'What was your big break?' It's a question people often ask of celebrities, but at ishonest, the beauty professionals and brand founders are the celebrities. In My Beauty Break, we'll dig into the behind-the-scenes details the money, the aha! moments, and the mistakes of the biggest brands in the industry. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Danessa Myricks is your makeup artist's favorite makeup artist. When she launched her namesake brand years ago, her color cosmetics could be found at pro stores and in the kits of any artist who wanted to create a 'look' (and not just the everyday fresh face). Her unconventional products were for unconventional (and striking) makeup.
All this is quite ironic when you consider that the self-taught Myricks calls herself an 'accidental makeup artist.' So, Myricks did what any nerd would do she hit the books to learn all about the ins and outs of makeup artistry. Her former employer's connections would eventually lead her to some of her first (unpaid) gigs, which soon turned into paid ones, which then turned into masterclasses, which eventually led her to start her own brand. Fast forward to today, and you can now find Danessa Myricks Beauty on Sephora's shelves. We spoke to Myricks about her journey, how she built her brand, and some of the challenges she's still facing as a brand owner ones that she is happy to endure as the architect of what's turning out to be a beautiful legacy.
ishonest: What were some of your first gigs as a makeup artist?Danessa Myricks: When I first started, it was about working for free. I honestly did a no-payment situation for almost a year because I really needed to get experienced. And luckily, there were two photographers that used to shoot for the magazine who knew me as one of the corporate people there. They knew I was a good worker, and they gave me an opportunity. Thankfully, over time people did allow me to actually touch them, and I learned I learned through doing.
One of those photographers, Eric Van Lockhart, used to shoot all of the hair campaigns back then, all of the Black hair-care brands. He did the perm boxes and all that stuff. He recommended me for a job at Luster Products. And that's when I thought I had arrived. I felt more confident after doing that job.
ishonest: It's interesting you thought you had arrived because looking back it must feel like you 'arrived' at just one step on what would be a huge journey.Myricks: It's so surreal, I can't even process it sometimes. If people only knew all of the things.
ishonest: How would you describe your makeup aesthetic?Myricks: It's changed so much over the years. I think it's like this for everyone: When you start in an industry, you try to figure out who people think are the best. Then you just aspire to be that person. Back when I started, it was all about Sam Fine and Kevyn Aucoin, and so I was like, 'I need to do makeup like that.'
Clearly, I didn't in the beginning, but that was my aspiration. And so I did makeup a lot heavier. Back then, it was about making it look flawless with the makeup, and there was no retouching really that was happening back then. So it was like, 'I need to look flawless out the gate.'
One of the things that really stood out to me about their work was that you felt something when you looked at their finished work. It moved you emotionally. That was my aspiration. I didn't want to just put makeup on people. I wanted people to feel the work. Because that's what makes it different, and that's always been what has driven me in my artistry and in the development of my style over the years. If they're not feeling it, it's not good enough.
As I grew in the industry and as I was exposed to more, my style and my aesthetic have kind of evolved over time. And now I'm really about full-on freedom. There's no right or wrong. I want people to do what they feel like doing, but make it feel effortless, make it really represent who they are.
ishonest: When did you realize that you needed to start your brand?Myricks: I did development for lots of other brands. I think one of the ones that I'm most proud of is with Benefit Cosmetics as a director of product innovation. I developed their [Editor note: iconic] brow collection, which launched in 2016. And after that, I was like, 'This is great. This is a really wonderful experience.' But in my experience, not just with them, but with all of the brands that I consulted for, there always seemed to be a limit as to what I could create. I was always creating for somebody else's vision.
I wanted to be able to tell my own story. I decided to leave Benefit and come back to New York and basically start from scratch again. I taught myself photography. I started developing one product at a time. And that's what led us to where we are today.
ishonest: Where did your idea for products like Colorfix come from?Myricks: I did a lot of work with hair salons back [in the day] because they knew me from doing their photoshoots. After a while, people started to ask me if I would teach them [some of my techniques]. I started teaching and at the end of every session people were like, 'OK, well, can I buy some product?' Throughout the entire presentation, I was always mixing things together, and layering things together. So I wound up mixing up concoctions to sell at the end of the classes.
That's literally where it started.
I would put together these little kits, like cream pigment and powder, or a cream, a pigment, and a glitter. Or I'd do a cream, a pigment, and a mixing medium. [I started] making little kits in my basement and then selling them at the end of classes, and at shows.
ishonest: When would you say was your big break?
Myricks: I think there were multiple ones. Every moment I thought my whole world was falling apart and I was the biggest failure, was the breakthrough to the next phase of my life. Like losing that job. Were it not for that happening, I would never have made a decision to break away and do something different and creative.
If it wasn't for me being so burnt out and tired from being a freelance makeup artist and consultant, I would have never taken that position at Benefit. If it wasn't for that experience, that on-the-job training, I would not ever have been prepared to develop my own products. And if it wasn't for me being so horrible as a makeup artist after reintroducing myself to the world again, I would have never picked up a camera, and I would have never seen makeup the way I see it now.
ishonest: What has it been like going from seeing your products being embraced by makeup artists to now seeing them widely used by people everywhere?Myricks: It makes me emotional because being able to figure out ways to communicate our products to everyone has been very tricky for me. For so many years, I've mainly talked to artists. My whole conversation had to shift. It was like starting all over again because I had to really make [my products] digestible for everyone.
Now I get to see the average person use my products. I wanted to be able to shift the thinking about how people perceive makeup, how they use it, and how they play with it. To know that a housewife in Minnesota can have the same appreciation for Colorfix as the biggest artists in the world I can't even put words to that.
ishonest: One thing I've noticed is that people have been getting more artistic with their makeup. I think that it really did help set the stage for Danessa Myricks Beauty to soar, especially since that artistry aspect is so very much tied to your brand.
Myricks: I couldn't be happier about that. And that's another thing, the pandemic, as horrifying as the whole thing was, it really set the stage for our brand to be seen in a different light as well. I think people completely shifted their idea about using makeup. People want it easy and effortless. People are ready to break free and have more time to experiment. I think that time really gave people a different level of appreciation for what our brand offers.
ishonest: Do you have any tips for small brands looking for funding?Myricks: To this day we are completely self-funded. We have never been able to get funding at all. I work and get money and then I decide is it going to go to my household or is it going to go to the business. That's how the brand grew. It always feels uphill in that process.
So what I would say because this is a conversation I had to have with myself over and over again you can slow down if you need to, you can pause for a second if you need to, but just don't stop. That's really the advice that I would give, just to keep plowing at it, keep pushing, keep moving forward. The time will come. The opportunity will come and will eventually turn over. I know it sounds like corny advice, but that really is it. The moment is going to come differently, the journey is different for everyone.
ishonest: How much time these days are you spending on your business versus makeup artistry versus photography? Or are all those things intertwined?
Myricks: They absolutely are. But I'm so glad that you asked because the other word of advice I would say is don't stop creating. I went through a moment of feeling completely overwhelmed by deadlines, and all of the business elements. I realized in those moments when I focus completely on [creative pursuits], the business is thriving. It almost seems like it would be the opposite. But when I'm creating, that's when everything moves forward.
Now, I make sure that my week is split. The first part of my week is full-on, hardcore we're in the meetings, we're in all of the things. Then midpoint to the end of the week, I switch the script and I'm full-on about creating. I have a model waiting for me now. I say to myself, 'You can't stop doing makeup. You can't stop moving your ideas about beauty forward because the brand won't move forward.'
I really do work really hard to keep it balanced.
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