18 January 2018

Rwanda: Karengera On How She Became a Global Makeup Artist

Laura Isimbi Karengera describes makeup as "an art form like any other".

"It's very competitive but very rewarding. Some do wear makeup just because they love it and some because they need it to feel more comfortable in their skin. It can be therapeutic for some too. It's an expression of yourself; the canvass is the face and you are free to make it however you want."

Isimbi was born and raised in Belgium, and in 1997 while in her early 20s, she moved to the UK where she has lived to this day.

In her high school she studied Economics, and later Business Management at Greenwich School of Management, but eventually followed her heart to pursue her first passion -beauty therapy.

The third of four children of legendary folk musician Cecile Kayirebwa, Isimbi charted out her own path from an early age.

"Ours was a household where music and culture were part of our everyday routine. The house was always full of life, with friends and family always around. We learnt about our culture and back ground from childhood as our parents were very attached to their traditions."

As a little girl, she learnt the kinyarwanda dance and was later part of a ballet called Amarebe n'Imena.

"But I never thought about doing music because I can't sing," she says.

Started in Belgium

Isimbi studied professional beauty therapy at INFAC College and University in Belgium, before embarking on her apprenticeship at the Yves Rocher Beauty Salon, a beauty salon chain and cosmetics line that mainly operates out of Belgium and France.

However, in 1997, she packed her bags and relocated to the US, and explains why.

"I felt I wasn't progressing in that field (beauty therapy) in Belgium because I was confronted with racism during my search for apprenticeship."

It is for this reason that she quit her apprenticeship and moved on in search of better prospects.

"It was the best decision I ever made as I was able to learn English as well," she recollects.

In the UK, she soon found her groove, working many years as a beauty consultant for many international brands like Shiseido, Christian Dior, Elisabeth Arden, and Lancome. At one time, she was also manager of Iman Cosmetics, which specialises in makeup and cosmetics for black women.

So immersed she was in her world of makeup, the first casualty of her tight schedule was her daughter Diaura Kaze Karengera, now 14 years old.

"I did makeup over the years as part of my job, but then I stopped to take care of my daughter. But I would be asked by friends and family to do their makeup from time to time for weddings or parties. Eventually, I decided to launch my own business and be a freelance makeup artist so I can work at my own pace and wherever I wanted," she says.

She describes makeup as 'an expression of an art and beautification of self'.

"Makeup makes your features pop more, to express your mood of the day with colours and all the rest. It is just an amazing feeling to be able to make someone feel even more beautiful than they already are. Nothing beats that feeling for me."

Isimbi admits that initially, makeup was a woman's world, a trend that is fast-changing.

"Many of the best makeup artists are men and some men do wear makeup, maybe because of a skin condition or for work; it's like paint. It's just art that you happen to apply on faces," she says.

While in the UK, she worked with a hair salon, specialising in natural hair for a photoshoot, and for a live show about black beauty. Her work was published in two popular black beauty magazines in the UK; (Black Beauty Magazine, and Black Hair Magazine), in collaboration with Cantu, a well known hair line.

"I have done many weddings in the UK, Belgium and Rwanda. I work anytime depending on the client. They might need me on a Sunday at 7am, or middle of the week at 6pm - it all depends on the needs of the client. I go to them, or they come to me. It's all up to the client," she says.

Although based in London, she always makes time to travel back to Rwanda, where she has a sizeable and growing clientele. Through my social media handles, I communicate my dates of travel so they can book in advance for makeup sessions, or just to buy various beauty products from me that they can't find in Rwanda at affordable prices."

In the summer of 2016, she took a six week vacation to Rwanda, where she got several bookings for weddings. She also organised a beauty therapy master class to train and inspire budding local beauty therapists.

"I came with a lot of makeup to sell and was fearful I would not sell it all, but I was surprised when everything went very quickly."

Rwanda

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