YouTube sensation and makeup artist extraordinaire Michelle Phan knows a thing or two about what women want. The social media celebrity has amassed nearly one billion views through her video makeup tutorials—imagine the number of comments and questions she must get from ladies all over the world! Now Phan has taken all that feedback to create her first color cosmetics line, em—makeup that is inspired by real girls everywhere. She sat down with Makeup.com to discuss the launch and what life is like as a young beauty entrepreneur.
Can you tell us a little bit about your brand, em:
The name itself is inspired by a Vietnamese word “em” which is what you use to address a girl you love—so it’s a term of adoration. If you flip the letters around, it spells “me” so that’s our slogan—“em is a reflection of me.” The brand itself is inspired by real girls—allowing them to feel beautiful and encouraging them to be themselves. I wanted to choose a name that summed up that identity. The brand, the products, and the stories are all inspired from hundreds of the comments that I’ve received throughout the 7 years of being online.
So it’s been 7 years now since you started creating tutorials? Tell us a bit more about how you got started with video?
Yes it’s been seven years! I first had a blog and some readers emailed and ask me if I could do a tutorial so I did that just for them. The first video was on natural makeup and I was surprised to see that it got 40,000 views the first week. So I created a second one on the smoky eye. Every single video that I’ve created is inspired by a reader’s comment and the same goes for this makeup line.
You’ve made a career and now a cosmetics line out of connecting with real women. What have you learned from this experience about what they’re looking for, how they consume beauty, and what beauty means to the average girl?
Well one thing that I learned is that women can be fickle about what they want! People are always looking for what’s next and intrigued by something new. So when I created this makeup line, having variety was really important to me so that there can be something for every woman and encourage her to explore and discover new things.
How did you come up with some if the key pieces in your inaugural collection?
Over the past two years, my colleagues and I have been collecting comments from our viewers on social media and having an open dialogue with everyone. In fact, many of my fans came up with the names for these colors! Sometimes I would upload swatches of reds, oranges, and pinks to my Facebook or Instagram and my readers would give me the most creative and unique names. That was one really great way we were able to include my audience and have a sense of crowdsourcing early on in the development of the em line.
We also held international focus groups and it was fascinating to see the different needs and wants of girls in different cities. In Asia, the girls were concerned about their skin and how their makeup could stay on and not sweat off because it’s so humid where they live. In France, they were very comfortable in their own skin but wanted to learn more about how to experiment with make up in a very subtle, elegant way. Girls in New York and LA love their glamour and sparkly eye shadows. Meeting these girls face to face was great to learn what their unique needs were and we took all that feedback into creating the products.
So what do you think is the most powerful thing about makeup?
I think it differs from person to person—some women would say it’s a way to pamper themselves and others would just say “hey it covers up my dark circles so I look more awake at work” which is just equally as powerful. But I always tell people that makeup to me is what paint is to a painter—it’s an art form, not just a superficial thing. It’s also a way for people to showcase to the world who they are—like when Clark Kent puts on his Superman cape—he’s Superman even without his costume but the world doesn’t see that. Makeup is what allows the world to see you are as you want to be seen.
You’ve mentioned in many interviews that your goal is to inspire and empower other women. Who inspires you?
A lot of people who inspire me are people who have always stayed true to their own vision even when they’re up against the odds.
Do you have any advice for other young entrepreneurs?
I tell people that it’s never easy. If you want to create a really strong brand, it takes years to build something concrete, and you have to market yourself and stay true to your vision. If you have an idea, think about your message, think about your vision—what exactly is it that you’re trying to do. I always tell people that your vision is your destination—it’s where you’re going. Your vehicle is your craft but the gasoline, the fuel, is your motivation and how hungry you are to realize your vision. I make it look easy but it’s definitely a decision and a road that is difficult but once you reach the top of the mountain, the view is amazing.
Is this your vision?
It is—in fact, quite literally. The concept of the Life Palette first came to me in a dream when I was brainstorming ideas for my makeup line. When I woke up, I flew out to New York and told my team about what I had seen in my dream and sketched the concept out.
We’re giving you the chance to experience Michelle Phan’s new line em yourself! Click here to learn more about the Life Palettes and how you can score one in our exclusive giveaway. Photo: @michellefawn