This weeks post is something slightly new for Career In Makeup as it’s an interview. On top of this, rather than being strictly business this week we’re going a little philosophical and considering the question “What Is Success?” when it comes to makeup artistry. And so for this reason I was delighted to be able to spend almost an hour chatting to Donna Mee.
Introducing Donna . . .
She’s been in the business for over thirty years, during which time she’s worked with numerous prestigious clients, has ranked #1 salesperson repeatedly for a variety of cosmetic brands, has received a variety of accolades for her work as an educator in the field of skin care, makeup application and marketing, and has set up and run her own makeup academy, which between the years of 1999 and 2014 was ranked number 1 for the success rate of its graduates.
In this weeks blog I wanted to explore the idea of success as a makeup artist – and I can’t think of anyone more qualified to answer a few questions on the topic. Not only has she experienced her own success, but as a educator of makeup artists 20 plus years shes’ also seen a fair few of her students go on to have success of their own.
But the reason she is where she is now wasn’t entirely intentional, as I found out when I asked her how she came to be a makeup artist.
“It was actually a mistake! I went to college to train as a fashion buyer thinking it would be all fashion shows and international travel but ultimately it proved to be not what I thought it would be (this was pre internet days so all research had to be done in libraries looking up old styles in books.)
Plus in one job at a pharmacy I expressed an interest in the cosmetics counter and was literally told I can’t do what the cosmetologists do – that they were professionals.
So I moved into retail where I ended up in a department store moving from one department to the next depending on who was ill that day. I’d be the young girl in the kitchenware dept that no one ever spoke to – old ladies weren’t going to ask me how to use a crock pot!”
Then one week Donna was told she’d be working for the cosmetics department… her response:
“What I can’t do that – I don’t know anything about cosmetics!”
And true to Donna’s expectations the first couple of days were a mixture of trauma and memory blanks, until one of the ladies at the counter (whose eye Donna was desperately trying to avoid) turned out to be a Revlon account executive.
Astonished to find someone who actually knew something about the stuff Donna was meant to be selling, she fired question after question on every Revlon item she could pick up. And the delight of this new found knowledge swiftly translated into genuine enthusiasm for the work.
“Every person who came over after that I immediately wanted to start telling them about the Revlon products. They would come for an eye liner and walk away with an egg mask”
And Donna’s enthusiasm and ability meant that within that week she was already selling more than anyone else – a fact that didn’t escape the attention of management. She stayed on the cosmetics counter from that week on, and the success she had that week in selling was to prove a common theme in Donna’s career.
She went on to become the #1 salesperson for Stagelight Cosmetics, #1 for Christian Dior, and have been responsible for the launch of Make Up For Ever in the USA, becoming their number 1 sales person too.
The Million Dollar Question
I quizzed her on what she felt allowed her to be so consistently number 1 at what she did?
Donna quickly distilled it down to three things:
- Enthusiasm! It sells and it’s a big differentiator – most people are just showing up and don’t really care, so if you do, you’re already in the top 5%!
- Working hard. Again most people don’t even try – there’s plenty of room at the top for people who work hard.
- And finally on a personal note Donna’s early setbacks (being told she couldn’t do it for example) have become big motivating factors in her life, with proving these people wrong driving her on
Donna’s successes continued, and then in 1997 responding to seeing hundreds of aspiring makeup artists scammed out of thousands of dollars by a local con-artist, she set up her own makeup academy. But this too came with it’s own challenges…
“I couldn’t do enough classes – I was doing days and nights five days a week and I was booked up a year and a half in advance. I’m based in Orange County, LA, and people were coming from out of the country to be trained”
She specialised in beauty and closeup work and put a strong emphasis on a deep education – with students expected to do a minimum of 60 hours training (for retail for example) but 300 hours was not uncommon.
The results speak for themselves -97% of students had a full time job within a year and some of her students have gone on to be major successes in their own right. The academy was recognised for having the #1 success rate of all makeup schools for its graduates for fifteen consecutive years (1999-2014).
And yet despite all this Donna recently closed the academy. Why?
“I was out teaching in South Africa. I’d decided to run the course at at half the usual cost in SA so more people could afford it. There was a lot of demand for me to come teach and I really wanted to make it happen. But when I was there I soon realised that as many as there were who could afford to come, there were so many more who couldn’t. Some would come from miles around and wait outside, just hoping I’d come outside on a break. One girl had caught seven trains, hanging on the outside of one, just to be there.”
Donna realised that even basic training could be life changing to some – allowing them to get better jobs, earn better wages and build better lives.
And so now she’s moved into the next phase of her career – running shorter more focussed classes in an effort to make them more affordable and accessible to all.
Given Donna’s track record I don’t doubt these will be hugely successful.
What came through while chatting to Donna was how much she’s achieved and how hard she’s clearly worked to achieve it. I decided therefore to finish the interview by asking what she thought about the success she’d had.
We chatted for a while about this, and what I found out was that for Donna, while the success has been nice, it’s really just been a by-product of working hard and passionately – she didn’t for example ever plan on owning her own school, but once she did she was damn well going to do a good job of it.
Donna appreciated that she’s been successful but she clearly has more to achieve. As someone who is motivated to help others, her work will never be done, there will always be someone else to help.
If you’d like to find out more about Donna you can read here complete bio here. Alternatively you can train with Donna this summer in Cancun, experience the Donna Mee methods and perfect your craft in paradise.