Doha, Qatar – In the heart of Al Mansoura’s vibrant Doha neighborhood is a fashion and beauty store that has attracted a large number of Africans living in the Qatari capital since it opened about two years ago.
Butterfly Beauty Shop is located along Al Mansoura’s busy main street and is nestled between grocery stores – known to locals by the Arabic word baqaala, restaurants, tea and snack spots and one hardware store number.
The shelves and aisles of the Butterfly Beauty Shop are packed with beauty products, hair extensions, fashion accessories, clothing, shoes and seemingly every fashion item possible from Africa.
“This is the only store that caters to the fashion needs of Africans in Qatar,” proud Kenyan store owner Bernard Wanjiku, 32.
Qatar is home to a diverse expat community that makes up 90% of the country’s population.
The Sub-Saharan African community makes up about 6% of the total population in Qatar, with foreign nationals coming from countries such as Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, Somalia and Ghana.
Wanjiku came to Doha from Kenya in 2013 to work as a driver for a local organization, but five years later switched to a taxi driver. Through conversations with his clients, he got the idea to start his own business.
He told Al Jazeera: “Every time someone from Africa gets in my cab, they ask me if I know someone from back home who can bring in some beauty products.
“It happens so often that I realize this is a business opportunity waiting to be taken.”
Check the waters
Wanjiku’s operations started on a small scale. Initially, he arranged for friends to travel from Kenya to bring skin and hair care products in small batches, then he would sell them to Africans he met in taxis. Those customers will keep coming back to his products.
“I like to test the water before I invest all my savings in one place. For four years, I ran this business as a side business. [a] Wanjiku, whose beauty business goes viral by word of mouth, explains.
Since opening the store in February 2021, Wanjiku has had a significant customer base, most of whom have followed his journey from taxi to his brick-and-mortar store in a bustling neighborhood. rhythm.
But Wanjiku admits he has to thank social media for the rapid growth of his business.
“Shortly after it opened, Africans living in Mansoura posted photos and videos from inside the store,” he explains. “They will try on some wigs, extensions or rave about finally having access to skin care products from home.”
Some of these posts have led to a stir on social media among the African diaspora in Qatar.
“A group of Sudanese shoppers once posted something from here and it went viral in their community, leading to long queues and traffic jams outside my store in the following days, ‘ he smiled as he remembered.
At the time, the store had just opened and Sudanese shoppers had posted pictures of themselves on social media trying on hair and clothes extensions. Wanjiku herself uses WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram to promote her business.
Jessie, one of the sales staff, shows a couple from Kenya some facial creams and hair care products. He told them which product would be more suitable for them and assured them of its authenticity.
“Jessie is also from Kenya,” Wanjiku said. “It’s important to have people who understand the product and connect with the shopper to make them feel at home.”
Mehrab, who is from Uganda, is browsing the goods in the store. He said he visited the store for the first time a few months ago after some of his Kenyan friends shared a YouTube video about it.
He says he often stops by to chat about news from “home” and to see if there are any new products to try.
“Not all hair products are suitable for African hair,” he says, raising his hand to his head. “I have lost a lot of hair since moving to Qatar but now that I know about this place, I come here to buy hair care products from home.”
Satin dress, World Cup flag
Colorful printed shirts called dashikis were hung on rails above the racks. Jessie said they are among the best sellers because Filipinos and Arabs also love to buy them.
He points to the shelves of glittering satin dresses and says that Kenyan women love them because they are on trend.
“Kenyan women love to follow the fashions of the rich and influential back home, so we try to meet their needs and give them [fashion trends] here,” Jessie said.
“Sometimes, they just need to hold up their phone to tell us exactly what trendy outfit they want and if we have one, they will put it on and post it on their social media accounts.”
Several Nigerian men and women, visiting Qatar to watch the World Cup, entered the store and saw the clothes on display. They wanted to see if the country had any African fan gear to offer.
“We are here to support the African teams,” said Steve, one of the tourists.
Wanjiku took out several African flags from a box and opened them up for shoppers.
He said he changed the look of his storefront in the weeks leading up to the World Cup to fit the occasion. The screen is now decorated with large flags and football jerseys of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Ghana and other participating teams.
“Ghana, Senegal and Cameroon flags are very popular. In fact, I had to import more Ghanaian flags because they sold out quickly.”
Looking for the next trend
An Indian fan of the Argentina soccer team waves to Jessie from the door.
“Brother, do you have a Messi shirt? Number 10?” he asked, frustrated as Jessie shook her head.
Wanjiku said that the South Asians and Filipinos in Al Mansoura are only interested in supporting Argentina, Brazil and Qatar.
Wanjiku has already started planning for life after the World Cup.
“There’s a trend of Kenyan, African-style placement pads that are making their way back home. I want to bring them here for local Africans. I knew they would ask for them as soon as they saw it on social media.”
Jessie nodded and added, “See that yellow t-shirt over there?” He pointed to a brightly colored T-shirt featuring George Wajackoyah, the candidate who lost this year’s general election in Kenya.
“We understand because this man is popular among young people back home and young Kenyans here want to be part of the trend,” he explains. “Whatever is popular in Kenya, we bring it to Qatar.”