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Mo’r make-up for T&T
Spanx founder Sara Blakely once said, “Embrace what you don’t know, especially in the beginning, because what you don’t know can become your greatest asset. It ensures that you will absolutely be doing things different from everybody else.”
Few words resonated more with Mawasi “Mo” Martin after she found herself holding a Masters degree in Marketing but unable to secure a job six months after leaving the comfort and safety of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus.
Realising she didn’t know how to be an adult after spending eight consecutive years at university, the founder of Caribbean Queen Cosmetics claimed, “I found that I had been stunting my transition into adulthood as the university had acted as a nest, and I had not been exposed to a lot of situations where I would have gotten any experience.”
Experimenting with make-up during her last year at university as her vanity genes “kicked in,” the Arima resident said she been focused on academics as it had been drummed into her that she had to get a sound education in order to get a good job and earn a decent salary.
Post-university, Martin said, “Around that time, the job market got very competitive as everybody was coming out of university qualified but unable to get jobs as easily as a decade before.”
“Six months after I graduated, I had no offers on the horizon so I began looking at what else I could do.”
Embracing her ability to contribute to the area of Visual Art through basic photography, retouching and applying make-up - Martin said she used her passion and abilities in this area to get a jump-start on the job market by becoming an entrepreneur.
She said, “Although my degree has helped me indirectly, real-life lessons were learnt on my own.”
“Yes, university does have a role to play in ensuring persons are qualified academically, but a lot of successful entrepreneurs never even finished.”
Speaking candidly about the experience which led to her establishing Caribbean Queen Cosmetics one year ago, the 33-year-old mother of one said, “I realised a gap in the market for a make-up product that had the look of high-end brands being sold in the North American market, but which still had that Caribbean flair.”
Inspired by her countrywomen’s obsession with make-up, Martin said she looked to the large community of Make-Up Artists (MUA) in T&T for help as she navigated her way into adulthood and took charge of ensuring she became a productive and contributing member of society.
A MUA herself, Martin said, “T&T has a strong MUA community and I wanted to appeal to that niche, to give them something inspired by the Caribbean in terms of the colour, feel and the names.”
Martin said Caribbean Queen Cosmetics started with highlighters after she found many of the popular brands, “Catered only for the fairer skin tones and lighter under-tones, and which did not suit deeper complexions prevalent in Caribbean women.”
Carefully researching how to manufacture make-up using local products, she said, “I got to work formulating a highlighter for melanated skin tones.”
Inspired to improve its overall appeal after her husband remarked, “That looks too plain,” Martin said she was motivated to incorporate an element that Trinidadians could identify with and finally settled on a steel-pan insignia which is now imprinted atop each highlighter she produces.
Declaring Caribbean Queen Cosmetics to be an artisan brand, Martin explained, “It is highly pigmented as compared to mass produced brands which contain less pigment and more fillers as they have to consider costs.”
“I also use Caribbean ingredients like coconut oil and coco-bar oil for some of the bases and this sets it apart from other brands.”
Users of Martin’s Buccoo Reef Palette which retails for TT $375, can also identify with the locally-inspired names such as Moriah Harvest, Benne Ball, Bago Jazz, Glass Bottom, Flambeau and Tobago Twilight.
Meanwhile, the Black Cake Palette which sells for a lower price, boasts names such as Ponche de Creme, Rum n Raisin, Fruit Cake, Baila Baila, Sureal Sorrel, Pastelle, Scrunter de Hunter; while her lipsticks, whose moniker lists them as Paime Pay-Me and Jammetry retail for TT $85 each.
Martin said in order to get her clients more involved in the process, she often holds naming competitions via her social media accounts.
She admitted that with plans to expand the line and penetrate markets further afield, “The demand for the products abroad is building so my challenge would be how would these names identify with persons in those markets.”
“It’s been a learning experience and as I grow, I am definitely realising I have to do more tailoring of the product and everything associated with it.”
As such, she now engages in out-sourcing the production of the lipsticks to a local lab
Seeking to capitalise on the Caribbean diaspora scattered across the globe but who still want a piece of home, Martin said, “The demand for the products is there but it is a challenge because they are all hand-made.”
She has often found herself, “Pulling back on advertising because I don’t want people ordering and I can’t fulfil the demand.”
Delving into the challenges she has faced as an entrepreneur and having to juggle being a home-maker, wife, mother, daughter and sister at the same time, Martin laughed loudly as she declared, “I like to keep it real...I am failing terribly!”
“The biggest challenge I have had is balancing motherhood and business because this is like having a next child.”
As the mother of a three-year-old girl, Martin said it was an intense experience which required a lot of attention, time and energy - and coupled with her need to grow her fledgling business.
Martin said, “When I have to decide what is priority, my self-care often suffers.”
Joking that she had gained 50 pounds, now had permanent bags under her eyes and was unable to sleep through an entire night, Martin went on, “I recently hired an assistant and a salesperson but I need a much larger team.”
She said when it came to the make-up market in T&T, “There is a high demand. It is almost like an addiction as people buy for collection and there are also MUA who want to try new products and there are make-up enthusiasts.”
Martin admitted that a few years ago, “I crumbled under the pressure because I wanted to keep everyone happy.”
That experience she claimed, has taught her it was impossible to keep everyone happy but also reinforced the stark reality that, “When Mo shuts down, the business shuts down.”
Gesturing to the surroundings from where she now operates from, Martin said her mother was very accommodating and supportive of her thrust to expand the business.
Hoping to soon introduce mascara and foundation, Martin said, “When you look at the make-up industry since the 1900’s, the demand has not slowed down, it’s just the trends have changed so I want to tap into that because there is a lot of exponential growth in this area.”
Describing make-up as a transformative tool, Martin said while she never produces more than 200 units of any one product at a single time—the support from the local MUA tended to vary as there were some persons who loved her products and constantly acted as a “cheer squad.”
Ignoring the naysayers, Martin said she refused to engage in tit-for-tat as, “I am okay with it because at the end of the day, my intention is to grow this brand and make it more successful than it is now.”