Growing up in small-town Canada, Rose-Marie Swift thought she wanted to become a fashion designer. But after a lucky break lead to a steady paycheck making over dancers at a local Vancouver hotel, the novice designer traded her sewing machine for a set of brushes. Fast-forward twenty years, and Swift was an in-demand makeup artist—working with models like Gisele and Miranda Kerr—when her physical health started to decline. After extensive testing, doctors found her blood contained high levels of heavy metals like aluminum, lead, and mercury, as well as other chemicals and pesticides. Thus began her studies of raw foodism, and her mission to create RMS Beauty, the award-winning line of all-natural makeup. Read her journey, and see if you don’t learn a thing or two about forging your own path in the face of adversity.
What were your ambitions growing up?
I always had an eye for fashion and elegance. My mom was a designer; she used to design wedding and evening gowns. She taught me how to sew. I got to doing really advanced tailoring and wanted to go to design college. I got in, and on the first day, they wanted us to sew tea towels. I said no way! They told me that no matter my skills, I had to start at the beginning. So I walked out of the school and never went back.
What happened once you dropped out?
I started playing around with makeup more. I was always doing my sister’s makeup and hair. And my sister knew a fellow who owned a lot of hotels in Vancouver. Now this was the '70s; hotels had bars with dancers and poles, but it was more like burlesque. So I’d go in and do [the dancers'] makeup. They’d always want the products that I used on them, which I got from a little label-free company in Vancouver. I would buy these little bits of makeup for 80 cents and sell them for four of five dollars. I’ve always been a little entrepreneurial.
How did you transition into editorial work?
It was a complete fluke. The owner of the place from where I was buying the makeup suggested me for a job at Vancouver magazine. I just went and I did it. The cover was so successful that I kept getting jobs. I stopped doing [dancers] really fast after that! Soon I wanted to branch out, so I moved to Toronto. I would help models put their portfolios together, and for a long time I didn’t get paid. But it was the photographers—they liked my work. They didn’t know I had zero formal training. It was a catalog photographer that suggested me for jobs in Europe. I went back and forth for a while before moving to Miami in 1990, when all the catalogs started shooting there. But eventually I was becoming the catalog queen. So to distance myself from that, I moved to New York about a year later. It threw me for a bit of a loop, but in a good way. I had great luck—photographers kept introducing me to other photographers. All of a sudden, I’m working with Mario Sorrenti.
Were you ever intimidated on set?
I faked my way through those years. Because when people can tell you’re not confident, you’re busted. People like it when you have a strong opinion. It didn’t occur to me to be insecure, because I didn’t think I was really doing anything big.
But you were doing something so big! Did you love working as a makeup artist in New York City?
Yes. I’d been working almost two decades when I got sick; I started feeling unwell constantly. I went to the doctor for extensive blood work, and they found high levels of toxins in my body. It prompted me to become a raw foodist. For a while, I only wanted to focus on that—no more beauty. But then I realized it was possible to combine those interests. I remember when I was working with Victoria’s Secret models in the early 2000’s, instead of using putting petroleum all over them [to make their legs appear shiny for a shoot] I came in with jojoba oil. It’s a yellow wax that melts into an oil, and it would give the most beautiful glow on the skin thanks to its warm tone. Models told me how soft their skin was at the end of the day, whereas petroleum would dry them out. It was that sort of thing that inspired me to start making little products. I came to realize that as long as I used the highest quality raw ingredients, I could create [natural] products that rivaled the performance of mainstream makeup. That’s how RMS Beauty was born.
Now your business is nearly ten years old, and your products are sold through the likes of Bluemercury and Sephora.com. Are you still working as a makeup artist, or focusing on growing your line even more?
Today I’m way more into my brand than I ever was about doing makeup. It’s the first time in my life that I really feel confident about something I'm doing. It's mine—I'm completely in control. On set, I wasn’t in control of the lighting; I wasn’t in control of the styling. Now, I make the decisions, and I like that. I’m so proud of this brand. When women tell me they’re switching to my brand—or any natural brand, for that matter—that’s what makes me happy.