Category Archives: beauty industry

The National/International Makeup Artist, Does anyone still care about them?

In todays “What I Think Wednesday“, I want to delve into an idea that has puzzled me for quite some time.  I have had the opportunity to work for several major department store brands, and have observed “national/international” artists that work for those brands and wondered whether those roles are still relevant in this day and age.  Let me explain a little more.

In 2006, I joined MAC cosmetics as a full time artist.  I was excited mainly because I was leaving a retail job where I had a management position, way too much responsibility, and and a tiny salary!  I applied to MAC because the people always looked like they were having fun, and they got to apply and sell makeup, and that was it!  Now of course when I started, I learned that there was a lot more to it than just “having fun, and selling makeup”.  I also learned that just like any other company there was a hierarchy, and that I was at the bottom.

About six months in, I learned about the “pro artist” position which sounded like it could be up my alley and secretly aspired to have that position.  I happened to work with one of the most talented teams I think the company has ever seen, one went to school to learn special effects makeup and has done Project Runway and several covers for major magazines including Vogue, Marie Claire, and Bazaar, one was responsible for providing makeup and male grooming services for Puff Daddy and the family’s Bad Boy Reunion tour which just ended, another has done makeup for some feature films and several reality stars from Love and Hip Hop New York, another has done several reality stars from Love and Hip Hop Atlanta and designed a clothing collection featured on a recent televised BET fashion show curated by the super famous and talented stylist to the stars, June Ambrose. My makeup partner in crime just did half the cast of Beyonce’s Lemonade video for the VMA’s, and makeup for tons of other super talented CEO’s and celebrities for the Soul Train Music Awards, Black Girls Rock, BET Hip Hop Awards, and this years Democratic National Convention or the DNC as most folks refer to it.(i worked it too!)  So needless to say, I learned from some of the best damn people in the industry, but none of them were”national artists” by MAC’s standards, and neither was I.

 

So about eight months after working for MAC, a friend of mine who also happened to leave the company and do amazing things in make up, asked me to look at the roster of national artists and tell her what I noticed.  As soon as I researched what she had asked, I noticed that there were only about two to three black national artists.  I also learned that the company used agency artists to do many of their major campaigns.  From those two pieces of information and my observations that sales reigned supreme and that artistry came second, I felt 100% discouraged from trying to really go after becoming a pro artist for MAC cosmetics.  After about a year of working for the company, gaining about 20 pounds, drinking like a fish to keep the stress of making sales goals at bay, and having nightmares about what would happen to me if I did not make my goals, I quit!

After that, I went on to freelance for several other companies observing that most of the “national/international/pro artists” seemed to have their positions for decades.  Many of them were/are men, and they seemed to keep these positions with their respective companies until they decided to retire.  I also learned that outside of very specific events in certain locations where companies provided their bio’s to help garner clients to make appointments to have these premier artists do these women’s makeup, they were invisible!  Most of them are middle aged men, which means they did not come up in the age where social media is a necessity.  They have little to no social media following, and literally travel from state to state making appearances at events to enhance some customers makeup.(because of the number of attendees, it is impossible for them to do full faces on every woman that sits in a chair)

Now I have worked some of these events and watched the “national artists” do the exact same look on every woman they touch no matter what age or race the women were!  I also have had several women tell me that they would prefer me to complete their look from start to finish because they didn’t know or trust the guest artist for that day!  Besides those issues, there is still one glaring concern.  With hundreds of thousands of sales people aspiring to be artists with these brands, if the majority of the “national/international/pro artists” are middle aged men who take up these coveted positions and never seem to leave to go on to do other things in their careers, how can these hundreds and sometimes thousands of aspiring artists have a chance at these positions?

With each of these companies there are tons of regular sales and management positions, and few positions open for pro or national artists.  On the flip side, with the right videos on youtube, enough subscribers, and Instagram followers, many people, and especially women have broken through the glass ceiling that traditional cosmetic companies have created with the “pro artist” positions and have become popular, sought after, and paid!  Makeup Shayla, Am Reezy, and Mac Daddy, are all former artists from MAC cosmetics who have risen to the top! According to thefashionspot.com, they each make at least,get ready for this, $14,000 a month!!(why did i bother going to grad school?)  Tons of brands have sought after them to use and feature their products on their social media platforms(which they get paid for, but I ain’t mad), have taken them on expensive trips to exotic places, etc… I have only named three, but there are hundreds if not thousands of these “make up marketers” that companies have made the focus of their attention!  Now lets revisit the traditional “national/international/pro artist”.

