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How digital influencers are diversifying the multibillion-dollar beauty industry

Makeup artists Patrick Ta and Patrick "PatrickStarrr" Simondac have both attracted large followings on social media.

When Patrick Simondac posted his first YouTube makeup tutorial in 2013, he was unsure of how he would be received.

“I was like, ‘Who’s going to watch a man in make-up?’” said Simondac, known online as “PatrickStarrr.”

Simondac decided he wanted to be a makeup artist when he was 17 but was initially turned down from working at beauty retailers in his hometown of Orlando due to a lack of experience.

Patrick "PatrickStarrr" Simondac is collaborating with with MAC Cosmetics on an upcoming collection of makeup.
Patrick "PatrickStarrr" Simondac is collaborating with with MAC Cosmetics on an upcoming collection of makeup.Courtesy of MAC Cosmetics

He started freelancing as a makeup artist for weddings and photo shoots before landing a job working at a MAC Cosmetics store at age 20.

Simondac, who is Filipino American, grew up performing Filipino dance and taught piano lessons as a teenager, so he said YouTube felt like the right platform to showcase his performance and teaching skills via makeup.

“When I started my channel, I made it a point to be a YouTuber that was not only entertaining but also educating,” Simondac said.

Now, the 28-year-old has more than 3 million subscribers on YouTube, multiple partnerships with major beauty brands (Covergirl, Urban Decay, Benefit) under his belt, and on-air gigs with “Access Hollywood” and an E! Snapchat series “Face Forward.” He’s also done makeup tutorials on celebrities like Katy Perry and Kim Kardashian for his YouTube channel.

With the end of the year approaching, Simondac isn’t slowing down: this month will see the launch of his own product collaboration with MAC Cosmetics.

Makeup artist Patrick Ta has found similar success via social media. Ta moved to Los Angeles from Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2014 and began working with clients like actress Shay Mitchell and model Gigi Hadid. He also started posting his looks to his Instagram account (where he has more than 800,000 followers), piquing the interest of Jennifer Lopez, Joan Smalls, and Kylie and Kendall Jenner — all of whom discovered him through the platform, Ta said.

“It’s just so exciting because it feels like the makeup industry has changed. With social media, the growth of an artist is way quicker than what it was before,” the 26-year-old said.

Like Simondac, Ta started his career in beauty at an early age. After dropping out of high school in San Diego at age 16, Ta moved to Arizona for what he called a “fresh start,” working a variety of odd jobs before opening up his own tanning and nail salon when he was 18.

“I feel like that salon was the best and worst thing to happen to me,” said Ta. “It put me through so much stress, and I learned so much just about business and growing up and life. But it also brought me a lot of joy because you saw the business you built. Clients walk through and people post about it and talk about it.”

The salon closed four years after opening, prompting Ta's move to Los Angeles and transition into doing makeup full time. Ta is now a global makeup ambassador for luxury skincare brand La Mer and launched an app, Flawless by Patrick Ta, this year. It features makeup tutorials with his clients, including Olivia Munn and Shay Mitchell.

Ta and Simondac are part of a wave of social media-driven beauty influencers and makeup artists reshaping the estimated $62 billion U.S. cosmetics industry, a business that has long been criticized for its lack of diversity.

Digital platforms like YouTube have been a particularly welcoming space for content creators of color. Vietnamese-American Internet personality Michelle Phan became one YouTube’s first beauty gurus when she launched her channel in 2007. Phan went on to start makeup line, Em, with L’Oreal (they have since parted ways) and co-founded Ipsy, a monthly beauty subscription service with more than 3 million reported subscribers.

“I want everyone of all ages sexes and races to be a part of this and want to buy it, including the grandmothers, the lolas out there, the abuelitas.”

