchen at home; we’re KEBS certified. Packaging is also done from our warehouse in Kabete. Our core distribution point is from our office in Parklands.
We’ve also partnered with select barbershops and stores countrywide. Streamlining logistics has been one of our major hurdles.
Our clients were also initially doubtful of purchasing our products online; most asked if they’d get what they saw in the pictures on our website.
“We sell to the larger eastern Africa as well, to Tanzania and Rwanda. I need funding to expand our marketing and production to supply to the wider Africa market.”