With social media “make up marketers” killing the game and taking home hundreds of thousands and some times millions of dollars, traveling the world on cosmetic brands dime, getting more free makeup than they could ever use on themselves, their clients, or give away, and tons of other perks, why on earth would any one aspire to be a “national/international/pro” artist for a cosmetic company with a salary that caps off at about six figures if you are lucky?  The answer is pretty simple, while the famous Youtube “makeup marketer”role seems like an easier route, it isn’t.  The amount of work that goes into shooting video’s, editing video’s, having the right equipment, products, back drop, outfits, etc… is hard as f##k.  Not only that, being consistent with posting to various social media platforms is also extremely difficult, especially when you factor in your life! ( I have a hard time posting once a week!) Learning the best times to post, types of posts, number of posts, and hashtags can also be overwhelming. The bottom line is that  when you decide to become a youtube personality, you decide to be a filmmaker/entrepreneur, and everybody is not cut out to for work for themselves. That sobering revelation brings all sorts of relevancy to the more structured “national/international/pro artist” position with a cosmetic company.  In order for these positions to stay relevant with their audiences i.e customers, companies have got to restructure these positions.

The first thing that companies should do is make these positions a certain amount of years with six being the cap, two to learn the job, two to execute the job, and two to transition out of the role.  If companies do this, it would allow more artists to compete for these coveted positions.  That competition would mean better artistry and better sales from more employees equaling more revenue in general.

The second thing that companies need to do is make the the people who have these positions more visible via social media.  I think it is downright embarrassing that I have more followers than some of my trainers!  These are people that are supposed to be respected and admired, but if they have little to no presence via social media, their credibility goes down the drain.(this ain’t right, but it is the truth in this age where social media reigns supreme!)  Companies should offer training sessions for their national, international, pro artists, and trainers to equip them on how to create larger social media presences for themselves so that their knowledge is respected just as much as a mega Youtubers like MakeupShayla or Am Reezy.

The last thing that major cosmetic companies should do is create new positions for their special artists when they complete their term of being a “national, international, or pro artist”.  Their expertise could be used for product development, packaging, customer service, artist development, training, and tons of other things.

My fear is that these positions which were once worshipped and coveted will become ignored and forgotten.  Before any of that happens, I would love to see companies acknowledge the times and make these positions relevant again!

 

 

Advertisements

What I Think Wednesday:Nigerian Weddings and the Nigerian Economy: Can one save the other?

In 2005 I moved to DC to go to grad school for African studies at Howard University.  In the two years of course work, one of the things that I remember vividly are all of my professors, i repeat all of my professors who happened to each be from a country in Africa saying that all of Africa was waiting for Nigeria to step up to the call/challenge of being the African super power to help lead the continent out of colonialism and debt and into real political freedom, progress, and economic security.  It makes sense, Nigeria is the most populated country on the continent, its people are amongst the most educated in the world, and the country itself has tons of natural resources including oil, petroleum, natural gas, zinc, limestone, etc…

Fast forward to 2016, Nigeria’s economy is suffering immensely, and according to Dan Steinbock from Valuewalk.com, “without aggressive economic moves and harsh security measures, the economy could face a disastrous free fall.” One of my best friends, who happens to be Nigerian has shared stories with me of brick and mortar businesses being bulldozed by the government without warning to the business owners because of unpaid rent.  In some cases, the rent had been paid, but the landlords of the properties never gave the Nigerian government their cut, so innocent business owners are now taking the hit literally!  International investors are fleeing, the naira is about 315 to a US dollar, and people’s human security needs i.e. food, water, shelter are not being met.

