Meet Anisa Telwar-Kaicker, the Woman Behind Some of the Most Popular Makeup Brushes

Even after 30 years in the industry, she's still an innovator.

BEAUTY BOSS: Anisa Beauty
Photo:

Anisa Beauty/ InStyle

Did you use a makeup brush today? If you just nodded your head yes, odds are it was designed by Anisa Telwar-Kaicker, a powerhouse who’s been the primary innovator in the makeup brush industry for three decades. But chances are you've yet to discover who she is.

That’s because Telwar-Kaicker spent the first 25 years of her career designing and white-labeling brushes which have been sold to you, the consumer, by pretty much every major brand you can think of, like MAC, Trish McEvoy, Sonia Kashuk, Sephora Collection, and Revlon to name a few. In fact, Anisa works with more than 700 different brands and is the design genius behind 65% of the brushes with a 4.9 star rating or higher on sephora.com (how’s that for an impressive stat?). Her company ships out more than 20 million makeup brushes each year from a sustainable manufacturing facility she owns in China. In addition to her B2B business, in 2019, Telwar-Kaicker launched Anisa Beauty, a direct-to-consumer brand and her first foray into selling brushes directly to individuals.

But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let's go back to the start.

Telwar-Kaicker started Anisa International in 1992 at the age of 24, after working in imports and exports at her mother’s international trade company for seven years prior. She didn’t even have a college degree, but what she did have was tenacity, one heck of a work ethic, a creative eye, and a healthy dose of innate business savvy.

“When my mother’s company dissolved, I had a friend whose family manufactured cosmetic brushes, and I asked if I could try to market the brushes. I told him, ‘I need you to sell them to me, but when I get paid, I’ll pay you.’”

So with no credit line, no mission statement, and a few samples, as she tells it, Telwar-Kaicker started reaching out to the largest cosmetic organizations in the world selling stock brushes. Soon, she got business from a little brand called Revlon (no big deal). Then she began designing.

“As I began to think about how I could survive, and how I could add value to the industry, I started thinking about artistry brushes and how to make brushes more valued, but also the end consumer," she says. "Not everyone is a makeup artist, but everyone needs brushes. So I started making these brushes and telling brands, ‘This is what your everyday customer wants’, and some people started to believe me.”

We caught up with Telwar-Kaicker on the heels of the 30th anniversary of her pioneering company to learn more about her brand and what continues to make it stand apart.

InStyle: After 27 years with a B2B business model, you launched Anisa Beauty, your first direct to consumer line, in 2019. What made you decide to branch out after so long?

Anisa Telwar-Kaicker: The landscape was changing, and you had makeup artists and celebrities launching brush collections and not everyone was walking into MAC anymore. I was also showing innovation and my partners weren’t really taking it, so I needed another platform to show my partners that people want what I’m innovating. I was just somebody selling brushes for 20 years, but now I’m actually able to prove what people want. Now after Anisa Beauty’s Pinnacle Foundation brush has been so popular, soon you’ll see the patented Pinnacle Foundation Brush design being sold by other brands, too.

You also launched a line of skincare brushes with Anisa Beauty in 2020 — a first for the industry. What was your process for developing the idea?

When you look at the skincare products we use, they are so amazing and have so much efficacy and are so innovative, and a lot of people use skincare more than makeup, so it was a natural progression for me to start thinking about what tool you want to apply all that amazing skincare. The proper tool would provide a more even application, maximize product penetration, help with the skincare layering process, and it really helps you be more invested in that moment [of self-care] when you apply your skincare. But it also has to be made completely differently, down to the glue that holds the fibers in place, because the acids and oils in skincare can break down the regular glue. So I really dug into this concept.

You have more than 90 patented and patent-pending brush designs, and your new Crescent Brush and Primer Brush for eyes are unlike anything else I’ve seen. How do you manage to continually innovate in such a saturated market?

I love making a difference in people’s beauty routines. You have to stop and think about what type of product people are using and then the pick-up and pay off different head shapes, fibers, and even the type of handle will give them. And now with the direct connections we have with customers, we have feedback from the people using brushes, and that input helps fuel the creative process, as well.

You spearheaded the idea of making makeup brushes cruelty-free, patented the first cruelty-free brush designs, and transitioned the industry from using animal hair. What was that process like?

When I started in the industry, all brushes were made out of sable and squirrel hair, and when I found out how the animals were killed, I knew it had to stop, but no one would consider moving away from animal fibers. So I first started to bring in other fibers from animals that were killed for food, and finally transitioned to not using animal fibers at all. Fortunately, people were starting to become more sensitive to the issue of animal cruelty, and it became an easier sell as time went by. Of course now, brands want that PETA certification.

Anisa International is based in Atlanta, which isn’t exactly the beauty capital of the world. Why did you decide to make this city the headquarters?

I moved to Atlanta for personal reasons as I was building this business, and while I probably "should have" moved to New York or LA, the airport here works well for an international company. I have definitely had to move people here to get the right people on my team, but I’m constantly telling people "beauty lives in Atlanta, too!" We want people to know that!

Giving back to underserved communities has always been a part of your business model at Anisa International, as has social responsibility in general. Since the summer of 2020, when people started holding businesses more accountable about equality, diversity, and inclusion, you have been very vocal about what your company is doing to progress further.

Businesses are stewards when it comes to their people. And as business leaders, founders, and owners who have a platform to speak, how can we not speak to equality and injustice and not do everything we can to make a difference? I am the leader of a global organization, and the people in my company were and are impacted by inequality and injustice, and that’s really scary. So I want people to know not only what we’re doing to constantly improve the culture of this company for everyone who works here, but also where we invest and contribute. Because local and global injustices matter to me, and I will always be transparent about what I support.  

You have three decades worth of successes, but what are you most proud of when it comes to the empire you’ve built?

Building my own plant in China was a pretty big deal. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done to build a manufacturing plant in a foreign country, but it gave me the ability to have a global culture at my company and have complete control over the products I make. Everything is ethically-made with safe, responsible manufacturing, and I have 400 employees there. Anisa Beauty is my second great pride. It was terrifying, having always been behind the scenes, but I get such joy when I see a person from Ohio bought $100 worth of my brushes. I get so excited, and I want to know how she heard about the brand and what she thinks about her purchase. It gives me great pride when people like what we create.

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