This is the story of Lauren Vena, a New Jersey-based makeup artist, small business owner, author, and mother.
I’m so grateful that this series has led me to Lauren Vena. When I told my mom about my idea of speaking with people from various industries about the effect that the coronavirus has had on their careers, she immediately said I should talk to Lauren.
As someone who doesn’t understand how to apply makeup behind some quick eyeliner, eye shadow, and mascara, I enjoyed learning about Lauren's job. Although Lauren has been in the makeup industry for 20 years, she went full-time into her own business (LV Makeup Artist) roughly five years ago…when she started booking two years out and decided to give this new business her full attention (as much as she could with kids!)—an accomplishment I can’t even wrap my head around! In addition to managing her successful makeup business (which spreads to include events and weddings in Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia), she’s also a mother to two children, a wife, an author (see the end of the blog post!), and co-host of a YouTube show.
Lauren has such a fun and warm personality, and I hope you enjoy reading our conversation and learn something new!
Please note: This conversation was originally recorded May 13, 2020. The information has since been updated to reflect today's publication.
Let’s start with the easy stuff: Tell me a little about your business.
My business is LV Makeup Artist. I've been doing makeup for over 20 years. It started when I was in retail makeup, so working behind the counter for Mac, Chanel, NARS, and other companies. The base of my career was with Mac; I was with them for over 10 years. I always say, even though I started at 18 in the city getting my aesthetician license, I really got most of my training with Mac—that was before social media. I was at the same location with Mac for years, and you get your regular clients, those steady people who want you to do their makeup for weddings and showers and special occasions, so I built that clientele. Then I ended up having, almost every weekend, at least one “out of the counter” thing, so going to someone's event and doing makeup. I didn't even have a website at that point. I started using Facebook to post some before-and-after pictures. Within probably a couple months, it just boomed.
Since I’ve lived in the same place for my entire life, and my father was a cantor for 42 years, I became heavily involved in the bar- and bat mitzvah’s. This is as busy as weddings. I was having so many people calling for special events that I decided to stop working the retail. I wanted to focus on this, and it became busier and busier. I love it. I love it, LOVE it. But it's every weekend. I literally work, and this is again before COVID, every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
So let me back up for a second and ask a clarifying question: What do you mean when you say you worked in retail? Can you give me an example of some experiences with customers?
The biggest difference is that you're selling. Back in the day when I started with Mac, I had to go on a three-part interview. I had to meet with the regional manager to talk about my past experiences and any schooling/training. I had to do another interview with the counter manager, and we talked more about how I work with others, my schedule, my goals, and where I want to be in the future. My last interview was with the regional trainer. I demonstrated for him a natural look into a dramatic look. I think the industry for retail makeup has changed a bit. Sales is a huge focus—and it was before—but there’s also triple the amount of cosmetic lines than before. But retail makeup, the biggest difference is that when someone comes to the counter, your goal is not to be pushy, but you're not going to do their makeup and let them walk away with a free makeup application. What are they going to purchase? I am curious when retail stores open back up if the makeup industry will change. Will makeup testers still be out in the open? It would be a shame to see that part of buying makeup go away. When I do makeup on the weekends, they're paying me for my service, and I'm not selling anything that goes with that.
As a side note, I also do like beauty stylist stuff, so somebody could pay me for a makeup lesson. I do master classes and private one-on-one lessons on how to do your own makeup. I'm a true believer that you don't need to have the most expensive cosmetic line. You don't need to drop all this money on these crazy brands. There are some brands that are really expensive that are great, but I tell everybody, you want expensive, I'll show you the expensive line, but I don't get anything out of that. I'm just being an honest makeup guru of what I know and like.
I'm curious: Why did you decide to become a makeup artist?
So I was actually a dancer for my entire life. I was in tap jazz—that was my thing. Where I live, they have this really cool thing in high school, where if you want to be a doctor, you go to this one town and they specialize in it. If you want to be a lawyer, you go this other school. Another one specializes in marine biology. It's really cool. You go to a certain high school and specialize in something you’re interested in. It's an amazing thing. I don’t know if other towns do that. So in high school, I danced. I was going to be a dancer. I wanted to be on Broadway. I went to Howell High School for Performing Arts. But senior year, I got completely burned out. I was done. I didn't love it, and I felt like it was work, and I just knew that I'd always be fighting to be the best of the best. I just didn't have it in me. I quit dance senior year and thought my parents were going to kill me because of all the money they put in. At the end of senior year, my parents asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I remember sitting there thinking, “I want to be a makeup artist.” And my father said, “You think or what is it?” I wanted to be a makeup artist. And my parents were always supportive. I was not the student that goes to college. I knew that was not my thing. My dad’s like, if you're going to do something, if you want to do makeup, then we're going to find you the best school or the best education as far as what you need for that. I went to Christine Valmy in Manhattan and got my aesthetician license. And from the age of 18 on, I kept on wanting more and more, and I'm 37 and I get to do what I love every day. If I didn’t love it, I would never do it.