Im sure that folks who are reading this are going, “Okay Michanna, what does this have to do with the beauty industry or makeup?”  My answer? Its bigger than makeup!!  Over the last year and a half, I have had the wonderful opportunity and privilege to work side by side a well respected Nigerian American make up artist and provide artistry services for some Nigerian weddings that make the wedding scenes in my favorite movie Coming to America seem like a little shot gun wedding with a $100 budget!  From the decor, to the locations and venues, designer dresses, suits, and shoes, etc… the money spent on these occasions is just mind blowing. According to bloomberg.com, $17 million US dollars have been spent on parties in Lagos, Nigeria over a five month period this year so far, and at least one fifth of them were weddings.  Forget about the parties,  I have heard of brides paying some Nigerian makeup artists $1,000-$1,500 just for doing their makeup alone!  Now before all of you start packing your kits and purchasing tickets to Nigeria, please note that the market over their is already over saturated, attorney’s and doctors have quit their full time jobs to open makeup studios, and it has become a survival of the fittest environment.

nigeria1

While I have observed all of this with my own two eyes, I also have observed something else.  Every Nigerian bride and groom that I have met doing the makeup for these weddings are educated with great careers.  They are doctors, lawyers, engineers, bankers and economists, and have attended great schools either in the US or Europe.

Back to Nigeria being a super power.  When I put all of these things together a very glaring question always comes to mind.  What if Nigerians who were preparing to spend thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars on their wedding figured out how to somehow funnel the money back into their own economy with checks and balances for how the money is managed?  With all of the education, and money, and number of Nigerians having these opulent weddings, surely it could make a difference!  Lets look at this thing in more detail.

nigeria2

When I am doing makeup for some of these wedding I notice that the whole wedding party has designer shoes, I mean there are “red bottoms” everywhere!  Lets say that on average, the bridal party is 16 people and at least 12 of the women in the bridal party have designer shoes.  If each pair of shoes equals roughly $500(i googled average cost of designer shoes in 2016) and you multiply that by 12, that equals $6,000 and 1,890,000 naira! If you add another $6,000 from the groomsmen which is another 1,890,000 naira, that is a nice sized chunk of money, and all that we have calculated were shoes!  Based on the stats of money spent on shoes alone, I think that my point has been made for how much money is spent on Nigerian weddings.

nigeria3

Now no diss to Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Chanel, or any of the other European designers, but the last time I heard any of those companies discuss police brutality(Nigerians who live in the US no matter how educated can be pulled over because of the color of their skin too), inequalities in education for people of color, brain drain on the continent of Africa, or the failing Nigerian economy was … let me see… um never!!  Way back in 2005 when my professors said that Nigeria had the potential to be a super power in Africa, they got it wrong.  Nigeria has the potential to be a super power for the whole entire African diaspora!  Right now people of African descent are having to rethink many things, one of those being whether or not we want to continue to live in a country  where we risk being gunned down for trivial things like driving, selling loose cigarettes, and walking down the street no matter whether we are educated and can afford expensive weddings or not. In the large scheme of things, if Nigerians started to really plan and focus on channeling some of the money from these opulent weddings into the Nigerian economy where they could control how the money is managed once it gets there, that could very well be the start of an economic revolution!

Imagine if young couples getting married organized a way to do this by only supporting Nigerian vendors abroad and stateside for everything including dresses, shoes, fabric, photography, cakes, food, planners, rings, venues, airlines, hotels, travel agents, and  all entities involved agreed to invest a portion of the money made back into the economy in a controlled way weeding out mismanagement of funds.  International investors would come back, jobs would be created, and the young couples could essentially create a new infrastructure dismantling corruption, and the absence of checks and balances.  As it is related to those of African descent like me who may be looking for a new place to reside, Nigeria could be the place to be!

Now I know that I am being very opportunistic, but our countries have to be our priority.  It  saddens me to know that while we spend billions of dollars to celebrate one day, a potential super power of Africa and of the African diaspora suffers greatly.  It is time for us to be selfish and support our own!

 

 

What I Think Wednesday:Gifts With Purchase, Do Black Lives Matter?

Given everything that has happened in the last week, well past 300 years, my heart is pretty heavy.  The only way to be triumphant in anything is to keep pressing.  Since my blog is called “Make up in Black and White” and addresses gender, class, and race as those topics apply to the vast world of beauty, I thought it would only be right if I discussed race this week.  I  am going to be very specific, and discuss one uber frustrating thing.  Gift with purchases that major companies give out for earning points, birthdays, holidays or for spending a certain dollar amount never include products that women of color can use when it comes to color!

