How New York visit challenged hairstylist Tony Airo to start cosmetic manufacturing

Tony Airo
Tony Airo. [Photo: Courtesy]

In Nairobi, the name Tony Airo is popular. Tony is a man who dared to venture into a career not so many men walk into.

Airo is a professional hairstylist in the capital turned entrepreneur manufacturing cosmetics right at the heart of the city.

Born and raised in Nakuru by a single mother, all Airo wanted was to become a hairdresser. When he completed his O Levels, he told his mother that he wanted to pursue a hairdressing course.

This was the first time he came to Nairobi. He enrolled at a hairdressing and beauty college in the city and soon became a reputable practitioner.

Until a few years ago, Airo was Larry Madowo’s stylist when working with NTV.

Today, he has a profitable salon business and two factories in Nairobi where he manufactures every type of cosmetic product.

But how did he start? In an interview with Ghanian YouTuber Wode Maya, Airo said that the idea to open a cosmetic manufacturing plant came during his visits to the US.

He would walk to major salons in the US during his visits and ask for a locum. He showed them hair stylists works in Kenya and they would always ask if he has his own product line. This challenged him.

“When I visited the United States of America the first time, I started going to salons in New York and I was looking for work. Of course, they will ask you do you have a license and you say I just want something to do under the table and you’d show them pictures of what you’ve done,” he recalls.

He goes on “They would ask you, do you have your own products? That one kept inspiring me because every salon I would go they would ask me ‘do you have your own brand?’”

This is what inspired him to get into cosmetic manufacturing. Airo contracted a manufacturer to start on his line of production but it became hard and untenable.

Eventually, he got into manufacturing on his own and started mass production of hair oils, body splash and sprays, lotions, makeup among others.

He prides himself on being Africa’s first hairdresser turned cosmetic manufacturer.

“There is no manufacturer in Africa if I can say who is a hairdresser and a manufacturer. I am the first one, “he says.

His biggest lessons were in the entrepreneurial world came when he decided to venture into manufacturing.

Airo had moments of self-doubt but he has learned that you have to believe in yourself first.

He advises those harbouring ideas and dreams to follow through with them because hard work and determination are all that matter in making dreams come true.