Pioneering Beauty Entrepreneur, Tara Fela-Durotoye On Life Beyond The Boardroom

Tara Fela-Durotoye, the Chief Executive Officer of Africa’s leading beauty brand, House of Tara, is iconic  for setting up the first make up studio and establishing Nigeria’s first make up school in 2004. Inspired by her stepmother’s beauty routine and her work as a makeup artist during her time at the university, she says she was inadvertently drawn to cosmetics, after seeing “what makeup actually does to a woman in terms of self-esteem and confidence.” While talking about her passion for teaching, Tara said,  “I am still a teacher, the only thing is that this time, I am not teaching maths or english. I am teaching enterprise: I am teaching makeup artistry as a platform for enterprise”,  she told CNN’s African Voices, a weekly show that highlights Africa’s most engaging personalities and explores the lives and passions of people who are shaping change in Africa.

Making a difference in young lives is all part of the mission for the 37-year-old cosmetics queen Tara Fela-Durotoye. “There are certain things telling you that you cannot make it; that you will not make it; that Nigeria is not a place where people make it,” says Tara Fela-Durotoye. “I beg to differ.” She also revealed that the Tara beauty range was born out of her frustration at the lack of suitable cosmetics available in Nigeria, “Importers didn’t know exactly what was right for Nigerian women,” she says, “so I want to fill the gap while encouraging pride in home-grown glamour.”   Tara also harped on the brand’s achievements, saying, “Today we have about fourteen make-up schools across the country where people have been trained to become make-up artists. I can confidently say that  eighty percent of the make-up artists that are active players in the industry today, either working as entrepreneurs or working within other beauty brands, are trained by House of Tara. And I think for me, that is the greatest joy.”

And we totally agree.

We talked to the inspirational entrepreneur and philanthropist about how she thrives in and out of the office.


Where are you currently located?

Lagos, Nigeria.

Where are you originally from?

I’m originally from Sapele, Delta state.

Educational background

I started my education at Command Children’s School, and proceeded to Nigeria Navy Secondary School.  I later attended Lagos State University, where I graduated with a degree in Law. I have also undertaken additional training in entrepreneurship and business management such as the Lagos Business School’s Owner Manager Program, the Blue Ocean strategy course at INSEAD, LEAP Africa’s Business Leadership program and the Stanford SEED program.

Current job title

I am the Creative Director of House of Tara International.

A brief description of House of Tara International

House of Tara International pioneered the bridal make up profession in Nigeria in 1998, and also launched the first bridal directory in Nigeria in 1999. We do have a history of setting the pace, from facilitating the first-ever series of bridal seminars in 2000 to hosting Nigeria’s first Make-Up Conference in 2014. We are a pan-African beauty and cosmetics company that has twenty-two retail stores across the country and over 3000 highly skilled beauty representatives. We set up the first make up studio, established the country’s first make up school in 2004 and launched the Tara Product line. The brand promotes ethics and ethnicity. It also empowers young women for economic independence without moral compromise.

You have a background in Law. How did this and other experiences lead you to where you are today?

My background in Law helped to prepare me to state my case clearly, which helped me to form and propagate a clear brand identity and message.

Have you always envisioned yourself as an entrepreneur? When you look back on your life as a student, what did you envision your future career to look like?

I’ve always had the desire to be an entrepreneur. I did envision my career growing, but I never dreamt that it would be this big; the growth I experience everyday only increases my drive to be better.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up?

The first thing I do is pray. It centers me and guides my day.

Name five things you can’t leave the house without

My face cloth

Tara lip gloss

My hand cream

My iPhone


What is your morning routine?

First, I’m up at 4:00 am: I wake up to pray, meditate and put my goals for the day in perspective. Then I wake the boys up and get them ready to leave the house. I drop them off at school, and usually by 7:45 am I start to work through my to-do list. Next, I join the staff for our daily prayer session and move to executive meetings with department heads. The rest of my day varies from meetings with distributors, banks or members of my board of directors.

When you leave the office or stop work for the day, what do you do?

I go home to my family, read, and catch up on the latest happenings around the world.

Who makes dinner?

I do most of the time.