Every year when Christmas season pops up, I am always working in a retailer that provides amazing goody bags chock full of skincare, haircare, and makeup.  When ever I service a client that has a deeper skin tone who has earned one of those goody bags, they always ask if the bag is even worth them spending the extra money to earn.  Depending on what brand/retailer I am working for, the bag is 25-75% useful, and obviously if they can use only a small fraction of the products, they choose to pass on the gift or GWP as we call them in the retail world.

Out of sheer curiosity, I would love to know how much it costs a company to make lets say a tinted moisturizer sample?  I happen to freelance for a company that makes the best tinted moisturizer but when ever there are samples made it is always in the third to lightest shade that the company offers.  Realizing that the shade is the most popular, I can’t help but to wonder what would happen if that same company made a test run of a deeper shade, put it in magazines geared towards women of color i.e. Ebony and Essence to see what kind of return on the initial investment of making the samples in the first place.  I tell people all the time that just because you build it doesn’t mean “they” will come.  So for all of the cosmetic companies that offer make up for deeper skin tones, samples must be made in a broader range of shades, and marketed specifically to the demographics that speak to those women who have deeper skin.

To put it plainly, all lives matter so companies should do whatever they can to accommodate all people who do and could potentially become loyal supporters of their brands.  This for many of these companies would appeal to demographics that have tremendous spending power and have the ability to positively impact their bottom lines.

Bottom line?  Make the samples in a broader range of shades and market the hell out of them, its time!

What I Think Wednesday: Trish McEvoy and her Credit Card Palettes

I have spent a ton of time talking to my peers in the makeup world about cosmetic companies and what I think they can do better in terms of training, product development, hiring, social media, etc… Finally I realized that talking to my peers is pointless.  I also realize that talking to company executives can also be pointless especially if you meet them in a store or counter setting.

I have observed that most executives dismiss ideas that company members who work behind counters have which is a huge mistake!  Social media has much more weight, so I will be speaking directly to companies every Wednesday in the hopes that at some point my voice is heard! Now on to Trish!!

At this point, we all know that palettes reign supreme.  Eyeshadow palettes, blush palettes, lip palettes, foundation palettes, etc… Consumers would rather spend money on palettes because they give you variety and provide you with more “bang” for your buck.  Trish McEvoy, known for her planners sometimes will put these little credit card eyeshadow palettes in her limited edition planners, and I have started to collect them, because they are tiny ( I love tiny things), super pigmented, have an array of eyeshadows and powder eyeliners, and blend like a dream!

The problem is that these credit cards only come out every once in a while in a limited planner making it impossible to purchase them individually at the consumers convenience.  As a makeup artist I really feel like I need every credit card that Trish has ever created, and no that I will be impossible for me to obtain them all.  I have a few suggestions.

  • Relaunch the credit cards in their own special planner as a limited edition sort of thing to see how well consumers respond to the idea of being able to have all of the credit card palettes.
  • Offer the credit card palettes online to give consumers an opportunity to purchase them individually
  • Market the “credit card planner” using some cool wording maybe drawing associations from the Urban Decay “naked palette” the slogan “Plan to be Naked” would be risky but could work.
  • Market to a wider demographic including but not limited to millenials making a point to appeal to beauty bloggers, and youtube and instagram makeup artists!IMG_2662

These things are definitely kit worthy, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if Trish were to make these credit card eyeshadow palettes a focus, they would sell!

Daaaamn Pat! Back at it again with Kim K!

img_2179

A friend told me a couple weeks ago that he read a statistic that fifteen hundred new makeup artists enter the beauty market a month in the U.S, and I believe that statistic 100%!  Social media makes all art forms these days seem easy and fun to start and participate in, and it also makes them seem easy to make money from.  I have already written blogs about this and because this is not going to be another one of the same blog, I will stop here.  This blog is really about me trying to figure out the balance of integrity vs. popularity and fame one should have when trying to promote their artistry and perhaps products.

At the end of last week, the God Mother of Makeup Artistry, Pat McGrath, promoted a “new” highlighting product that she will be selling with using an image of her highlighting none other than the famous for being famous, famous for having a sex tape leaked by her mother, famous for being Kanye West’s wife, famous for having a huge obviously fake derrière, famous for having a show, famous for having the face that most makeup artists on Instagram that have had major success either look like naturally or sculpt their faces to emulate, etc… Kim Kardashian as promo.