In addition to social media experts changing the industry, brands too have made efforts to keep up. CoverGirl made headlines in 2016 when it hired its first “cover boy,” James Charles, then a high school senior who had amassed a following online, and pop singer Rihanna launched her Fenty Beauty line at beauty retailer Sephora this year to rave reviews, partly because the line touted 40 shades of foundation (Time Magazine named the line as one of its 25 Best Inventions of 2017). Kylie Jenner-backed Kylie Cosmetics recently followed suit, releasing a line of concealers in 30 shades.

The immediacy of social media has added pressure on brands to become more inclusive in their product offerings, said Simondac’s agent, Christina Jones.

“We can call people out and say, ‘You need a darker shade.’ For all of my clients, it’s about bringing inclusivity forward,” said Jones.

Although, she added, brands still have progress to make — something she encountered recently with one of her clients, YouTuber Nyma Tang, who tests products made for deeper skin tones. In trying to find one brand that could supply Tang with all of the products in appropriate shades to do a full makeup look, they came up short.

“There’s not one brand that has everything for her, and that is not OK. That’s what we’re fighting,” said Jones.

Diversity is also having an effect on the hireability of traditional makeup artists, said Ta’s agent, Marissa Alfe. Alfe said that part of Ta’s success is the range of clients he works with.

“Age range, skin tone, and ethnicity is across the board for him, and that’s something I instill in all of my talent because I never want to be in a position where I say, ‘Well, unfortunately that person doesn’t have any of that in their portfolio,’” said Alfe.

“It’s just so exciting because it feels like the makeup industry has changed. With social media, the growth of an artist is way quicker than what it was before.”

A big social media presence can also translate into big bucks, with some YouTube creators reportedly earning five-figure monthly salaries from the digital platform alone. For makeup artists and influencers, who can earn money from brand partnerships and collaborations on top of revenue generated by YouTube, a monthly salary could range from $20,000 to $150,000, according to Jones, who added that people shouldn’t quit their day jobs with the expectation of becoming full-time influencers.

“‘They’re getting paid how much? I’m in the wrong industry.’ People constantly say that. But it’s a lot of work, and I dare anyone to try to post and do videos and social media and put on a happy face, 24/7. I dare someone to do that for a week,” she said.

But a robust online presence can turn into tangible products. Simondac’s line with MAC Cosmetics will feature 12 items, second in size to Rihanna’s 2013 collaboration with the brand.

“I want everyone of all ages sexes and races to be a part of this and want to buy it, including the grandmothers, the lolas out there, the abuelitas,” he said.

Both Simondac and Ta said that featuring diversity on their platforms has been integral to their success.

“If you never practice on different skin tones different eye shapes or different skin textures, then you’ll never know how to do it,” said Ta, who hopes one day to release his own product line.

And sharing in that success are their families, some of whom did not initially understand what they did or how sizeable their followings had become.

“I remember I was like, ‘Benefit is sending me to the Bahamas,’ and they’re like, ‘Why?’ I’m like, ‘Because I have followers and because I’m going to post and they’re going to make money because I’m popular,’” recalled Simondac, who often includes family members in his videos and whose mother has since scored sponsorships of her own.

“When my mom and dad first found out I was doing make up, they weren’t ashamed, but they were kind of disappointed in the choice that I’d made,” said Ta, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam. They have since come around, Ta added.

He recalled his mother, a manicurist, hearing about his social media presence from her clients. “They would be like, ‘Oh, you’re Patrick’s mom? I follow him on Instagram,’” he said.

Ta downloaded the app to her phone, and his parents have tracked his career on there ever since. “Your friends can say, ‘Congratulations, I’m so proud of you,’ but when your parents say it, it just means so much more,” he said.

With make up continuing to dominate sales in the U.S. beauty industry, Simondac and Ta say inclusion is a necessity in order for brands to continue to be successful.

“Makeup is a tool that everyone can use to make themselves feel better or express themselves or try new looks. Because of that, it’s for everybody,” said Ta. “I feel like makeup can last forever in someone’s bag. I just want to be there.”

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