By Chanda Temple
For years, I wore Desire, a plum lip color from MAC. It was my signature shade.
Little did I know I was only supposed to wear it in the colder months. (It took my aunt to break the news to me when she saw me on TV one morning. She said it was too dark and not the best look for spring.)
I lightened up on the lip color the next day.
But I want to also credit Birmingham, Ala. makeup maven Jestina Howard for challenging me to step outside my makeup comfort zone. In 2013, I contacted her to buy my favorite plum color from her line, Aware Cosmetics. (Hey, let’s just say I’m addicted to plum.) Anyway, Jestina said that color no longer existed in her line. Then, she encouraged me to try a bright red.
Ummm, excuse me. Bright red?!! Oh no, I thought. That’s not me.
But Jestina pushed me to try it, saying it was the hot color for the season. I did, and I liked it.
Three years since that conversation, I’m still partial to a plum lip color, but I do branch out for fun colors. And three years later, I also see that Jestina has branched out in her career.
She’s received awards for being an entrepreneur. The latest came this summer when Birmingham Business Journal featured her as one of its Enterpreneur Spotlight Award nominees. She has worked on fashion shoots from here to Canada, and her work has appeared in local, national and international publications, as well as in commercials and telecasts. She’s also a regional broadcast spokesperson for Proctor & Gamble’s beauty brands such as Olay, Cover Girl and Vidal Sasson. Also, she’s partnered with Real People Modeling Agency in Birmingham to offer makeup classes and talent development classes.
Since today, July 29, is National Lipstick Day, I thought I’d share her story. Here’s her Q&A.
Why did you start your cosmetics company in 2003? I was freelancing as a makeup artist, and I was working for the Parisian corporate office when I started my line. When I would do clients’ faces, they always wanted to buy what I put on them. They would say, “Where can I get this lipstick or eye shadow?” Jestina recalled. And I’d send them to the various makeup counters. Then, a client asked me, “Why don’t you have your own?’ A lightbulb went off and I said, “Why not?”
Jestina started researching how to start a company and looked into the larger brand cosmetic manufacturers to see if they would do smaller runs for smaller companies. Some of them would. She didn’t want to borrow from a bank to start her business. Instead, she saved money from her freelance makeup jobs. She also hired publicist Cherie Fields to get going on her dream. “It took me two or three years,” she said.
Do you have a chemistry background to know how to make the products? I don’t have a chemistry background. I know what I like. I have a fashion and beauty background, so I had to go to manufacturers who had chemists on their staff to help me. I just knew what I liked and what I wanted.
The first products she created came in 2003. It was a cream powder foundation stick, eye shadows, blushes and lip glosses. Today, she has grown her line to 50 individual products, including more eye shadows, blushes, a brush line and lip glosses. Her products were initially available online. Now, she’s working to get them into dermatologist offices and boutiques. She has also partnered with Real People Modeling Agency in Birmingham to offer makeup classes and talent development classes for models and actors this fall.
Where did you get the name Aware for you cosmetic line? The name came from me wanting to make women aware of how to enhance their look. The other part is to make people aware of lung disease. A portion of my product sales go the American Lung Association. My mom has had asthma for 30 years. My father died of emphysema. And I have two relatives who’ve suffered with lung disease. I serve on the board for the American Lung Association in Alabama.
She has worked on celebrities such as Nicole Ari Parker, America Ferrera, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Richard Petty and Willie Mayes.
So guys need makeup, too? Oh yeah. Like the news anchors. Men need makeup when they do video. It helps them look their best. And I do a lot of men for photos and video shoots.
You are a product of Birmingham City Schools, graduating from Ensley High in 1986. How did the school system prepare you for your future? By attending Ensley High School and encountering my DECA instructor, Tony Vizzina, he helped me carve a path for what I wanted to do with my life. When I got in his class, he asked everyone on that first day: “What is it that you want to do when you graduate?” I said, “I want a career in fashion and beauty.” He said, “OK. Let’s map out a plan.”
He helped me get my first job at Pizitz. He helped me get internships. It was a major part of my life, to have great teachers like that, working in the school system. (After graduation, Jestina got an associate’s degree in fashion merchandising from Southern Institute. In 2011, she got her bachelor’s degree in communications from Miles College.)
Do you have a motto? Yes. Do what you love and the rest will come. That’s been my motto since high school. Honestly, had I listened to my mom, … I would have been a nurse or something like that. She didn’t know anyone doing fashion or modeling. But once she saw I was really serious about it, she and my family got on board and said, “Whatever we need to do to support you, we will do it.”