Tolani Aremu did it afraid when she decided to move back to Nigeria to chase her passion. After her Undergraduate and Master’s degrees, she worked in corporate America and held a second job as a makeup artist with Mac. In 2013, she took the plunge that would launch her career as a beauty entrepreneur by relocating to Nigeria. It was a move she found daunting as she had to leave certainty (her job, the life that she knows) for uncertainty (starting from scratch). Let’s just say that her move paid off as she has been able to build her brand and carve a niche for herself in Nigeria’s beauty scene in a short space of time. From working her magic on private clients to creating polished looks on the set of different productions, Tolani has earned her bragging rights as a makeup artist of repute.
Some of the notable production works she’s done include: The Voice Nigeria, Skinny Girl In Transit, Rumour Has It. She has also done makeup on the set of music video shoots, photo shoots, campaigns for banks, telecommunication companies and various aspects of production.
Tolani took time out of her busy schedule to chat with us on how it all started and more…
On how makeup found her
Growing up, I was a tomboy- I loved sweatpants and Timberlands. I also didn’t know much about makeup, or anything beauty related. However, what I was interested in was hair, I love hair! While in college, I would make my own braids and sew-ins. When I was due to start college, I made a conscious effort to become more girly…I wanted a fresh start as I was going to be in a new environment and meet new people. I wanted to be able to put my best foot forward.
My interest in makeup became ignited when a friend invited me to her slumber party in my freshman year of College, she brought out her stash of makeup and offered to give us makeovers. I was amazed at the transformation that occurred. I was like: “So, you can make my brows look like this, you can do this with eyeshadows?” That’s when I really understood the power of makeup. After this experience, I started buying drugstore makeup to practise. I also watched a lot of product review videos and would rush out to get the latest “trendy” product and kept practising. My younger sister even became my muse, I would create different makeup looks on her.
On working for MAC Cosmetics
When I started to feel confident about my skills, I began to dream about working for Mac Cosmetics -back then working for Mac was every young makeup artist’s dream- but I thought, ‘what if I wasn’t good enough? I’ve only just started doing makeup!’ However, I didn’t let those thoughts deter me from chasing my dream, I went on to put in an application at one of their locations and later on got called for an interview.
Prior to the interview, I made sure to research their interview process but got a shocker on the day of the interview. I was completely shocked when the manager opened up the page of a magazine and asked me to recreate a look. I freaked out, but I didn’t let it show. I went for the interview with my younger sister (you’re expected to bring your model) and did my best to replicate the look in spite of the fact that the makeup look was so editorial, the model in the picture didn’t even have brows! A few days later, I was offered the job at MAC!
Working at MAC opened up a whole new world for me as the clientele was very diverse- in terms of ethnicity, skin-types, skin-tones, undertones…you name it. I had to learn very fast and adapt very quickly as I’d only ever done makeup on a dark-skinned person (my sister). That experience definitely shaped my career as a makeup artist. I also learnt a valuable trick from a colleague that I still use till today.
On moving back to Nigeria
I always knew I was going to be an entrepreneur, and I also knew that I would have to leave America to achieve that because the makeup industry in America is already so saturated whereas it is an emerging market in Nigeria. I moved back to Nigeria with a lot of encouragement from my mum. She kept telling me how young people were making moves in Nigeria, and she gave me regular updates about the makeup industry. I wasn’t a total stranger to Nigeria though. I lived in Nigeria until I was about ten or eleven, and I had been visiting Nigeria during the Christmas holidays for the past couple of years, but the power cuts, traffic and other social issues were a bit daunting.
In hindsight, there were so many other factors that made me hesitant about moving back; the fact that I had a pretty decent 9-5 job plus my side job at MAC, and I lived in a nice area… things were perfect for me. It was daunting to think that I would leave the life I had built for myself to move back in with my parents. But then I thought, “if I don’t do this now, I’ll never do it.”
On networking and getting herself out there
One of my fears of moving back stemmed from the fact that I didn’t attend secondary school in Nigeria, so I didn’t get a chance to have friends that knew me from way back, you know, the sort of friends that become life-friends. I had to meet people and network from scratch. Luckily for me, I met an old friend -that had also just moved back to Nigeria- at a wedding in Lagos ( it was actually my aunt’s wedding), and she was with her cousin who complimented my hair and wanted to know how she could get her hands on my exact type of extensions. My friend’s cousin actually became the first client of my premium hair line (I brought in premium extensions to sell as a back-up plan), and later became my makeup client. I also made sure I always looked the part when out and about, I didn’t compromise on my hair and makeup, I was a walking advertisement for my services. With time my clientele started to expand through referrals and meeting new people.
On carving her own niche in the Industry
I knew I didn’t want to go down the route of bridal makeup which is quite the norm in the Nigerian makeup scene. I wanted to do something different and carve my own niche. With that in mind, I considered production and got to talking to various agencies that were handling different productions and campaigns. It eventually paid off, and I got a call to do Simi’s (the artist’s) photo shoot. There I met with the photographer, her record label’s representatives and they (record label representatives) also introduced me to their Advertising Agency that handles other aspects of production like commercials, print works, billboards and so on… I really do enjoy doing makeup for production even though it’s quite demanding and involves a lot of travelling.
On her perception of beauty
Beauty is incredibly subjective, and everyone finds beauty in their own way. I think people shouldn’t be too critical of others when they do certain things that they don’t agree with. If someone likes a natural look and the other person like a bold look, it’s all down to personal preference, no one should be criticised for their beauty choices. I find beauty in anything and anyone… “I think beauty is what makes an individual unique…there’s something in everyone that the next person doesn’t have.”
On the evolution of Nigeria’s Makeup Industry
The industry has grown in leaps and bounds. People are more conscious about beauty, and I think there’s a fascination with makeup as people are utilising the services of makeup artists a lot more than ever.
On what drives her
What drives me has got to be the desire to be successful in anything I do. I have always been incredibly driven and ambitious with personal success being a driving force for me. I’d like like to think my entrepreneurial spirit is innate and also because of my parents who are both entrepreneurs. I grew up watching them grow their businesses and got inspired by their work ethic and ambition.
Her advice for aspiring makeup artists
Keep pushing. Keep practising. Keep evolving.
Photo credit: Artistry By Tolani’s Instagram