As a tenured makeup artist that is making my way in the social media world because I know the power of marketing that using those platforms creates, I am really struggling here.  Generally, I am not narcissistic, I do not fill my Instagram, twitter, or Facebook accounts with tons of selfies, my outfits of the day, my new hair, my new shoes, etc… I don’t because I value my own individuality and privacy and enjoy having my life experiences be just that, my life experiences.  I realize that the world that makes up social media loves people who are narcissistic,  post pictures of themselves everyday, their outfits of the day, new designer purses, etc… and you know what?(in my Tamar Braxton voice) I think that is perfectly fine!! What I don’t like is that I notice that the people who become the most famous from these types of posts all look the same.  They have the same skin tone, bone structure, eye shapes, hair, body types, and style.  The people who “slip through the cracks” don’t have those things naturally but use makeup, plastic surgery, waist shapers, hair extensions, colored contacts, and clothing to make themselves look like the prototype.  What does all of this have to do with Pat McGrath and Kim K? Everything!

Kim K is the prototype!  If I scroll through 30 images on Instagram, 10 images are of makeup looks, outfits, or women who look like they have been inspired by Mrs. West!  The irony is that Pat McGrath, her image, her body of work, etc are the complete and total opposite!  Ms. McGrath is a full figured British women of African or Caribbean descent(i.e. African) with a deeper skin tone that seems like she has never worn makeup in her entire life!  From a marketing stand point, I totally understand why Pat (one of the best mua’s the world has ever seen in my humble opinion) and Kim (a women whose mother successfully pimped out the whole entire family for crazy sums of money that continues to grow exponentially) would get together, but what does that say for lil old me?  Does it say, “hey girl, I know your family taught you that hard work gets you where you want to go, but perhaps you should start doing it by any means necessary“?  If that is the case, my strategy would totally change!

  • That strategy would mean that I stay on social media for at least eight hours a day.(a typical shift at any job)
  • It would mean that I take selfies at least 20 times a day and post at least 3-5 of them a day.(this may include on boarding a side kick to take these photo’s which is what I have seen a few people do)
  • It means that while I wear black at least 5-7 days a week, I post my outfits of the day.
  • It means that when I am in the car with friends I turn on music and record myself mouthing the words with fish lips to post.
  • It means that I step my waist training and flat tummy tea drinking game up because those things all seem like successful keys to marketing yourself on social media.
  • It means that I do tons of makeup swatches on new makeup and skin care products like liquid lipsticks and highlighters.(where will I get the money to keep up?)
  • It means I must start buying body con dresses in bulk to wear as part of my outfits of the day to post. (Instagram boutiques here I come!)
  • It means that I must associate myself with celebrities, athletes, and people who have a large social media following to get more followers for myself
  • It means that I may have to buy followers because the more followers you have the better your chances of being able to attract cosmetic companies to pay you to advertise their stuff or become brand ambassadors or become chosen to provide input on new products
  • Adopt a genre of makeup often seen on instagram to do on myself that includes, a strong sculpted brow, glitter eye shadow, at least one pair of lashes, major highlighting and contouring, and a matte lip to post.(most other genre’s of makeup do not get as much play)

The list is not terrible, but not quite me.  It is also not really feasible for several other amazing, tenured, talented makeup artists I know.  Some of the artists I know love to spend time with their children and husband when they are not working, some love to travel, go to the beach, and play with their pets. Some love to sleep, work out, spend time with friends, and travel.  Do these “normal” activities make them any less worthy of having success in a field they have already given a decade or more to? Does the list above represent one of the only ways to have success as a makeup artist/make up marketer?(it seems impossible to just be an mua with out being a make up marketer) Do you have to look like, dress like, or associate yourself with Kim Kardashian in some way shape or form to have a certain level of success?

Last question, What do tenured makeup artists do in a world where tenure, talent, and experience do not matter?   I would love advice and it looks like Pat could use some too.

 

 

 

 

Cheap Brands that Copy Cat: Can higher end brands survive?

