Founder Interview: Stephanie Lewis Unmasks the Glamour Industry

March 22, 2021

By: Emily

Founder Interview: Stephanie Lewis Unmasks the Glamour Industry
Stephanie's Journey into Entrepreneurship

5 or 6 years ago, after she graduated from Cosmetic School, Stephanie got her first-ever retail job in makeup… and she hated it. After she graduated, she realized sales wasn't for her, even though she loved socializing and doing peoples' makeup. Throughout the whole experience, she felt like she needed to be doing something more, and it pushed her to change her career path and start her own social media brand.

When she first started her Instagram, Stephanie was posting pictures every single day. She was passionate about the entire process, from doing makeup to taking pictures and thinking of a feed layout. As she continued with enthusiasm, her following started to grow steadily; that's when Stephanie realized that this could be a potential career.

Now at the time, she would never post pictures of her makeup brushes because they were so "black and boring." It was the one thing she wanted to hide since it didn't go with everything else's aesthetics. She started to slowly get frustrated at the market gap until she realized she could fill it herself. She had the idea that our beauty brushes should be just as GLAM as our makeup collection.

When Stephanie was still working in retail, she spent every spare minute trying to figure the brand out, down to the look and feel. Stephanie had been "girly" since she could remember and always loved jewels, so when the idea struck her, she knew she hit gold - her brushes were going to have twin jewels on them. In fact, she is proud that today her brand stands out as jewelled beauties from the rest. And when she had twins, years later, Stephanie knew it was all meant to be.

She began creating her collection of glam beauty brushes out of love for all things pink and jewelled. The brushes started in 2014, and in that first year, they were featured in Ipsy's glam bags. As for her social branding, Stephanie always loved posting glam photos and videos on social media. Within no time, she built a strong following, amounting to around 300,000 followers each, on Instagram and YouTube.

Taking that Leap of Faith

Stephanie always knew she wanted her own brand someday but never knew what it was going to be.

"I honestly leaped faith… When you're in a place where you're unhappy, or you don't like your career path, or you feel like you should be doing something more, most likely, you should be doing something more. You should be doing something you're passionate about and that you love."

She can still vividly remember just how miserable she was; she couldn't stand working in retail, didn't like where she was going, and just felt like she was nowhere near her potential. So when she planned to go her own way, she put her all into it. She started tested her samples and got her product going; it all clicked in place. Looking back, she doesn't even like her first set brush set anymore; Shepthanie states that each step, everything is a learning curve.

"Your first product isn't going to a niche product that lasts for 10-15 years. You're going to expand on that, and you're going to get better over the years."

Stephanie spent a lot of time finding the right manufacturer before actually developing the brand. She states that the beginning stages are the longest, but it's also what will drive and motivate you to where you want to be. Once she found the perfect match of manufacturer and product, it was time to leap.

Stephanie quit her job and started working full-time on her business. Even though social media drove it at the time, she knew that her 10,000 followers would believe in her, purchase the product, and follow the brand. And that's exactly what happened.

"Every piece of my brand has been a milestone and a stepping stone to where I want to go. I never forget where I was."

When she started, 5 years ago, Stephanie invested every dime she saved on the launch, and she will never forget her climb from anything, giving her all to reach success. Throughout her journey, her husband has played a vital role, and he helped her pursue her brand to the fullest mentally and financially; he even invested in her when she needed it. When Ipsy approached Stephanie to add her brushes to their glam bags, she was ecstatic. She invested all her own money into production, and the sales were huge.

With its success, Ipsy placed an even larger order opening a huge window of opportunity for her brand, but this was something she could never afford independently. This is where her husband invested in the brand, and the project was a success, and now Stephanie continues to work with them, providing for their 20 million+ subscribers.

Starting SL Glam

When she first started, Stephanie offered both lashes and brushes, along with other products. But one thing she learned throughout the years is to focus on one product and give it your all; Stephanie chose what she was most passionate about - brushes.

"When you have too many things, it can kinda take away from really focusing on your product line."

This is when she really started expanding her line into brush books, brush kits, and sets. After that, Stephanie slowly went into makeup bags; She states that once you start on a few different lines, you'll be able to expand on it.

Dealing with the struggles of first-time entrepreneurship

When you're shipping a product, and it's travelling either by air or sea, countless factors could go wrong. In fact, when Stephanie was sending a shipment out, the shipping company went bankrupt, and her heart stopped. That was the first time she ever doubted her brand's potential, but in the end, everything was sorted, and all the products were shipped respectfully.

"Having your own business is an amazing feeling, but also it has a lot of stress to it as well."

