Joining a zoom call at 6 pm on a Monday evening, it was instantly apparent who was there to greet me on the other side of the screen. While I, sat in my joggers and fashioning a zero-makeup lockdown look, Rea Ann Silva, CEO, and founder of Beautyblender, appeared on the call.
With a glistening Beautyblender statue behind her and a portrait on the wall featuring the famous pink tear drop, not to mention the fabulous pink wallpaper, it was clear I was ‘virtually’ present in the room where a lot of magic happens. It only took a couple minutes to become deeply enthralled in hearing, from the woman who created it herself, where, why and how was the Beautyblender born.
Learning about her journey to success was nothing but inspiring to listen to. However, it was the last question I asked Rea Ann ‘What is the true message behind Beautyblender?’ that resonated with me the most. “As a makeup artist, it’s my job to look at everyone’s face and to find the beauty in you. And I think makeup should help you see that beauty in yourself. Makeup should make you feel better and that’s what I want Beautyblender to do. I think that’s why it works.”
As a tool that has completely revolutionised the makeup industry, for professionals and the everyday user, Rea Ann made it very clear that the little pink sponge was a product made out of necessity. To find an effortless solution to a challenge that many artists faced in Hollywood. With over 30 years of experience, it was Rea Ann’s job as the head makeup artist on the show, Girlfriends, (starting Tracee Ellis Ross) that acted as the catalyst to the birth of Beautyblender. As the first show in Hollywood to be shot in HD, it opened up an entire new realm of difficulties for makeup artists.
“It was a whole new world for makeup,” says Rea Ann. “Suddenly you saw everything; you saw skin textures, you saw bad makeup. So, they wanted to hire a makeup artist who knew how to airbrush.” While airbrushing was a valuable skill for makeup artists, it was never practical so lead to many on set hurdles. “You needed electricity, meaning you’d had to grab your actor and bring them off stage. So, I had to find a way to maintain the beautiful makeup we created in the morning.”
After taking a class lead by one of Hollywood’s lead MUA’s Kelcey Fry, something stuck with Rea Ann in how natural makeup looks could be achieved. Heading to her on set trailer, it became Rea Ann’s mission to create a cure to her problem. “I started thinking and experimenting with sponge material”, says Rea Ann. “The sponge is the most well-known beauty tool, besides the powder brush, but it had never been evolved before.” As a product commonly shaped as a wedge or flat pancake, Rea Ann started to create her own side kick by cutting and removing the sharp edges of the sponge to create a flawless and airbrush looking complexation. Of course, this was the moment where I interjected to ask… ‘Hang on, literally cutting? With scissors?’ “Yes! I would sit there with my scissors cutting out the triangle shape of the sponge to make it into a tear trop, and that’s how I first created the Beautyblender”, revealed Rea Ann. However, for Rea Ann, designing a tool that her fellow brother and sister MUA’s would understand was a dream in itself, let alone it booming into the famous consumer product it is today. “You make plans and god laughs, right.”
For you, what was that moment of realisation you knew Beautyblender had taken off?
“I can clearly say that being able to have a company like Sephora pay attention was huge. There’s no greater power. But really it was the acknowledgement from my professional community and the retailers that service us.” Often Makeup Artists and creatives in the industry won’t go to public retailers but will shop at professional services who have an inventory of commonly purchased set products and designer makeup. “20 years ago, these stores only really existed in America, so for them to recognise Beautyblender so any professional in the world could use them was really special”, explained Rea Ann.
However, coming from a makeup community and union where information is shared and trade secrets are valued, creating a tool that could be celebrated amongst her peers sits at the heart of Rea Ann’s journey. “It wasn’t a financial success at the time so to have a professional to a professional ask about the sponges, where and how they could get them, was huge. And then to have it in stores where they could be supplied to my fellow brothers and sisters was a step further.”
What were the biggest challenges and learning curves you faced through bringing up Beauty Blender?
“There are certain rules about transitioning into being a businessperson that you have to know. For me personally, it was getting Beautyblender made.” Putting a concept into action was where the challenge really began. There was nothing else like Beautyblender, no competitors and no machine that even knew how to make it. Rea Ann created a whole new category.
“There as not setup manufacturer that I could go to. They didn’t exist so I had to figure out my own machinery. I worked with engineers to figure out how to shape Beautyblender from such a soft material. Then after that it was scaling, then forecasting and the financial part. I didn’t go to business school, I was an artist, so challenges came with that.”
How have you handled rejection?
“When I was bringing out Beautyblender, people weren’t used to having to pay for a sponge so at first people didn’t understand it. I had to talk a lot and explain to people who I was and used the success I had had as a makeup artist to validate myself before people would even look at Beautyblender.”
Before the time of Beautyblender, or even before makeup tools had truly been evolved, makeup sponges were provided as courtesy or practical freebie with a power or foundation. And let’s be real, often a tool that would be thrown to the bottom of your makeup bag. So when it came to growing the Beautyblender, bouncing back from rejection was not unfamiliar to Rea Ann; learning quickly that having thick skin was the only way forward. “As a makeup artist its your job to get people to see things through your eyes so don’t take things personally. You either align with people or you don’t.” As a woman who has built a powerhouse business from the ground up, invented an iconic product and revolutionised the cosmetics market Rea Ann has learnt to live in the land of yes after climbing her own hurdles with rejection. And it a mantra we should all live by. “I tell my team now; I don’t live in the land of no so if you work for me you can’t live in the land of no either. You’re there to tell me when my ideas are crazy, but you have to consider them. And then tell me why we can’t.”
