To the Next Generation She-EO’s: Be Curious, Take Initiative, and Take Risks
- Written By:Bobbi Brown
- Photography:Henry Leutwyler
People ask me, “How’d you do it?" My story is one of constantly taking both initiative and some risks.
After attending two colleges, I announced to my mother that I wanted to drop out of school. I found college really boring. She asked me, “If today was your birthday and you could do anything you wanted, what would you do?” This question changed my life. I answered immediately: "I'd go to the department store and play with makeup." "Well that’s what you should study in school”, my mom replied.
Through research, asking a lot of questions, and LUCK (never discount the importance of luck) I found Emerson College in Boston. At Emerson, I was able to create a major in theatrical makeup. I realized that I could make my own rules (sometimes) and that I really liked making them up. (No pun intended). This for me was the first step in becoming an entrepreneur. I just didn't know it.
At Emerson, I loved school for the first time in my life. I immersed myself into everything makeup related. Then I graduated and I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do. I didn't have a job, and didn’t know what career path to follow. I got a waitressing job to pay my rent, while I planned my next move. After a year, I was ready. I somehow knew I had to be in NYC to have a career in makeup. It was time for me to take a big risk and move there, without any contacts and not knowing a soul.
I got a tiny apartment in the West Village with help from my dad. I printed business cards, and did everything I could think of to break into the business. Nothing was beneath me. I was determined. I opened up the yellow pages (so old school) and started cold calling anyone I found in my field. I called modeling agencies who connected me to the new model board that arranged photo shoots in exchange for pictures. I called the makeup artist union who quickly told me that if you were not legacy, or born into a union family, it could take 10 years to get in. I called fashion magazines and photographers and went to see anyone who agreed to see me.
Then one day I read a story in a magazine about a well-known freelance makeup artist who worked with all the top designers and photographers. I wanted to be her, or work for her, or at least meet her. I called her to offer my assistance for free. I left a message, but she never called back. On her voice mail was the name and phone number of her agent. I took the initiative and called him and unbelievably, he agreed to see me. I showed him my portfolio of work I had done in college and it didn’t impress him. But I was nice, and persistent, and he offered to help. My enthusiasm and naivety must have gotten to him because he began calling me to assist on jobs, and eventually replace his makeup artists who called in sick or were unavailable for jobs.
We risk failing by being afraid to do things out of our comfort zone. The fear of being embarrassed, or embarrassing ourselves. The agent could have laughed at me, rejected me, or just hung up the phone. But he didn't. Only by being FEARLESS, and doing scary things, can we grow and advance.
One day at a party I met a woman who was a cosmetics buyer for Bergdorf Goodman. I took the initiative and right then and there pitched her the idea of my 10 brown-based lipsticks created by a working makeup artist. The store committed. We invested every last penny we had at the time. There was the risk we would fail, that we could lose all the money we had, but we were willing to take it. We launched the 10 lipsticks at Bergdorf Goodman in. We were hoping to sell 100 in the first month but sold 100 the first day. It was only then that I began to believe that this was a real company.
I didn't know I was actually starting a company, or at the beginning of building a global brand. I certainly didn’t have a business education, or the wherewithal to hire marketing consultants. I don't think I even knew what they did. What I did know was that I had a strong opinion, and I was confident in myself. This was initiative. I just didn't know it.
Everything was a challenge when I started my business because I honestly didn't even know I was starting one! All I wanted to do was create lipsticks that looks like the color of women’s lips, I had no idea it would become what it did. I had to learn everything about what running a business meant, I didn't even know what PR was! Thank god I had my husband who has extraordinary business acumen to help me.
My advice to young people is to work really hard, don’t give up, and be nice to everyone. As long as you take initiative, and risks, and are open to what opportunities come your way, you never know what doors will open for you.