Danessa Myricks on creating her beauty empire


As startup beauty brands and newly minted founders emerge almost daily, it’s easy to forget that some companies are not made overnight. Take, for instance, makeup artist-turned-founder Danessa Myricks, who has been building her authority in beauty for more than two decades. After a layoff from a publishing company, Myricks decided to change her future by teaching herself how to do makeup.

“I started at [age] 30. I’ve been doing makeup now for over 20 years, so you get a sense of how old I am,” said Myricks on a recent episode of the Glossy Beauty Podcast. “So back then, there was no Instagram, there was no social media. There weren’t all these beauty schools. They weren’t masterclasses. There was nothing. You can go to the library, you can buy a book. And so there really weren’t resources that way, and [the same for] even in cosmetology school — not that I had the time to do it because I needed to earn money.”

That lack of public access and education led to one of Myricks’ first business endeavors. She began to sell makeup DVDs to beauty enthusiasts. “I don’t even know anyone who owns a DVD player player right now, but that really was the thing. Early on in my career, I always had  a business mindset; I wanted to turn this into a business, [because] it was going to be the thing that I used to feed my family… When one hairstylist asked me if I can come to their salon and teach them and their staff how to do makeup, a bell went off. I was like, ‘I can hold little classes.’ These sessions started off with, like, five people, and then 20, and it started to grow. I started getting invitations from different hair shows to teach the audience how to do makeup. And I was like, ‘Wow, how can I amplify this?’ Because I can’t be everywhere. I can’t go to every show.”

In many ways those, original DVDs set the stage for Myricks’ cult following on Instagram (she’s largely responsibly for the neon trend on social) and her namesake online university, which she launched during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But product development has always been Myricks’ true calling, especially with the lack of diverse and inclusive shade ranges she experienced as both a customer and a makeup artist. Today, her self-funded Danessa Myricks Beauty line that launched five years ago experienced 100% sales growth in 2020. It is sold in 50 stores in 13 countries worldwide; this month, it made its foray into Sephora.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

Playing the long game
“I started at 30. I’ve been doing makeup now for over 20 years, so you get a sense of how old I am. So back then, there was no Instagram, there was no social media. There weren’t all these beauty schools. They weren’t masterclasses. There was nothing. You can go to the library, you can buy a book. And so there really weren’t resources that way — and [the same for] even in cosmetology school, not that I had the time to do it because I needed to earn money… I’m excited for anybody right now who’s starting in beauty or has a dream in beauty, or has something that they want to say with beauty, because it really is the perfect time to be an overnight success. It’s because the channels to tell your story are just so vast. Literally, you can wake up tomorrow, have a message, get it out there, it trends, and you’re the next big thing. So I will never discount that, because I think we all have incredible stories to tell. I love the way that I came up in beauty, because it was that grit and that figuring things out that helped develop me as not just an artist, but [also] as a creator. You know, now there’s so much to see; it’s really hard to be innovative, because you’re seeing so much stuff. There are no original ideas; there’s lots of homogeny among the brands, because you’re just trying to do the thing that other person did to be successful, right? If I do what they did, then I’m going to have a successful X, right? But I think the way that I came up in the business was really all about innovation, it was all about pure creativity, it was all about pure grit. It developed me into the developer I am now.”

The road to social media
“I don’t even know anyone who owns a DVD player player right now, but that really was the thing. Early on in my career, I always had  a business mindset; I wanted to turn this into a business, [because] it was going to be the thing that I use to feed my family… When one hairstylist asked me if I can come to their salon and teach them and their staff how to do makeup, a bell went off. I was like, ‘I can hold little classes.’ These sessions started off with, like, five people, and then 20, and it started to grow. I started getting invitations from different hair shows to teach the audience how to do makeup. And I was like, ‘Wow, how can I amplify this?’ Because I can’t be everywhere. I can’t go to every show…I think I ended up with about 22 volumes of DVDs, and they sold all over the world. Some people still have them, and I’ve been asking them, one by one, to please throw those out. That doesn’t represent who I am as an artist today … The funny thing about it is that I distinctly remember someone coming to me saying, ‘There’s this thing called Instagram. You should just put little clips of your videos up there. I think it would be cool.’ I was like, ‘No, why would I do that? People are used to getting two hours of content. There’s no way I’m going to take 30 seconds or a minute and put it on there.’ I completely ignored the platform. I always say to myself, ‘Wow, what if I would have started when Instagram started? What would the brand look like now?’”

Entering Sephora
“I know brands that went into big box stores, like Sephora, and then you don’t even know their names anymore because it’s really hard to keep up in that environment… You have to be able to play the same game. When everything happened early last year, when everything was amplified early last year [with Black Lives Matter], there was tons of outreach. I’m sure a lot of other founders would agree that some of it came from a very authentic place, so it was just a matter of sifting through and understanding what felt good and who was really interested in the long-term success of the brand. You know, one of the things about this Sephora partnership that really makes me feel good is that the merchants at Sephora didn’t just start looking at Danessa Myricks last year. They definitely were interested in the brand. A lot of the merchants purchased the brand, they were customers of the brand. They [had] seen my journey and my story. I think we weren’t ready before [to go into a big retailer]. The brand is still very young, and we were younger two years ago.”

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