For young entrepreneurs starting out, what is one thing they shouldn’t feel ashamed of in doing at the beginning?
“One of the characteristics I see a lot is passion. With a young entrepreneur they need to have it in order to push their product forward and sometimes that product can become a little misguided; because the passion is pushing them. And sometimes that passion will prevent the person from asking questions because passion lets you have foresight, lets you dream and lets you see what success looks like in the future.” She described it as “flying on a high note”.
“Sometimes passion stops you from asking questions as you’re too shy to say you’re unsure, I think that’s really dangerous because I think failure is the best teacher. I know that’s a little cliche to say but it’s the truth. You never learn more than when you fail.”
Since starting Beautyblender, do you think the industry has practiced enough inclusivity?
“I’ve been in this industry at some level for 30 years, so I have seen how far we’ve come. I’ve seen the growth and I am proud of it but there is always more work to be done.” Working as a makeup artist in Hollywood, Rea Ann became very popular for her ability to mix different skin tones in a time where there were limited shades in a shade range. “When diversity became a topic, we often tend to use inclusivity as just catering to black communities, which is amazing, but we need more than that. We need shade ranges for Hispanic communities, Indian communities, Asian communities, people who have very pale skin. They create a whole new beautiful shade range. You can create an infinite range because no one is alike.”
“I think we are understanding, we’re learning, we’ve had some hard lesson but there’s more to do. As long as we as humans are evolving, there is always going to be more to consider.”
After 2020, how do you think the beauty industry is changed and where do you see it going?
“Everything has changed in the beauty industry this year, but I don’t think it’s all bad. What 2020 has done has shaken us all by the collar and made us look at what we prioritize our own expectations of beauty”, says Rea Ann. Its safe to say that 2020 has given us plentiful time to focus on what means most in beauty and has allowed us to strip back to the basics. With our Friday nights predominantly consumed of Netflix binges, lockdown has changed our perspective on what natural beauty is. “We are learning to be more thoughtful about the products we use and how they affect the environment and social-economic situation. Now I think we have gotten to a place where health and wellness is key. Because health is your wealth.”
“Before 2020 we were doing excess, excess, excess and now I think we have gone back to lighter more natural looks; as makeup is there to enhance what you already have.” However, while natural beauty has stood at the forefront of 2020, Rea Ann predicts that 2021 will bring back the glam we missed this year. “I think there will be a return to the luxury of excess, but I think with a different sensitivity. Makeup is fun so if you want to play it up, play it up! Wear a lot of makeup, change your wig, wear different colours.”
We all know Beautyblender to be that makeup bag staple sparking the ‘what was life-like before’ memory. However, its rise to fame was not at all expected for Rea Ann. “Beautyblender was just a beautiful distraction for me. Fundamentally at my core I am a makeup artist, and I intent to create makeup.” 2 years ago Rea Ann went from creating a category to completely changing the game in the foundation world. Launching 40 shades of her long-lasting, buildable, silky-smooth BOUNCE foundation, Rea Ann took on complexion. “This for me is the ultimate, so complexion is what I want to do in terms of what’s new”, says Rea Ann. “I’ve also launched concealers in 40 shades.” [Expected UK release in 2021] “As we’re all wearing masks now, I think concealer is a really important product. Now, my plan is to really drill down with complexion. I want to give you something to use your Beautyblender with.”
As a small, yet mighty, blending sponge, that has made morning glam that much easier, I almost have a need to say thank you to the woman who has defined our generation of beauty. What started as a desire to perfect her craft, turned into a global empire. Even through a laptop I was inspired by Rea Ann’s drive, enthusiasm and passion for doing what she loves. And if one thing’s for sure, it was certainly left on a cliff hanger. Nothing can be revealed, but something exciting is brewing away in the Beautyblender office. And we couldn’t be more ready.
Quick Fire Questions with Rea Ann:
How often should you actually wash your Beautyblender?
Every day. You just put it next to your toothbrush, you brush your teeth, while the waters on get the Beautyblender wet, rub it around in soap, squeeze it out and you’re done.
How often should you replace your Beautyblender?
We’ve done a lot of analysis on this and we say every 3 months.
What do you say to people who pull out the scissors on their Beautyblenders?
Go for it. Its time intensive. Your fingers will get sore eventually.
What skincare product can you absolutely not live without?
Well there’s two. I can’t live without my La Prairie balancing lotion and without my Sulwhasoo moisturizer. Its ridiculously expensive but worth every penny.
Do you have a morning ritual that sets you up ready for the day?
I do. Its probably not the healthiest ritual but I wake up I look at my phone because I have offices in different time zones so I get information all the time, so i make sure there are no fires, the world is not coming apart then I go make coffee and everything else is auto drive after that. I was my face, brush my teeth, i work out first thing in the morning and then I just start my day. I need coffee, whoever invented coffee should be recognized for it.
Finally, how many Beautyblender’s do you keep in your bag?
This is the most ironic question I’ve ever been asked. I’m about to make a disclaimer here. I am very fortunate that I have thousands of Beautyblender’s at my disposal and because of that I often find myself without one. I will travel somewhere and think where is my Beautyblender?
Interview and words by: Clare Stephenson