Favorite part of your job?

Making an impact on my staff with what I learn every day and my understanding of the business. Seeing them develop as well gives me so much satisfaction.


What individuals in business have inspired you?

It is great to have someone to look up to especially if they are in the field you are venturing into. In my case, my inspiration has come from the Late Tayo Aderinokun, former MD of (Guaranty Trust Bank) GTBank & Mrs Ibukun Awosika, CEO – The Chair Center.

How do you balance life as an entrepreneur, wife and mother?

I don’t think you can ever really have achieve a perfect balance. Balance is fluid. There are seasons when you have a balance, but sometimes one area of your life might require more attention than others. There are seasons when my husband or my children need me more than my business does. For instance, one of my sons is going to secondary school soon and is writing his common entrance examination, which means that I have to plan more one-on-one time with him, follow up on his school activities and generally be a part of what’s going on in his academics, as this is a milestone stage for him. This is different from the kind of attention he received from me last term. We have gotten to a stage in the business where I need to put in more of my time and I am extremely busy with expansion plans and focused on taking House of Tara to the next level. Generally one aspect of your life suffers depending on the season. Therefore it’s important for every mum/wife/businesswoman to pay attention to the seasons. Do what you can to be there especially for the important things. I think balance is really about being conscious of the seasons and working on those. Family is the most important thing beyond business and career, you just need to find the right mix that works for you.

Behind every successful woman is a partner who cheers her on. How has your husband been supportive of the power house that you are?

My husband is simply fantastic. He’s also my number one fan and cheerleader. I have learned a lot from him which I have applied to my business relationships and leadership styles. He has been a major source of my inspiration and he always encourages me to do and achieve more.

House of Tara International is expanding to other countries on the continent. What is your ultimate goal in expanding the brand?

At the moment House of Tara currently has twenty-two studios in eleven states, and we have plans to build more studios across Nigeria: Warri, Calabar, Akure, Ogbomosho, Bauchi, Jos, Makurdi and more. Outside Nigeria, our targets are South Africa, Kenya and Ghana, with more across West Africa by the end of 2015.

You have a passion for empowering and developing people. In what way does your enterprise support this passion?

We set up the Tara Orekelewa Business Rep Initiative to basically – empower young women, giving them a skill and a means to self-sustenance. Each House of Tara business trainee is a potential small business owner and the courses teach knowledge on the beauty industry, customer service and business ethics skills, as well as practical beauty essentials. The aim is to equip each representative with everything they will need to launch their own beauty store. Many past graduates have started their small firms that employ a handful of other makeup artists, thus passing on the message of empowerment.

Best professional advice you have ever received?

One of the greatest lessons I learned about financial success was from the Late Tayo Aderinokun, the former MD of Gtbank. He told me the next time we had a meeting he didn’t want to see all my money tied in one stock for the business. He advised me to adopt the habit of diversifying, by putting some of the profits from my business into other assets. So I cultivated the habit of investing. I started buying land in areas like Mowe and Ikorodu. I also began investing in cooperative schemes that allowed me to pay in installments for property. Most of all, I think it’s important to learn how to sacrifice some of your wants today to ensure financial prosperity in the future. When I was starting out, many of my peers earned really good salaries at the banks, so they could afford to do certain things. However, I had to put off doing a lot so I could grow my business.

You live in the city of Lagos, what is your favorite spot for lunch or a quick break?

Terra Kulture.

What are some interesting hobbies of yours?

Reading, Traveling, Public speaking.

What is your advice for young individuals who are interested in entrepreneurship, particularly on the continent and in the Diaspora?

Don’t quit! The sense of a greater purpose should drive you to continue to push for success. You will be seriously stressed, overwhelmed and even become weary at some moments, but you can’t give up. The challenges of business here will cause you to question and doubt your reasons for doing what you do. Especially here in Nigeria, there are challenges in terms of infrastructure, financing and others, but until you know that you are here for a greater purpose you will be tempted to give up. As long as you feel a sense of being here for something significant, then the limitations become smaller in your eyes.

Image: Tara Fela-Durotoye

Feature video: Tara Fela-Durotoye’s interview with CNN African Voices


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