Henna artist turns childhood hobby into lucrative business



What started as a hobby for Fatma Hussein when she was a primary school pupil has matured into a lucrative business.

Today the 25-year-old Business Management student is living her dream of becoming an independent entrepreneur. For Ms Hussein, henna painting was born in 2008 after completing High School.

“I started being serious with drawing while in High School. During prep time my friends and I used to hide at the back of the classroom and draw henna patterns and as they say, practice makes perfect.

‘‘That is how I became an expert. I never attended an art school and no one in my family can paint,” she said.

At the beginning Ms Hussein was shy and jittery, so she decided to start off by drawing on family member and other relatives to taste the waters and gain confidence.

Eventually she gained enough confidence to paint clients for pay. Her clientele has since grown rapidly.

At first she was not keen on the number of clients she got since the art was still a hobby. However, constant praises and encouragement from clients motivated Ms Hussein to turn the hobby into a full time job.

“My relatives encouraged me to start a Facebook page. Apart from working at home, I also go to where the client is if necessary,” said Ms Hussein.

Her paint is entirely made of henna, a  plant that grows in the tropics to between 12 and 15 feet high.

The leaves are crushed and mixed with other ingredients to create a paste. A complete body painting takes about four hours and costs Sh5,000.
However, the price varies with size and length of painting.

A small tattoo, which is popular with most of her clients, costs about Sh500.

Due to the privacy needed by her clients, mostly Muslim women who have to take off their bui-bui’s during the mostly hands and legs painting, Ms Hussein works from her mother’s house in Mombasa.

“Our culture is very conservative and that is why you will never see an advertisement of henna painting, it’s something that is whispered among women and references are given.

This happens mostly during weddings and other festivals which attract a large gathering,” said Ms Hussein. Henna painting is a cultural practice among Muslim women. They beautify themselves using the plant’s juice during different festivals including weddings.

Today people from other cultures have adopted the art of adorning their bodies with the beautiful natural artwork created from the heena plant.

Apart from body paintings; which come in two distinct colours — black commonly known as Piko and red or maroonish — Ms Hussein also offers painting classes to those interested in the art. She charges Sh3,000 per month with a course taking about six months.

“It depends on your ability and creativity, if you are good it can take only a month for you to master basics,” said Ms Hussein.


Her students start off with drawing on paper, followed by real body paintings.

Henna’s many uses include self-expression, celebration of special occasions, and beauty and cosmetic treatments.

Ms Hussein said that she attends to about five clients per day, with her designs varying from Sudanese to Arabic and Indian.

The business does not have a high or low season, she said, adding that she receives clients daily. She makes over Sh50,000 per month from the business, she said. Ms Hussein is currently pursuing a degree in business management and will graduate next year.

She spares time to learn new styles and relevant technology to keep herself abreast with new trends.

“We are living in a society where employment by companies is not forthcoming, with a little hard work and determination anything is possible. I believe that one should not wait to be employed but be creative,” she said.