While the Oscars is still facing something of a diversity crisis, in recent years, African American talent seems to have been taking the beauty industry by storm. Black makeup artists and hair stylists are climbing to the top of the beauty ranks working with some of the most powerful people in America (such as Johnny Wright on hair for Michelle Obama and Sir John on makeup for Queen Bey). The natural beauty boom has also given way for African American entrepreneurs to create products with women of color's hair, skin, and makeup concerns in mind.
To kick off Black History Month, we introduce Black 'Herstory' Month, a weekly series to honor these very pioneers who have dedicated their careers to serving the African American community's beauty needs. First up, celebrity makeup artist Ashunta Sheriff.
Sheriff is a bona fide beauty veteran, having worked with world-renowned makeup artists Pat McGrath and Laura Mercier; award-winning musicians like Usher, Sean "Diddy" Combs, and Alicia Keys; and currently serves as Taraji P. Henson's makeup artist for her larger-than-life role on Fox's hit sitcom Empire. Girl's even created an eponymous line of beauty products available on ashuntasheriffbeauty.com!
We had the opportunity to catch up with Sheriff to reflect on her legendary career that lives on. Read on for a glimpse of her journey in the biz.
How did you get your start in the beauty industry?
I've been doing makeup for 20 years. I opened up New York City's Herald Square counter [in Macy's], which was 15 years ago, and then ended up working with Laura Mercier when her brand first launched. Back then, she would come into the stores and train the staff herself, which was phenomenal. She eventually pulled me onto her Fashion Week team and it grew from there. I went on to work with Charlie Green, Vincent Longo, and Pat McGrath who all helped develop my style of makeup as well as my work ethic. Each of them was different but they all thoroughly enjoyed the art form of makeup. It didn't seem like some arduous, mundane job. They genuinely loved making women feel beautiful. The idea of enjoying what you do is what I got from all four of those amazing artists.
Fast-forward 20 years, and things are looking pretty good for you! Aside from working with Taraji, what else do you have going on right now?
I have my Ashunta Sheriff Beauty brand, which launched a vegan foundation stick called the Perfect Blend Stick ($40, ashuntasheriffbeauty.com). We're small but growing steadily every day. I'm also working on a beauty book that's very fresh but in the works. And I'm continuing to educate young artists not just on the art form of makeup but about the business side of things and turning their artistry from a hobby into a career. When I became a makeup artist, there wasn't really anyone teaching this, so those jewels of wisdom came from my own experience. When you get into the side of makeup where you're dealing with high profile people, celebrities, and big corporations; the art form is minor compared to the business, and, sometimes, young artists don't understand that. This is where someone like me who's been in the industry for a long time can step in and teach them things that companies aren't going to tell them.
That's amazing. Tell us the story of your proudest moment in the beauty industry.
Completing multiple world tours with a multi-Grammy-award-winning artist like Alicia Keys is something I will always cherish. Not only do I have SkyMiles, I have amazing memories and I feel like my mind has opened up. I'm a little girl from Harlem with parents from Mississippi. To say that I've been to India, Greece, South Africa, New Zealand, and beyond is amazing. My mom, who was born in 1949, reared on a farm, and grew up picking cotton, is very proud of that. I love that I can say to her: "Look at what I've done from a dream and a vision."
Today, my proudest moment is that I've been nominated for a Makeup Artists & Hair Stylists Guild Award for Best Contemporary Makeup for Empire. That's a dream come true. I never would have thought that I'd be nominated for an award for a television show. It's myself and Beverly Jo Pryor, who is a great person that has taken me under her tutelage, that are nominated. As an African American woman who has worked in television for years, she's mentored me during my transition into TV and I'm really honored to be underneath her.
Congratulations! What is your ultimate career goal?
I'm building an empire one brick at a time. I tell my 16-year-old daughter that when she turns 25, she'll inherit what I've created and won't have to work for someone else because mommy will have built something that she can walk right into. That's what creating wealth is about. Creating companies and a future for our offspring so that they don't have to be worried about where they're going to work. It's not just what my kids can carry on, but what their children can carry on also. I see myself becoming a mogul. Becoming an author, maybe being an executive producer of a TV show, or even managing musicians and doing artist development (because I will say that from working with people like Alicia, Diddy, Usher, and Jay Z, I have a good ear for music). I don't think it takes having a master's degree in music to know what moves you.
And I definitely want to have a charitable aspect for young girls of color. I'm on a mission to get young black women to see that it's not their hair texture or complexion that makes them beautiful, it's their character and everything else is icing on the cake. We have a lot of work to do in the African American community when it comes to self-esteem and I want to help one young girl at a time. That's where my heart is. It all starts with Ashunta Sheriff Beauty, but you'll see everything grow from there.