  
I went on Elf’s website today and was confused for a minute. I had to make sure I typed in the right cosmetics company because I was staring at what seemed to be Nudestix products on the Elf website! Then I realized that it had happened again! Lol a popular drugstore brand had produced products very similar to some higher end products and made them super cheap!

 I was excited about this, but I couldn’t help but think about the folks over at Nudestix and whether or not they would financially take a blow because of Elf’s knock off sticks. One Nudestix eye pencil is $24 so based off of the price alone, I would buy the $3 Elf ones. Let’s do the math, I could buy eight $3 pencils from Elf for the price of one Nudestix pencil, and the crazy part is that they would probably be decent quality. 

  I own a ton of Elf cosmetics products including bronzers, brushes, makeup remover wipes, blush palettes, etc…so I feel confident in buying their products. Is safe to say that Elf like several other “drugstore” brands offers excellent quality products at super affordable prices. NYX copied Anastasia of Beverly Hills’s whole entire brow selection at a much cheaper price point, Milani now offers the lash fibers that every Younique consultant was peddling on Instagram last year, and every skin care brand has glycolic peel pads giving Dr. Dennis Gross a major run for his money. I’m not even gonna discuss liquid lipstick because I would be typing for days!! 

Anyway, while I realize that this copy cat phenomenon is awesome for consumers, what does it mean for courageous indie brands that decide to take a leap of faith and dive into the over saturated market of cosmetics? Do you jump anyway knowing in the back of your head that some cheap brand is gonna knock off your stuff and sell it for pennies? The answer is obviously yes. Just ask the women who venture to Canal Street in New York to buy fake designer bags and they will tell you, they want it all!! The knock offs and the real thing! Lol 

Lips that broke the internet: MAC’s Instagram page and the image that revealed everything

Lips

When I first interviewed for MAC cosmetics, I did tons of research on the company so that I would be prepared for my interview ( which turned into like five!).  Anyway, while researching the company I learned that the slogan was “Makeup for All.  All ages, all races, all sexes.” That slogan meant a lot to me mainly because I had never really seen women of color working for make up brands like MAC, Chanel, Bobbi Brown, Lancome, etc…until I moved to Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C in 2005 was still chocolate city, and because of the high population of people of color, I saw more diversity within the world  of retail in D.C, Maryland, and Virginia than I had in my whole life!  D.C also had a high population of gay, lesbian, and transgender folks who also came from various ethnic/racial backgrounds, and I saw all of the above working behind the counter at MAC cosmetics making their slogan legitimate.

Fast forward to February 18, 2016, MAC cosmetics posts a photo of a black woman with a deeper skin tone and full lips on their instagram page, and all hell breaks loose!  Folks obviously not knowing the slogan for the company commented writing awful things like “fish lips“, “Jay Z lips“, and “N!gger lips“, just to name a few.

I couldn’t help but thinking about Kylie Jenner and the uproar that she caused when she started getting collagen injected in her lips so they could look similar to the model MAC posted on their instagram page a few days ago, and how subsequently she has been able to capitalize on her surgically enhanced lips and create a liquid lipstick line that sells out in seconds whenever they hit the internet.  Not only that, after she revealed her “new” lips, young women everywhere started putting their lips in plastic bottles and other contraptions to interrupt circulation creating a temporary swelling effect that made their lips look larger.  If we go back five to eight years, Angelina Jolie was celebrated the same way because of her naturally full lips.  There are countless other examples of women of European descent being celebrated for having full lips, large butts, tan skin, etc… but comments still pop up like “N!gger lips” when women of African descent are put on platforms to celebrate their features.

What I would love to see happen are “lean in” conversations amongst people from all different racial backgrounds regarding this reoccurring phenomenon.   There is an obvious double standard as it relates to celebrating African features on people of African descent vs. people of European descent, and the glaring question is WHY?? (nobody seems to have the answers Sway!)

Why do we think full lips on Kylie Jenner are beautiful but not on a women who is obviously of African descent?  Why are Kim Kardashian‘s “box braids” considered trendy and fashion forward when women of color are often considered “ghetto” for wearing the same cornrows?  Why did every man on the planet go crazy when J’Lo came on the scene with her large butt? If we truly sit down and attempt to come up with honest answers to these questions, we will inevitably face an ugly truth about the world that we live in.  Admitting the problem/s is the first step right?