Becoming a Beauty Insider
By Kamisha Walker
In this series, staff writer Kamisha Walker interviews two self-taught makeup artists to hear about their journeys and share their best tips.
Nefertiti Cooper, better known as @NefOnTheBeat, is a Celebrity MUA with an Instagram following of over 14,000 and a Youtube channel with over 600 subscribers. The 20-year-old is a student at Howard University and expects to graduate in 2022 with a degree in Sports Medicine, and a minor in Business Administration secured.
From a young age, she showed an interest in makeup, rummaging through her mother’s makeup pouches as early as the fifth grade in search of eyeliner or mascara to apply. Winged eyeliner was second nature and helped her to feel confident when she began to struggle with acne-prone skin in the sixth grade. Her four year battle with acne prohibited her from being social amongst her peers and being the outgoing kid she desired to be growing up.
In the eighth grade, her mother took her to MAC Cosmetics for the first time, and she learned to do a simple glam for her graduation photos. From that moment on, she wore makeup every day and began to feel significantly more confident.
With the help of a dermatologist, she had found a solution to her acne, and her face cleared by the end of her freshman year. She started to socialize more, and eventually, her friends began to ask her to do their faces with the makeup she’d accumulated over time. They were inspired by her skills and suggested that she start doing makeup for a fee. She did without delay. By junior year of high school, NefOnTheBeat was born.
Jarren Purnell, aka @JarryTheWorst, is an MUA with an Instagram following of over 59,000 and a Youtube channel with over 60,000 subscribers. An entrepreneur as well, she is the CEO of her own custom shoe company. The account, @ExGirlfriendCEO, boasts over 10,000 followers on Instagram. The 23-year-old is an Alum of Howard University, graduating in 2019 with a degree in Electronic Studio.
She discovered makeup through her mother, who loved MAC Cosmetics products, and began to wear makeup in the tenth grade when finally deemed old enough. Though she struggled with the application, she continued to practice and eventually got better. By the time she went to Howard, she had started to receive numerous compliments on her makeup looks.
While in college, she struggled to find a major that she was passionate about. Unhappy as a Business Management major, she realized she loved Graphic Design and Animations. Searching for an outlet to show off her graphic design capabilities, she was interested in starting a Youtube channel but needed to find a subject. As she often received compliments on her makeup, she felt she was good enough to start her Youtube channel. She used makeup as her focus while implementing graphics and animations throughout her profile and videos.
Though her makeup career has grown faster than in graphic design, she continues to add hints of animations here and there to keep up with her true passion.
Who/what inspired you? Did you have a support system rallying around you, or did you face resistance from family and friends when you decided to start your business?
Nefertiti: At the time, I was inspired by Aaliyah Jay because she was a young black girl, right in New York who I saw doing makeup. Above all, my mother inspired me, supported me, cheered me on, and was there every step of the way. To this day, I appreciate everything she has done for me. From driving me back-and-forth to Sephora and MAC to buying all of my starter products, a chair, and a light, to helping me brand and market myself, learn customer service and allow my clients in her home…the list goes on. My mother is my whole world. Without her, I am nothing. She's been down for my business since the very beginning, and I am so appreciative of that. I love her to death. Also, two of my friends: Malaysia, who was my very first paying client, and Khadijah, who was there 100% of the time. However, with the good always comes bad. While I had some on my side who were 100% supportive, I also had those who were not. In high school, a lot of my "friends" did not support me at first. A lot of them would get their makeup done elsewhere, would invite me to their birthday events with their makeup done by other people, would say my work was shitty, would talk about me behind my back, and more. Jarry: I inspired myself. I knew I had something different going on, so I kept trying to push myself to do better. At first, I was looking at other MUAs who I thought were different too. But the love wasn't genuine or acknowledged, and I didn't understand that. I'd comment or DM and tell them how inspiring and special they were to me and get no response. So, I started looking to my art classes, graphic designers, and other genres of art to inspire me, and I grew as a better artist from that. For my makeup, until I started making money, I did not have a support system. My dad swore I was wasting time playing in makeup and not focusing enough on school. My mom kind of thought it was just a phase. However, once they saw I was passionate and actually had the ability to make a living off of it, they started throwing me recommendations for looks, ideas on videos, and just praising me altogether. By the time I started my shoe business, they were very supportive of me and pushed me to put my brand out there.
