Black women are taking the beauty industry by storm and cashing in big on their innovative brands, products, and ideas. On the corporate side of the industry, one of those women is Myiesha Sewell, beauty director at Sephora. Over the past 13 years, Sewell has transitioned from being a makeup artist to the beauty director, a position that did not exist two years ago, with the support of managers (who are all women, by the way) coupled with her millennial ambition.
“When I started working at Sephora in 2007, I wanted to get my hands on makeup and learn about all of the brands. But there weren’t really a ton of roles at the time. You were either in fragrance, makeup, or you were in skin—and you were servicing people and clients,” says Sewell. And while she loved her job she also knew that it was important to work toward an elevated goal so that she could craft her career narrative.
And that is exactly what she did. In 2012, she became one of 15 artists on the exclusive Sephora PRO team, which has allowed her to educate cast and clients as one of the hosts of Sephora’s YouTube channel, share her expertise on high-end international product development projects, be a part of television segments, national commercials, and live demos.
“It was really exciting to be able to stick to artistry and still do something that was bigger than myself. A lot of times, you have to kind of give up the fun artistry side in order to sort of like become a boss so to speak. And so I was really excited that I didn’t have to turn in my brushes and do paperwork in order to get a promotion,” says Sewell.
As you can imagine, Sephora is an exciting place to work. But beyond the bright lights and endless products, Sewell says that it has been essential learning how to speak the language of the industry and stakeholders. Especially after experiencing shell shock after entering the corporate side of the company in her 20s.
“You have to speak their language, and make sure that you’re coming off as someone who is professional.” In a world full of makeup she adds that everything is not about glitter and purple lipstick and it is key to understand what rooms you’re in and tables you’re invited to. “You have to stay on top of things and not be afraid to ask people what they said; what they mean by what they said,” Sewell adds.
As someone who is passionate about having a voice within the industry; and making decisions that ultimately impact the way the women of color experience products and beauty at Sephora—Sewell goes the distance to make sure that representation matters.
The likelihood of seeing someone who looks like you when walking into a Sephora store is pretty high for black women. And that is becoming more apparent as the beauty industry leans into more diverse and inclusive representation for black and brown women of all shades, skin types, and needs.
“Back in the day when there weren’t that many shades of foundation; usually, I was the darkest shade. So I had to check my privilege in that sense.” Sewell recalls not being able to recommend different products to friends and family members because of the limited diverse options and that ignited a sense of agency within her to advocate for black women within the industry.
“A couple of years ago, I went to Italy and I helped Sephora Collection make their foundation range at one of the factories and I felt like my ancestors were like smiling upon me! I was technically the client so they were catering to me. I got to say, ‘this shade isn’t right; take it back and make it more neutral or not so red. Or, make it darker…’ For me, that was awesome because it was something that I felt there was a hole,” says Sewell. After that experience, she got to tell her loved ones that she made products with them in mind.
“I feel like that was a big marker that people needed to hear from me; I needed to speak up more and develop relationships with the merchants and tell them like when I see holes and when I see opportunity,” she adds.
For the past five years, Sewell has been one of the faces and a constant voice on Sephora’s YouTube channel which has 1.25 million subscribers to date.
In addition to fun editorialized product reviews and tutorials, Sewell is intentional about keeping it real with her audience about some of her challenges. One of them: wanting to not be in the spotlight at times because of the criticism that comes with it.
“I remember I was seriously contemplating not being in videos because people were angry about the way I look. And I remember my aunt telling me ‘there’s no way you can quit and you can take yourself off that channel. You don’t realize you’re doing such good by just existing.’” That’s what kept her going.
Work Hard and Play Harder
While Sephora is a healthy balance of work and play, Sewell says that knowing her limits and setting healthy boundaries are some of the ways that she practices work-life balance.
“My job is so social that like on weekends I need to just sit and do nothing—that recharges me.” And when she is not relaxing, she’s in the kitchen with her grandmother cooking and trying to keep up with her hand measurements and write down recipes.
When it comes to finding balance and pursuing your dreams, Sewell offers this advice, “Don’t give your energy out so freely, it’s yours to keep.”
Climbing the corporate ladder for many women is a process and Sewell’s journey is proof that it can be done with style and grace.