Bobbi Brown, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, came to campus to speak about her personal journey of becoming a successful make-up artist and entrepreneur on the first day of the Feliciano Center’s Women Entrepreneurship Week (WEW) on Oct. 19.
To start off this year’s WEW conference, financial services executive Liz Hogan took the stage and officially opened the event with the usual Feliciano Center welcome: inviting audience members to step forward and pitch their latest projects. Many local entrepreneurs and hopeful students gave their 30-second pitches, planning to connect and network after the event’s conclusion.
Attendants enthusiastically applauded as Brown took the stage and began recounting her significant personal and entrepreneurial accomplishments. She cited her grandmother as a major role model, not because she was traditionally beautiful, but because “she was an incredibly good person.”
Beyond that, however, Brown had a difficult time identifying with the thin, blonde models, like Cheryl Tiegs, who were plastered on magazine covers as major role models for women during the 1970s when she was growing up. It wasn’t until she saw the movie Love Story and its dark-featured heroine, Ali MacGraw, that Brown understood that non-traditional features could still be seen as beautiful, including her own nose, which her mother suggested she get plastic surgery to alter.
“I didn’t get mad at her,” Brown said, remembering her mom’s comment. “I just looked at her and I said to her, ‘Mom, my nose looks fine.’ I think that’s when my philosophy about being who you are really started, when I realized not everyone has to look like Cheryl Tiegs.”
@justbobbibrown it was such a pleasure listening to you tonight and your entrepreneurial ideas. You truly are an inspiration. Thank you
— Skinny by Gwen (@SkinnybyGwen) October 19, 2015
“The DNA of our brand, I keep it really simple,”Brown said. “I always say that it’s real, it’s simple and it’s approachable. Make-up for me is a great way for a woman to feel good about herself.” For Brown, this self-confidence that make-up can give was not limited to just one type of face or skin color. Her brand has several different shades of lipstick and 24 foundations that are specially designed to match the wearer’s natural lip color and skin tone, not mask them.
It took many years of trial and error for Brown to reach the point of forming her own cosmetic line, however. She detailed her journey from a confused high school student to a more focused college student who embraced photography, film and costume make-up in order to pursue her life’s passions. After graduating, Brown moved to New York City, often working for free until paying jobs started lining up for her.
Brown’s big break occurred when she did Naomi Campbell’s make-up for the model’s first cover of Vogue. From then on, Brown worked on and off runways and was even offered a stint with Ralph Lauren, which she turned down to stay near her husband.
“I try to make the right choices most of the time,” Brown said. “Priorities are everything and, for me, family is always a priority.”
After making a name for herself in the fashion industry, Brown sought products that were not available to her as a make-up artist: lipsticks in the correct shades with pleasant aromas and the right consistency. Not being able to find these, Brown connected with a chemist who helped her design her own line of beauty products, for which Bergdorf Goodman and Saks competed. Later, Brown sold her cosmetics line to Estee Lauder, but still held autonomy of major company choices.
Since then, Brown’s line has greatly expanded, as she takes inspiration for new products from many different things, from chocolate to the famous “Afghan Girl” photograph which was on the cover of National Geographic in 1984, making her products unique to what she finds interesting and motivating.
Brown’s workplace is also unique to her personality. Its hub is in So-Ho and is relaxed in atmosphere. Dogs are allowed alongside employees. There is a resident manicurist in the office and the company provides yoga classes to its employees.
Brown embodied this laid-back yet professional atmosphere on Monday night. Her all-black look was simple and professional, but a pair of jeans ripped at the knees echoed the more casual side of her business in her own appearance.
Before ending her talk, Brown divulged her 10 life rules to the audience: “Work hard, be nice, be fearless, never stop learning, stay positive, keep on reading, make sure to have a squad, be grateful, be open and have fun.”
After Brown had finished detailing her rise in business as an entrepreneur, she fielded questions from the audience, many of whom were long-time fans of her and her cosmetics. She gave advice on how to deal with naysayers, the importance of failure and how to get your foot in the door of the cosmetics field.
Once the audience Q&A segment was over, Brown made a swift exit without interacting with the audience for photo opportunities or signings, although she did mention that any audience members who did not get a chance to ask her their questions could tweet them to her.
The night ended with a panel of three women entrepreneurs also related to the fields of fashion and beauty: Sara Wolf, who designed a line of modest swimwear for her company HydroChic, stylist and designer Samantha Myer and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, the CEO of a company called GLAMSQUAD, which travels to provide high-quality beauty services to women at home. CEO and founder of Pink and Greens Allison Dorst acted as moderator. These panelists told their own stories of success and challenges and then fielded questions from the audience, from recommending clothing styles for when women want to dress for success to giving their insights on how to deal with failure.
The event had a large turnout. Several local entrepreneurs attended the event along with students across majors, especially those with interests in entrepreneurship and cosmetology.
Hope Hood, a student volunteer for the Feliciano Center, commented on the event’s success in comparison to last year’s WEW. “You can see that a lot of people are generally interested because they’re queuing up to meet the panelists. I’m excited to see how many students came this year versus last year and I hope that the program continues to grow.”
Both the attraction of celebrity guest Bobbi Brown and the nature of the event drew junior Molecular Biology majors LaBriah Camel and Erica Vargas to University Hall. “We’re really into cosmetics and make-up, so we know Bobbi Brown and also I’m a super-feminist, so this week is awesome,” Vargas said.
“It was nice to see [how Brown started] because she was talking about how everything was about simplicity and how she turned that into a thing,” Camel said. “She stays who she is and she’s not going to change that, but she still wants to make sure that she broadens her horizons and her brand to make sure that she caters to every woman.”