Like many businesses (hair, nails, lashes, etc.), at the start of your career, there may be people who undercut the value of your work. At least, until you build a portfolio that demonstrates what you can do, how did you decide to price your work in the very beginning, especially when there is so much competition around you? Did you ever feel a need to do faces for free?
Nefertiti: Because I am from such a small state, New Jersey, there was not much competition. New Jerseyans are usually known for supporting each within our state. Northern New Jersey is super small. Everyone knows each other or has at least heard of each other, and all of the high schools are linked. We're like a big community. Because of this, once word got around that a makeup artist at a popular school in Newark, New Jersey was only charging $35 for a natural face and $45 for glitter faces, you can imagine how they would flock to me. Although I'm very competitive, I never saw those around me as competition because New Jersey is so small but so big at the same time, and there's always enough clients to go around. I never did a face for free because I was always very affordable. I knew anything higher would be too high -- especially since I was a beginner -- and anything lower would be too low. I never wanted to downplay my work, my time, my products and my efforts. Jarry: I think it's important to note that I really didn't see competition because, at the time, I was following a lot of creative MUAs who only did makeup on themselves. So even now, competition in DC isn't something I think about. I just focused on getting cleaner work. My best friend at the time was into modeling, so she always recommended I do makeup for fashion shoes to build my portfolio, and that's exactly what I did. I wanted to build my craft, so I did a few shows as well as my close friends' makeup for free. After my back started to ache from doing 5+ people in a row, I stopped doing free shows. As far as how I came up with a price, I think I had to first realize that I am worth something. Even with a big following, it was hard to see my worth in offering services. I searched for other small MUAs, saw how they priced their client work, and mimicked that. My cousins also pushed me to stop doing free work on friends, as they're hairstylists and felt all work should be compensated for, even if it is for friends. There are enough faces in DC to fill everyone's pockets and portfolio, so I don't think we should think of it as competition, rather inspiration.
Was there ever a time when you felt you would have to quit because you could not sustain yourself? When did you begin to earn enough to sustain your business? What kept you motivated to continue?
Nefertiti: Because I started my business so young -- as a teenager in high school -- I did not have a job, obviously lived with my mom, and depended on her for support financially. So I never had to worry about having to sustain myself per se, because I was still a child, so naturally, my mom was going to support me regardless. Being the mother that she is, would always make sure I had what I wanted and needed. However, once I started to make a cute little buck, I became less dependent -- no longer asking my mom for makeup or other things teenagers would actually buy, like clothes or money to go to the movies or skating. Although I did not have a "job job," I was definitely making enough money from doing makeup during high school to pay for the things I wanted. I was motivated to continue because I truly love doing makeup. I loved how I made people feel. I loved getting praised for my talent. I loved giving people that self-confidence that I knew I once lacked because of my acne. I loved the transformations, and I loved the money. I'm as girly as they come. Of course, I would never give up the opportunity to play in some makeup! Jarry: I started makeup and Youtube in college. I had a great support system financially, so that wasn't an issue. I also earned money here and there from Youtube. However, mentally, I had a lot on my plate. I changed majors junior year which consequently set me back two years. My family told me that if I didn't graduate in one year, that I'd have to find another support system. So, I took on 22 credits one semester and 33 credits the next semester to get back on track. I tried to juggle it all the first semester, but by the second semester, it was taking a big toll on my mental, emotional and physical health. So I forced myself to stop until I graduated. Once I graduated, it was prom season for a lot of high schoolers and people started to hit me up for work. That's when I started to make enough to sustain my business and by better products. I kept myself motivated because I knew I could do better.
How did you create your own personal brand? Describe the ways in which you've used social media as a business tool and a way to promote yourself. Is building a relationship with other businesses/brands important to your success as an MUA?
