The beauty shop catering to Qatar’s African community

Doha, Qatar – In the heart of Doha’s lively Al Mansoura neighborhood is a beauty and fashion store that has gained a strong following among Africans living in the Qatari capital since the store opened around two years ago.

Butterfly Beauty Shop is located along the busy main street of Al Mansoura and is nestled amongst grocery stores, known locally by the Arabic word baqaala, restaurants, tea and snack places and a few hardware stores.

The shelves and aisles of the Butterfly Beauty Shop are packed with beauty products, hair extensions, fashion accessories, clothing, shoes, and seemingly every possible fashion item from Africa.

“This is the only store that caters to the fashion needs of Africans in Qatar,” boasts the Kenyan store owner, 32-year-old Bernard Wanjiku.

Qatar is home to a diverse foreign community that makes up 90 percent of the country’s population.

The sub-Saharan African community makes up about 6 percent of the total population in Qatar, with foreign nationals hailing 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 changed jobs to become a taxi driver five years later. It was through conversations with his clients that he came up with the idea of ​​starting his own business.

“Every time someone from Africa would sit in my taxi, they would ask me if I knew anyone from home who could bring some beauty products,” she tells Al Jazeera.

“It was happening so frequently that I realized this was a business opportunity waiting to be taken advantage of.”

The shop’s owner, Bernard Wanjiku, started his operations small, selling beauty products to people he met while working as a taxi driver. [Hafsa Adil/Al Jazeera]

testing the waters

Wanjiku’s operations started small. At first, he arranged for friends traveling from Kenya to bring skin and hair care products in small batches, then sold them to Africans he met on taxi rides. Those customers would keep coming back for your products.

“I wanted to test the waters before investing all my savings in one place. For four years, I ran this business as a side job at [a] supply and demand basis while having a taxi as my main source of income,” explains Wanjiku, whose beauty business spread by word of mouth.

Since opening the store in February 2021, Wanjiku has already established a significant clientele, most of whom have followed their journey from the taxi to their brick-and-mortar store in a bustling neighborhood.

But Wanjiku admits he has social media to thank for his rapidly growing business.

“Shortly after the opening, Africans living in Mansoura posted photos and videos from inside the store,” he explains. “They would try on some wigs, hair extensions, or be excited to finally have access to skincare products from their home country.”

Some of these posts sparked rumors on social media among the African community in Qatar.

“A group of Sudanese shoppers once posted something from here, and it went viral within their community, causing queues and traffic jams outside my store for days to come,” he recalls with a laugh.

At the time, the store had recently opened, and Sudanese shoppers had posted photos of themselves on social media trying on hair extensions and clothing. Wanjiku himself uses WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram to promote his business.

Jessie, one of the shop assistants, shows a couple from Kenya some face creams and hair products. He tells them which product would work best for them and assures them of its authenticity.

“Jessie is also from Kenya,” says Wanjiku. “It’s important to have people who understand the products and connect with shoppers so they feel at home.”

Mehrab, who is from Uganda, is looking in the store. He says he first visited the store a few months ago after some of his Kenyan friends shared a YouTube video about it.

She says she often stops by to chat about the “home” news and to see if there are any new products to try.

“Not all hair products work on African hair,” she says, running her hand over her head. “I have lost a lot of hair since I moved to Qatar, but now that I know about this place, I come here to get hair products from home.”

A Photo Of The T-Shirts Being Sold.
Wanjiku brings African fashion and beauty trends to Qatar [Hafsa Adil/Al Jazeera]

Satin dresses, World Cup flags

Colorful patterned shirts, called dashikis, hang on a rail above the shelves. Jessie says they are among the best selling items as Filipinos and Arabs like to buy them too.

Pointing to a rack of shiny satin dresses, she says that Kenyan women love them because they’re fashionable.

“Kenyan women love to follow the fashion of the wealthy and influential people in their country, so we try to meet their demands and bring them [fashion trends] here,” says Jessie.

“Sometimes they just hold up their phones to show us exactly what trendy outfit they want, and if we have it, they put it on and post it to their social media accounts right away.”

Some Nigerian men and women, visiting Qatar for the World Cup, walk into the store and look at the clothes on display. They want to see if the country has any African paraphernalia to offer.

“We are here to support the African teams,” says Steve, one of the tourists.

Wanjiku takes some African flags out of a box and unfurls them for the shoppers.

He says he changed the look of his store front in the weeks leading up to the World Cup to match the occasion. The display is now adorned with large flags and the soccer jerseys of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Ghana and other participating teams.

“The flags of Ghana, Senegal and Cameroon are very popular. In fact, I have had to restock on Ghanaian flags because they have sold out quickly.”

A Photo Of Hair Extensions Being Sold In A Store.
Butterfly Beauty Shop has become a reference store for people from sub-Saharan African countries [Hafsa Adil/Al Jazeera]

Looking for the next trend

An Indian fan of the Argentine soccer team calls Jessie from the door.

“Brother, do you have a Messi shirt? Number 10?” he asks. He walks away disappointed when Jessie shakes her head.

Wanjiku says that Al Mansoura’s South Asians and Filipinos are interested in supporting only Argentina, Brazil and Qatar.

Wanjiku has already started planning his life after the World Cup.

“There is a trend for African-style placemats from Kenya that is picking up at home. I want to bring them here for the local Africans. I know they will ask them as soon as they see it on social networks.

Jessie nods and chimes in, “See that yellow T-shirt up there?” She points to a bright T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of George Wajackoyah, a losing candidate in this year’s Kenyan general election.

“We got it because this man was popular with the youth at home, and the Kenyan youth here wanted to be part of the trend,” he explains. “Whatever is popular in Kenya, we bring to Qatar.”

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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