Takia Ross, the founder of beauty business Accessmatized, began professional life as a teacher. “I really love education — it’s my first passion,” the entrepreneur says.
After graduating college, Ross taught history, always in full makeup. Students would often compliment her makeup skills or ask for tips, she says, but “I would tell them, ‘I don’t do makeup — I teach history, and we need to focus.”
Over time however, their interest got her thinking about doing makeup professionally. She dipped her toe in, dolling up family and friends out of her house and refining signature looks through practice. Before long, she took $500 out of her savings account purchase new makeup supplies and business cards.
That was in 2013. By 2015, she had formalized Accessmatized as a limited liability corporation. And earlier this year, she took a step back from teaching to focus on the venture full-time, though she still teaches history on the side.
The company is growing. Last year, it booked 304 appointments, about 40 of which were larger events like weddings, fashion shows, commercials and editorial photo shoots. Though Ross declined to disclose revenue figures, she says the venture’s net profit increased 104 percent in 2016 from 2015. And in 2017, she says revenue is already up 47 percent from this same time last year.
She’s excited by the success of the business, but even more motivated by the opportunity to spread joy. “I love makeup, and I love being able to speak positivity into the lives of women,” she says.
As a makeup artist, she often gets to be with clients at significant moments in their lives. “Being able to be a voice of reason, or remind women that they are phenomenal, that they are enough in that moment, that they are beautiful and able to achieve all things? I can’t imagine anything better.”
The Teacher Becomes the Student
Ross has forged many relationships over makeup. While teaching high school, she worked with many at-risk students. “With the young ladies, I found makeup was a way to reach them. It was a way for us to have something to talk about, a way for us to connect.”
Her first experiences doing other women’s makeup came during “glam days” she hosted at school — with permission from the administration, she brought her kit to the classroom and taught interested students how to apply makeup properly. She even offered to do their makeup for their graduation ceremonies, and several students took her up on it, she says.
But when Ross first embraced the beauty business, she hit a common entrepreneurial challenge: She needed startup funds but was initially unsure of how she would get the money.
Then, she began entering pitch competitions. She took part in her first one, the Center for Business Innovation’s business plan competition, back in 2014, and won, which earned her some press and $1,000 of much-needed capital. She realized pitch competitions were a viable, if unorthodox, way to get both publicity and funding; in all, she has won $35,000 in cash and prizes, which has been funneled back into her business.
She has also used the power of social media. “Because I have a very visual type of business, I can post lots of images,” she says, which has helped spread awareness about Accessmatized well beyond her personal network.
Another winning business idea of hers has been Pretty Mobile, a 16-passenger bus she acquired in 2015 and converted into a traveling makeup studio with the help of friends and family. It’s a “driving billboard,” she says.
It’s also an opportunity maker. In addition to meeting individual clients in their homes, or catering to them in her studio space, she can host parties from any location in the bus, which can comfortably hold nine clients and three makeup artists. She has also booked fashion shows and indie film and television shoots by marketing herself to directors as both a makeup artist and trailer provider, folding two expense lines into one.
Responsibility, Family and Giving Back
In addition to running a growing venture, Ross is also a mother of three — two girls, ages 16 and 14, and a 5-year-old son. Work-life balance can be elusive, she admits. To cope, “I pray really, really hard,” she says with a laugh.
Of course, beyond divine intervention, being her own boss lets her create her own hours. “What I’ve learned to do is drop the kids off — sometimes in the bus — then come home and get my work done. When everyone is off from school, I go home and cook dinner, or help with homework. Once they’re in bed, I’ll go back to the studio,” which she opened up to keep some separation between her work and home lives.
Having that flexibility is key for Ross, who is continually seeking new ways to engage with and support residents of underserved communities — something she sees as a personal responsibility. It’s why she established her business in the very Baltimore neighborhood in which she was raised. “This is not a well-to-do or up-and-coming neighborhood,” she says.
In addition to working — and hiring — locally, she also takes on speaking engagements at schools or nearby nonprofit organizations to educate local teens and adults alike about entrepreneurship, and sometimes leads beauty workshops or donates her makeup services to low-income clients.
Ross’ commitment to reaching people through makeup artistry goes deeper still. She is also working on a mobile modern art exhibit called War Paint, which examines the roles makeup has played through various points in human history — a combination of her loves for history and makeup.
Creative New Ways to Engage
The exhibit is a free public service she offered last November, and one she wants to continue to grow. “I want to bring art and culture to places that don’t usually see it,” she says. She recently won an innovation award from a local organization called the Warnock Foundation for her work, and on the back of that success, she plans to host the exhibit again this fall on a grander scale.
She hopes to open a state-certified makeup school in the coming years, too. And, she is currently developing an app and website in collaboration with students at the Community College of Baltimore County, which will help connect individuals to makeup artists and estheticians.
To help carry her ever-growing load, Ross recently hired two new artists, lifting her staff total to four. “We’re growing by leaps and bounds, and taking on more clientele.” It’s a lot to handle, but Ross is excited about what the future holds.