If you’ve watched any makeup tutorial between 2002 and this morning, the odds are high that you’ve seen a creator blend a product with a Beautyblender. Easily identifiable, simple to use, and owned by most (myself included), this tool isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
In Episode 115 of Earned, Conor sits down with Rea Ann Silva, Founder and CEO of Beautyblender, the beauty industry’s most famous egg-shaped sponge.
To start, we dive into the creation of Beautyblender, and Rea Ann’s journey along the way. Rea Ann explains that by cultivating her love of dreaming big, she was introduced to new things, people, and experiences that shaped her life into what it is today. Rea Ann’s time in Hollywood production honed her desire to be a makeup artist, and with the assistance of superstars early on in their careers, Rea Ann’s celebrity makeup artist career took off with no end in sight. Rea Ann reveals that the majority of her lessons have been learned through catastrophes—like the one she experienced when trying to recreate airbrushed makeup, without the airbrushing machine.
We explore how Rea Ann’s fellow celebrity makeup artist, Kelsey Frye, gave her insights into “on set” procedures, which led to the creation of the iconic sponge. Rea Ann explains that even though the Beautyblender is well known and well loved, there were still growing pains as she evolved from being a “creative at her core,” to becoming a business owner. While unpacking Rea Ann’s journey to becoming the successful business woman she is today, we learn that managing people was the trickiest part for her to master. Rea Ann explains the double-edged sword that is owning the business all on her own, as well as her thoughts on celebrity-founded beauty brands. Rea Ann emphasizes that in the beginning of the founding journey, every decision matters and that a lack of passion can be a roadmap to failure. To close the show, Rea Ann speaks about her goal of Beautyblender eventually becoming a heritage business—with someone in her family taking the reins!
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“I didn't expect an egg-shaped sponge to be a global phenomenon”: How Rea Ann Silva Brought a Simple Sponge to the Top of an Industry
Conor Begley: So I’m curious, what are the challenges you’re facing today? What is it like to run a business of this size? Most people have not done that, and probably never will. I think the second thing is, there are a lot of people that build a business to this size and they sell it and they ride off into the sunset. But you've run this business for a while now, so how do you think about the next 20 years? Are you going to be still running Beautyblender? What are your thoughts about the future?
Rea Ann Silva: 20 years. 20 beautiful, lovely but long years. To answer your first question, the management oversight and running of a business like Beautyblender is difficult. I'm a makeup artist, I'm not a business person. I am now—I’ve had to reframe that, for sure. But at my core, I am a creative and I am an artist, and I have had to learn the business end of running and owning and operating a business, a growing business, a scaling business. It has been a challenge.
What I found challenging in the beginning was understanding budgets and understanding the numbers and how that impacts what you can do. I still own my business a hundred percent, I've never taken an investor. I didn't get some of the mentoring that some of my other founders that I talked to get to benefit from, so I did make a lot of mistakes. I probably wasted a ton of money. I live a good life, I'm not complaining. But to answer your question, the thing that I think is the most challenging for someone like myself that's starting a business and trying to scale it and grow it, is understanding the finance part of it and the planning part of it, and the efficiencies that have to go on in order for you to be profitable, to grow, and to be attractive for someone to want to come buy your business.
That hasn't been my case. It's not that my business has been unattractive—that isn't why I haven't sold my business. I haven’t sold my business because I love and enjoy my business. I never did it planning for an exit. I didn't know what I was going to do. I didn't expect an egg-shaped sponge to be a global phenomenon. I never could have, in my wildest dreams ever expected to be in the Smithsonian, honored as one of eight women in the last hundred years that invented a product that changed the industry. Never would I have thought an egg-shaped sponge, right?
“Catastrophe is a good teacher. It's a professor, actually”: Beautyblender’s Rea Ann Silva on How to Turn Catastrophe Into Success
Conor Begley: Now, you've become this well-known makeup artist, and you're creating your own products, which inevitably led to you actually creating Beautyblender, the company. I'm curious, what were the hardest lessons or hardest learnings you had during those early years?
Rea Ann Silva: All the lessons are learned through catastrophes. Catastrophe is a good teacher. It's a professor, actually. It was a history of catastrophes. I'm not sure about the timing of it, but yeah, I became very popular. A lot of my artists would take me with them in their growth. When I got into television, one of the first shows I did was Moesha with Brandy, who was like a triple threat. She was a musical artist, she was a TV star, and she was a movie star and she had tons of sponsorship. She was a cover girl, she was the first Black Barbie, she was the first Cinderella, so I was lucky.
There's makeup that is developed for airbrushing, but like everything else, back then, we had to create it for ourselves. I knew how to do beauty makeup with Armani and these big heritage brands. I could break them down and blow them on their face and it would look really natural. Somebody said that airbrushing was the way to do makeup for high definition so that you look natural. I had this talent, Mara knew it, hired me, and I ended up doing Beautyblender there, because the one thing you cannot do on a set that's recording sound: run a compressor and an airbrusher while they're recording.
I had to learn how to keep beautiful airbrush makeup fresh throughout the day. There was this makeup artist, her name is Kelsey Fry, she's still working. She does Peaky Blinders and different shows now. I credit her with really giving me insights of what I could do to a makeup sponge to make it look like airbrush makeup. The worst thing that you can ever do on a show is take your actor off the set—the director and everybody hates you when you do that. That was how Beautyblender was born. I needed to find a way to keep these beautiful, flawless looking natural airbrush makeups on set without removing my talent. I started cutting sponges and wetting them and just experimenting, and yeah, here we are.
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