Nefertiti: I guess I created my brand by constantly promoting myself and getting the name #NefOnTheBeat out there. I relied heavily on social media, my makeup page, and hashtags! I would always use a bunch of hashtags on all my posts such as #NJMUA, #NewJerseyMUA, or #NJMakeupArtist. I knew that would be an effective way for potential clients to find me because I looked at hashtags when searching for hairstylists, makeup artists, nail techs, etc. It is important to build relationships with other brands/businesses. That's definitely something I've learned over time. When you're able to have allies in the industry, people you can support, people to recommend you, speak highly of you, and vice versa, these relationships will always leave a good taste in someone's mouth. Jarry: At first, to me, my brand was just creative makeup in my bedroom. I'm indecisive and always trying new ideas, so I did what I wanted and never focused on creating a definitive "brand" for myself. I just tried to upload every day with something new and innovative. I tried to keep up with trends and new makeup launches like other YouTubers, but I wasn't passionate about that. As I got older, I just knew what I wanted and what I didn't want to post. So I'd go back and delete posts that I felt no longer aligned with my page anymore. I've "rebranded" my Instagram page at least three times. As far as using it as a tool, I would post my makeup consistently and get a following off of that. I think consistency has helped me a lot in promoting myself. The topic of building a relationship with brands will be different depending on who you ask. To me, yes, it's fun at first, but the majority of brands -- not all, of course -- just want to use you for your talent and your following as much as you want to use them for their name. Sometime's that's as far as the "relationship" goes. It's not important. I feel people use relationships with big brands to validate their success, and I don't like that. Your work should speak towards your success. Focus on building relationships with people, not brands.
What advice would you give to an aspiring MUA or an MUA trying to grow their business? Is there something you wish someone had told you when you first started?
Nefertiti: I would tell an aspiring MUA to keep working on their craft regardless of what anybody around them says. A lot of people who start businesses tend to compare themselves to successful people and may begin to get discouraged, but everyone has their own process and their own rate of success. I wish someone would have told me the ins and outs of running a business, branding, and marketing. Jarry: Please, for the love of God, take a class, use your city hashtag, and link an acuity scheduling book. Your client base will gradually crawl in just off that. To me, the most important part of makeup is the base. So definitely invest in a good foundation, primer, concealer, and powder first. Be on time and talk to your clients. If you don't like talking, ask them small questions and let them lead the conversation. Don't pick up your phone unless it's an emergency. Give them all of your attention and make them feel important because, nine times out of ten, the day they booked you for is important to them. Make people feel comfortable around you and be professional. If you're anxious about doing someone's makeup, ask them to bring their own foundation, send you a look before they come so that you can practice it, or any other question in regard to what's making you hesitant. If you want to be an MUA just for yourself, develop a posting schedule that you can handle, follow some innovative people, join a social blue book to price yourself correctly for brand deals and just focus on what makes you different from everyone else.
Over the years, many people in the black community have expressed frustrations with makeup brands over a lack of inclusive foundation shades and eyeshadow without proper buildable pigmentation. How has your work been affected by this? How have you managed to work around it? Which brand(s) do you think is/are leading the way in inclusivity right now? Which brands should we be paying closer attention to?
Nefertiti: It's offensive that brands would exclude shade range in their products. I am very inclusive. I do not discriminate against clientele and I have a very wide range of complexion products. I usually know what brands to stick to when purchasing foundations, concealers, or eyeshadows to avoid not having diversity and pigmentation. Currently, I've been obsessed with Fenty Beauty because Rihanna is so inclusive and diverse. From the foundation to the concealer, the highlight and contour, there's a product for everyone. Jarry: I honestly don't remember being affected by this as far as being a working MUA. I remember in high school, my foundation was extremely red. Still, by the time I was a working MUA, there were brands like Juvia's Place, Crayon Case, Beauty Bakerie, Iman, LA Girl, Nars, Becca, and Black Radiance, who actually got our complexions right and I purchased from them. I remember around the time the conversation peaked; people were focusing on how long it took brands to come out with a better shade range, and even then, sometimes, the products were still too red or too orange. Meanwhile, Fenty Beauty did it big and correctly within its first launch. I think Fenty is definitely leading the way, and Milk Cosmetics is becoming an overall better brand to pay attention to.