Let's get real for a second—the beauty industry hasn’t always been known for it’s inclusivity. In the past, their “covergirls” have looked alarmingly similar. Read: white and skinny. Which is why make-up lover Tasneem Shahidullah decided to take matters into her hands. Being a third-generation South Asian woman who was raised in Queensland, Shahidullah struggled for years to find the perfect lipstick shade for her skin tone, so she set about mixing and blending her own hues, eventually launching TASNEEM Cosmetics just over two years ago. While the lipsticks are serious game-changers (seriously: go try them), at the heart of it all, TASNEEM is about celebrating all types of people, culture and colours—and we dig that.
We caught up with Shahidullah to find out how she got her foot in the notoriously difficult beauty industry and the biggest lesson she learnt when starting your own brand.
How did you get your start in the beauty industry?
I actually got into the fashion realm first doing social media and graphic design, and slowly through that I got into the beauty sector. It was when I was working in social media and marketing for a couple of beauty brands that I noticed the lack of diversity within brands—that kind of just ticked off my brain a bit.
How did you go from the initial idea of creating a more diverse beauty brand to legit making it happen?
I was always blending and mixing my makeup—specifically my lipsticks—to create the perfect shade. I started to get a lot of compliments and people would ask where they could get it so I thought what if I just start blending and mixing and seeing if I can create my own formulas and shades? It kinda snowballed from there.
That was about two and a half years ago now and it was a slow process. I started getting various samples of different formulas and shades and started mixing and matching. It was very much of a weekend hobby of mine. And then slowly it kind of built up from there and I was able to find the formula and shade rage that I liked. Then I was getting into, 'how can I make this product different?' because it's one thing to have a lipstick but I wanted it to be a two in one product. So each lipstick has a hydrating matte lipstick at one end and a long lasting liquid lipstick on the other so you can apply it as a lipstick in any way that you like—as cheek tints, eyeshadows and liquid liners.
There’s a lot of science behind a beauty brand—how did you tackle that?
There's a lot of resources out there, but it’s mainly researching, reading and a lot of trial and error. If you get into the beauty sector I would recommend just trying and sampling before jumping into anything, which is essentially what I did. It was six months of sampling before I was even happy with the formula.
What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve encountered so far?
When you create a brand you have to be open to receiving criticism. I think that was my biggest thing, I wasn't very good at that. You have to take on constructive criticism and be open to change.
And on the flip-side, what’s a moment you knew TASNEEM was taking off?
I guess it's the response I've seen on social media and getting recognition from those industry experts and publications who have received the product and have had a really positive response to it.
What inspires your work?
I think it goes back to my roots. Being from an immigrant family, having immigrant parents, and being brought up in a western society—I've had that oxymoron of both parts. I've been able to see how my mum uses certain products and ingredients to create her skincare and beauty regime as well as kind of implementing that South Asian influence—it’s something I’d like to explore more in my next product range.
And what about brands or beauty influencers that you admire—do you have any that you follow or are you trying to create your own path?
Definitely a bit of both. On social media you have access to so much talent and it's crazy and it's not just your Beyonces and Rhiannas of the world, it’s micro, really cool, really niche influencers that I get really inspired by daily.
What is some advice that’s really stuck with you?
Actually something that I've seen recently floating around on Pinterest was a quote that said, ‘Don't be afraid to be seen trying’ and it really got me. You always see the amazing side of people's successes, but you don't really see the journey and sometimes you can feel a little bit insecure about it thinking ‘okay I'm trying and it's not getting off the ground’. You can get in your head a bit about it so I’m trying to live by this new motto that’s is ok to be seen trying. It's actually the bumps in the road that really define your business and who you are as a person.
TASNEEM’s Instagram features fabulous men and women of varying backgrounds just living their best life—what was your ethos and goal around your social media?
I wanted it to be a reflection of my upbringing and also my surroundings even now. I have many friends and my family, even in my work industries, that come from a mix of different walks of life, of all sexualities, of all genders, of all binary genders, so I wanted it to be a reflection of that. Makeup is accessible to everyone—or should be accessible to everyone—so I wanted that to be a big focus of the brand and how it makes you feel and why do you wear the makeup?
What is next for you? Do you have any dream collabs, products you're keen to bring out?
If I can get TASNEEM on either Michelle Obama or Beyonce I would be really happy. Product-wise I would love to implement my South Asian background in product development, in the ingredients that I use and dive into that a bit. Researching the history of South Asian makeup and skincare is something that I'm really interested in at the moment. And one day I would love to have a physical presence of TASNEEM Cosmetics with some stores around the world.
And finally what's your advice to budding entrepreneurs out there?
Start slowly. Doing a task a week is enough—don't have to feel like you have to be breaking yourself to get this brand off the ground. Do it at a capacity or at a level that suits your lifestyle. I feel that's the biggest thing. I feel sometimes people fall into this trap that as entrepreneurs if you haven’t made X amount of money in a few months then you’re over, but that’s not the case.
I remember for the longest time I was comparing myself to a Fenty or a Glossier and it's not realistic. There's plenty of pie to go around, just make it work for you.
After more inspiring career stories? Check out more Getting The Gig features over here.
Image Credit: TASNEEM Cosmetics