Stephanie started uploading on her channel when she still worked in retail, her first video featured her makeup collection, and it grew from there. When people ask about starting a YouTube Channel, her only advice is "just start, and it doesn't matter what you're doing."

"My first video is not up right now because it was terrible, but at least I got there and made a presentation and got going. That really is what it is, even with your own business; you need to start today and try."

Another hard-hitting event for Stephanie and her brand was a huge fraudulent order on her website. Towards the beginning, she received a large wholesale order, and she was excited, to say the least. But it was not legitimate, it was done through a stolen credit card, and her advice to all the people who have Shopify is this.

"Look into the high, fraudulent orders, and if it pops up, do not ever accept it."

Similarly, other instances taught Stephanie exactly what to look out for in the future. These were situations she never knew could happen; in the beginning, she was excited to start and watch her brand grow, and she never realized them until it happened.

"It's a learning experience… I've learned to look out for myself and look out for those that have been there since the beginning."

Growing a following, and its influence on the business

Stephanie's followers have been a huge part of her life since the beginning, and she even knows a lot of them by name. Her biggest priority is being interactive with them, unlike major brands that take months to respond; Stephanie makes sure that her followers, subscribers, and customers, all the people who have been there since the beginning, feel appreciated.

"It's a big thing for me, knowing I've had followers since the day I started, that have been turned into my customers, and have been with me for the last 6-8 years. It's just crazy to think that no matter what I launch or do, they are still supportive."

Stephanie states that no matter what following you have, you need to appreciate and give lots of time to those people. She believes that's how she was able to grow so rapidly on her platforms. Stephanie also made many friends in the industry, other YouTubers who had started where she was from. They all supported each other and grew together; they did collaborations and helped each other's brands grow.

"No matter what you do, I think you have to support other people… that's how you really get your name and grow your business."

With YouTube alone, there's an organic presence where people get to know the real you more than any other social platform. In fact, Stephanie believes it's the number one platform globally because people can see you face to face: they know and feel your pain and watch your journey. This is another factor Stephanie states is vital for your business; if you want to be your brand's face, people need to really know you genuinely.

Having your life on social media

Stephanie started with a love for social media, so of course, she loves being on Instagram, scrolling through the app, and looking through people's feeds. She does, however, also go through those peaks when she needs a break, but to her, it's more peaceful than most; her following understands that and gives her the space she needs.

Stephanie almost feels like she's running two businesses side-by-side to grow SL Glam while raising twin girls. So the occasional breaks from social media are much appreciated to get back into a motivating rhythm.

"It's a love, hate relationship."

Many people don't realize the amount of work that actually goes into having and growing a personal brand. Just coming up with new content every day is not easy. As Stephanie gets up and prepares her latte, it's become a routine for people to follow along with her morning routine.

"It gets exhausting cause you always feel like you need to be on."

That being said, ever since Stephanie has been more open about her stresses and real-life situations, people have been more understanding towards her not being present 24/7.

Stephanie's Struggle with Alopecia

Stephanie has had Alopecia since she was 5 years old. She states that it's straightforward to hide it from the public. Personally, she has used hair extensions, clip-ins, and everything imaginable for 15 years + to hide it. Stephanie never really accepted the situation until she had her twins, when she had postpartum hair loss on top of her Alopecia, so during that time, she lost almost all of her hair.

"People need to know that, even if people have the most stunning brand, the gorgeous presence on Instagram; they all have their own struggles, that they deal with behind closed doors."

That's why Stephanie feels it's necessary to be as real and organic as she can be on Instagram. The majority only see social media in one way - the positive, utopian side of reality, but that's not always the case.

"People crave vulnerability."

When Stephanie came out, she could tell by the response (from emails, DMs, and messages) that people appreciate someone with her following opening up to the world, showing her insecure side, something she struggles with daily. The amount of response she got from people who suffer from Alopecia and other diseases and struggles was truly overwhelming for Stephanie. It really is a normal thing to be human.

The whole experience of putting herself out there was one of the hardest Stephanie ever had to do in terms of being on social media. In fact, when she made the video, she battled back and forth for days, contemplating whether she should post it. But once she did, it was a sign of relief.

"I'll never forget that feeling during the first 5 minutes of people's positivity and the love I got from that. I would do it a hundred times over again. That's why I've been so open… I want people to realize no life is perfect."

It's easy for pictures to look a certain way, to look perfect. And when it does, Stephanie knows it's time to be more real and talk about the things she deals with daily. She believes that this is where YouTube plays a vital role. It's practically a whole different world for her; it's a place she can talk and express what she's feeling, whether it's about her Alopecia struggles or daily struggles of being a mom.