Switching gears slightly, how did COVID-19 impact your business?
It's really sad. I've actually been on the phone earlier today with an artist who I worked with at Mac for a bunch of years. When you work in this industry, you're very tight with the people you work with. I also had a zoom call with a bunch of people I worked with maybe 10 years ago, and I just asked how everyone was holding up. And we all said the same thing. I think for everybody that freelances like me, the hardest thing is that our busiest time is from May to November. We’re losing money, which is devastating. Most of our wedding dates have changed. But you know, your heart goes out to these people. I had a bride who had to push her wedding back two years. Some people just are cancelling and waiting—they don't even know what's going to happen. The prom girls, that's devastating. My biggest time for prom is May and June, and I’m not going to get that back. But what is sadder is these kids don’t get a prom. But you know, you have connections with these clients, so on that note, it's sad all around. It really is.
And then we're all talking about moving forward when everything starts opening again. During quarantine, I took a lot of online classes and resources from fellow artist and educators. I’m making sure that when I go back, my clients and I feel 100% safe and comfortable. I will be wearing a mask, shield, and gloves. I’ll be disinfecting and sanitizing everything. My client is also getting their own brush set, beauty blender, and eyeshadow pallet. I purchased metal pallets and spatulas and loose pigment blushes, bronzers, and highlighters. As important as it is for my client to feel beautiful, they also need to feel comfortable and safe.
I tell everybody: We're a small business. I’m hurting worse than ever, but my health and safety, my clients, and my family are more important than anything else. I have to make sure that when someone's in my chair, that my safety and their safety are the first priorities.
Lauren created a short video to illustrate how she'll be handling clients during this time.
Have you been doing anything in the meantime to supplement your income?
Yes, so I teamed up with Bella Magazine and did a huge master class. I do regular masterclasses once a year, but they decided to host a zoom masterclass. We had about 25 women join. It was awesome and really fun. I told them to not buy new makeup—to just use whatever they had. It went really, really smoothly. At the end of the zoom, everybody got a full list of what I did, what the looks were, and they all sent their before and afters. It was great. And everybody said, I'm not doing anything but it felt great to actually have a little bit of makeup on. I didn’t charge for that zoom, but I do for my normal masterclasses. I felt that because everyone is hurting at this time and stuck inside, to join a group setting and learn some makeup tips was my pleasure. Bella did set up a donation for me so people could give what they wanted, and it was so appreciated!
On social, I post a lot with my family, but I also do these things like five-minute makeup looks. Also everybody's doing zooms now and nobody wants to wear makeup. So it's all about how can you get just a quick makeup in only five minutes. I posted that with before and after images, and that was huge. I got a lot of positive feedback.
I do some things with my kids, where my kids do my makeup—just to stay active with my clients because I'm not having these events every weekend where I could post pictures. And that’s my personality—kind of fun and kind of crazy. My husband did my makeup once. My hands were behind my back, so he used his hands, and it was the “no hands makeup challenge.” Funny and a mess! I’m also doing cute, funny makeup TikTok challenges with my daughter.
Now I'm doing private zoom makeup lessons. So that's more for someone who wants that one-on-one, undivided attention. They want to know what they personally need for themselves and really how to apply makeup. I normally go to someone’s house and give a makeup lesson, but the zoom thing, people love that. It’s gives people a little bit something to do.
Absolutely. As a business owner, you have to get creative right now.
Like I said, I truly do love what I do. Everybody's taking this in so many different ways, and I'm blessed that my family and my close friends are in good health. But it's sad. I miss being at someone's occasion. Besides loving what I do, I just miss being there for that special time—being in those moments. That's why I love doing what I do, you know?
Also, this is totally a side note, but I started a YouTube channel like three weeks before COVID. It’s called Beauty N Bull$h!+. I co-host with Jennifer Capella. We talk about beauty issues and interview people. All topics. Any person. No filter. We've been doing everything on zoom, but we had a beauty panel of six beauty experts—from hair colorist and waxers to microblading specialist—just talking about dealing with COVID. We also had all fitness people on. We're coming together, motivating people. I feel like during this time, as horrible as it is, you have to keep busy, stay motivated, and try to come together.