It's gonna get sappy up in here.
We live in a world of DIY, start-ups, freelance, and “I run my own company of me.” But how do you make it work? How do you go from the desire to work for yourself doing what you love to being successful at it? And what is “success” anyway? Is it simply being your own boss and paying bills with it, or is it building an empire?
The beauty business is hard enough as a freelancer; the hustle is never-ending, and you fear every time you take a vacation to visit your family that you will return to a blank calendar with another artist standing in your place. As a makeup artist, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by women who I have watched build their business from the ground up. So I asked these women, who I am incredibly proud of, “How did you do it?”
THEO KOGAN: ARMOUR BEAUTY
As a makeup artist, almost all my problems were solved when I found Theo’s product, Armour Beauty lip gloss. Armour melds high-end fashion with a rock 'n' roll vibe. (In fact, Theo had quite the career as a punk rocker — you may take this moment to connect her to THAT Theo of Lunachicks.) The great thing about this gloss is it's long-wearing, paraben-free, gluten-free, and never tested on animals. No allergic reactions ever. The colors are incredible, and my clients steal them from me constantly.
As a working performing artist, Theo needed staying power in her makeup. “A lip gloss that would stay on during a high-energy performance was something I craved, and so I created what I think was the missing piece in the beauty industry: Naturally based, long-wearing, rock 'n' roll lip gloss. I also realized recently that I made this gloss for my sister and friends because, though I like to wear a lot of makeup, many of my friends and other women out there don’t but will still pop a lip gloss on.”
About starting up Armour, she explained to me, “I really knew nothing about the business aside for my love of cosmetics and wanting to make the best lip gloss possible. I asked a friend to help me start in L.A., and so I booked a plane ticket and ran around visiting labs and packaging companies and brainstorming colors and names and all the fun stuff. Still, there were many kinks to work out in the beginning since I knew next to nothing about the running a business. Let's just say there were learning curves, and I learn quickly."
Theo said she knew the dream had become a reality when the product was sitting in her hands. The word got out via her influence and connections to a passionate audience, and so the social networks, blogs and celebrity love caught on to ignite success.
"Because of my fashion and music background, I had a lot of friends interested in the line before it even launched and that helped getting the word and the gloss out of my house.”
ANGELIQUE VELEZ: BREAKUPS TO MAKEUP
You’ve probably seen Angelique’s adorable canvas makeup bags if you're in the beauty industry — or even if you're not. They have spread like wildfire, and Angelique has been freelancing as a makeup artist all while juggling the high demand for her products.
The origin story for Breakups to Makeup is, as you might imagine, Angelique's passionate desire to share what she loves with the world.
Angelique tells me, "After going through a difficult breakup, as many of us can relate, makeup was literally the reason I got out of bed. As a makeup artist for a little over 10 years and a makeup educator, I have encountered so many people that have a great love for makeup, but who may not be supported by family and friends, or those who don’t consider it a 'real' job or career. I want to educate others and show them that makeup for us is far more than just a product, but a way that we express ourselves. The products that we use in our form of art have the power to change a person’s feelings, emotions, and make them feel better about themselves."
How did she pick up steam? With a little help from her community, friends, and Instagram, of course. Rather than being just a line or a brand, it became more of a campaign — almost a movement.
The biggest move forward was when Carly Aquilino from MTV’s Girl Code posted the Breakups to Makeup signature makeup clutch on Instagram. I personally can remember Angelique relentlessly re-gramming photos of her artist community when they were posting her products on set. Having the discipline and courage to promote yourself tirelessly is key.
I watched Angelique’s clutches go from friends, to celebs, to the pages of major magazines' editor picks.
“I would say the biggest break so far was when Urban Outfitters started to carry the makeup clutches online. For me, when creating the line, Urban Outfitters was a goal of mine. I knew the clutches would be a perfect fit for them, and when it actually happened, I had to pinch myself!”
The support and love has been a huge motivator for Angelique. “I wouldn’t exactly say I am a girl known across the country, but I did have two girls who tattooed the signature slogan ‘Love raised me, lipstick saved me’ on their forearms. Seeing that was COMPLETELY surreal! To see my own quote permanently on someone else’s body is a crazy feeling. Also, at a makeup show in New York, I actually had my first autograph request! It’s such a humbling feeling.”
Breakups to Makeup products are available on breakupstomakeup.com and select retail outlets and online shops throughout the U.S.
ADINA GRIGORE: S.W. BASICS
Adina Grigore’s products are fabulous. I have been following her progress since she met my husband and told him she just started her own line of all-natural skin care all made from five ingredients or less. And this year, she's launching in select Target stores and has a book coming out called Skin Cleanse.
Adina studied holistic nutrition and has supersensitive skin. She was impressed by all of the amazing innovations happening in the food industry and couldn't understand why skin care and personal care was essentially unchanged.
“I was using 'natural' products and having insane reactions. It was frustrating. So I made products for myself, out of desperation," she told me. "The few-ingredients thing came from laziness. I wanted the simplest possible formula that would work. And they did work.”
She even began teaching DIY classes on how to make them, because she figured it was so easy people would do it themselves. “Turns out they didn't, and I realized if I made them and bottled them up, people would buy them.”
S.W. Basics did well pretty quickly, but on a very small scale. "I worked full time and did this on the side for the first two years. I would say it's the quality that made them stand out, but I think most personal care comes down to marketing. If people understand what you're saying and they agree with you, they'll buy the products."
The crowning moment for an endorsement? Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP.
"Once we were featured on GOOP, the traffic was extremely steady."
S.W. Basics is extremely high-quality and expensive to make, but not that expensive to buy. (Thanks, Adina!) Investors came on board, and Adina roped her husband into making it a full-time gig.
"He does a lot of the creative marketing and copywriting, but also operations. I think it's amazing! I know a lot of people don't feel that way, but we're obsessed with each other. It's fun to spend so much time together and grow something that we create ourselves, each day."
Success has been a wonderful feeling for Adina, but there are still challenges. I asked if she felt like this is "it" —that she's made it — to which she responded, "I still don't feel that way. Maybe ask me after a year in Target?"
You can find S. W. Basics products online at swbasicsofbk.com and at select Target stores.
What I found in common with all of these women is sincerity in the reason for building a business. You must love it and you must need it to exist yourself. It may sound corny, but it’s true: Products that come from an honest place are easy to sell, and your tribe will believe in you, believe in the product, and tell everyone they know about it.
It may not happen overnight. In fact, it definitely won’t. But if your line makes you happy, it makes the wait that must easier to bear.