Finding the balance between work and family

Stephanie states that to date, this has been her biggest struggle - finding a balance. Stephanie manages to keep her passion alive by learning and working on things she's passionate about in her business and YouTube channel. On the other hand, she spends as much time devoted to her children, when she can and when they need it. She continues to find the right balance between being the best mom and the best businesswoman.

Stephanie has Roda, who has been working for her for over 4 years in terms of workload. She has become a huge staple both in Stephanie's company and life. Practically every person that interacts with the brand knows her by name. Roda is a single mom who believes in Stephanie's brand and has been an inspiration and a friend to Stephanie over the years she's known her.

Recently, she has started to expand a little and hired a few people, like a video editor. Editing takes over 8 hours, and Stephanie felt like this was the best decision she made. After she gave birth to her twins, her days were jam-packed, with taking care of them, editing the videos, designing a line, posting on Instagram, and creating content for YouTube; it was too much.

"I can not do this myself. I think that's when you start to realize you're growing a little bit. You need to get help, to help make that jump."

Now she posts 2 videos a week and has free time to concentrate on other things. She has more time to spend with the girls and growing in general, both professionally and personally. She believes it's important to acknowledge when you need help and take that much-needed step to grow. People often think of their business as their baby and don't want to hire people; to that, Stephanie says that a vital part of expanding is supporting and collaborating to build something.

Being part of a YouTube Community vs. Competition

Especially with YouTube, Stephanie is part of a YouTuber community in makeup, and they all support each others' brands. Unlike most sponsorships where there are a few, the girls promote each other's products out of genuine love for them, and Stephanie does the same.

"You can create relations or have more of a brand figure. For me, I've always wanted to create relationships and do this because I really love it, while also building it like a business."

When it comes to competition, Stephanie has run into quite a few in the community. Not in terms of being competitive, but more towards copying her work out of spite. This was some time ago, and although that happened, it showed Stephanie that people would buy her product because they know her and how hard she worked to get there.

"I definitely think there are competitors, but I don't really focus on it, to be honest. I work on my own things, create my own things and focus on what I love."

This is an element she has always loved about herself. Her drive was what got Stephanie to where she is today; she was never the best in school, never studied business or marketing. All she did was go to cosmetology school. She explains that her passion and drive got her to success; she will not stop until she gets things done.

Stephanie believes that no matter what, as long as you have the drive and the passion, that's what will take you off. The rest, you'll figure it out; it's all a learning curve, the good the bad.

"I've gone through so many bad situations, and I've learned through them all. And I think that's really where you grow, is through your struggles… that's where you're going to grow the most."

Stephanie states that it was because of all the hardships they faced that her company could grow to where it is today.

Collaborations and Sponsorships on YouTube

As a YouTuber, Stephanie would love to collaborate with Too-Faced. She has been a huge fan of the brand from day 1 - her original post featured all Too-Faced products. To date, most of her makeup reviews or products she featured in her videos are Too-faced. She states that the brand goes well with what she does and would love to collaborate with them.

As a brand, Stephanie talks about Liz Heart (MissLizHeart). Now they've had a partnership before, she's one of Stephanie's greatest friends, and she's obsessed with her brand as well. They actually started their Instagram around the same time, so they both have been a part of each other's lives for 8 years now. Liz today is close to 6.5k subscribers on YouTube; Stephanie states that Liz is passionate about what she does; she puts in the time and effort to level up.

So when it comes to collaboration, Stephanie always comes back to Liz. They've already launched a brush set together and are coincidentally working on a product right now.

Recently, Stephanie has been featured in UsWeekly Magazine; she states that this shows just how influential YouTubers really are today. People really respect and trust YouTubers and their opinion - if they like something, they're going to buy it. Similarly, Stephanie would never show her audience something she doesn't like; she'd only speak about products she supports and believes her community will also like.

To her, YouTube is like her second job. Stephanie can see the platform's potential career, going back to Ipsy; that's how they found her through her channel.

"At that time, I had 10,000 followers, and now I almost have 300,000 on YouTube. It just goes to show - You have to continue with your journey and really know it will lead you to something great… so don't give up."

As she's grown on the platform, Stephanie has been approached by several brands offering a sum to promote their product. Even though she's grateful to be recognized, she always knew she could never be a money-hunger with YouTube; hence she turned down multiple opportunities because she knew they weren't a good fit.

"Wait until the right opportunities come, cause your following will grow with you, and you have to be patient with it. Cause if you're one of those YouTubers, that's so money hungry…. It's not going to be the best thing for you."

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