“Because so many doors were closed in my face, I learned how to turn obstacles into opportunities.”
-MILA THOMAS, Celebrity Makeup Artist
As a self-proclaimed beauty enthusiast, I am intrigued by the glam squads behind-the-scenes of every gag-worthy look that graces my television screen. I have found myself following more makeup artists, stylists, and designers than celebrities on all my social media accounts. Amongst the various accounts I follow, Celebrity Makeup Artist, Mila Thomas is one my favorites.
With nearly two decades of experience under her belt, it is not surprising that Mila Thomas has created an esteemed name for herself among Hollywood’s elite. In recent years, Thomas has acted as Glam Coordinator for VH1’s Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood reality series. Not to mention, Thomas’s clientele’ consists of numerous A-List clients such as Sheryl Lee Ralph, Jennifer Lewis, K. Michelle, Married to Medicine’s Quadria Webb-Lunceford, Angela Rye, Erica Mena, En Vogue, Keyshia Cole, Bevy Smith, and the list goes on…
With a resume like that, you can imagine how elated I was to find out that Ms. Thomas was familiar with the Black Girl Today brand and admired the vision. Needless to say, I immediately wanted to collaborate. Recently, I was able to interview Ms. Thomas. Mila’s level of expertise paired with her insight on the beauty industry from her personal experiences offers such encouragement to the many young women with interests in the world of beauty. Mila’s journey is proof that branding yourself in such a vast industry is possible for all women, from all walks of life. This interview is filled with gems for anyone chasing their dream, whether it be in a niche market or a saturated industry.
On behalf of myself and Black Girl Today, we wish our #BEAUTYBOSS, Ms. Mila Thomas continued success and look forward to seeing more of her work. This is an interview that you don’t want to miss. Check it out below:
Question (Q): Let’s start with an ice breaker! What ten go-to beauty products do you trust to for a quick, red carpet look?
Answer (A): My “go-to” beauty products would be a hydrating/setting spray, full cover, hydrating foundation, a great lash, a brow pencil, concealer, mascara, translucent powder, mineralize bronzing powder, shimmer powder/highlight, and, ofcourse, lipstick!
Q: Taking a quick stroll down Memory Lane, tell us what Mila, the 13-year-old, was like. Did you see yourself making a career in the beauty industry at a young age?
A:Little Mila, at thirteen! I was both a girly girl and tom boy. I loved drawing and being creative! I started playing basketball at six-years-old, but I managed to stay in my mom’s makeup. At thirteen, I was wearing red lipstick on the basketball court. I’d also say, at that age, I had a passion for fashion and kept my head buried in editorial magazines. Makeup was always fascinating to me, but I had no idea that I would later pursue it as a career. Honestly, I had no clue how to go about doing so. Living in a small southern town with no Internet or social media, a career like that didn’t seem real or possible to me. So, I pursued what I felt was obtainable, which was visual arts. But even at thirteen, I knew I would live in New York and one day even Los Angeles.
Q: When did you officially decide to pursue beauty as a full-time career? How did you begin? (i.e. MAC, Freelancing, etc.)
A: I decided to go to college for Advertising and Public Relations, with a concentration in Computer Graphics. (As I was still on my creative visual path.) After graduation, my first part-time job was working at MAC Cosmetics. I worked at MAC while I was interviewing with different advertising agencies. It was there that I gained professional training, product knowledge and experience with all walks of life. However, to me, my role at MAC was merely a job. Although it was fun and allowed me to be creative, I still couldn’t visualize a future in beauty. I was still in North Carolina! In about six months, I transferred to a MAC store in Washington, D.C. and began working at BET (Black Entertainment Television). There, I learned how to really highlight & contour for women of color. I was in the home of the great Derrick Rutledge and his style of makeup was well respected in the industry. While in D.C., I was able to build my portfolio, perfect my craft, and learn how to properly execute beauty for television. A few years later, I was offered a job at a modeling agency in New Jersey. The job at the agency improved my speed, endurance, and overall skill set. In the course of a day, I would do hair and makeup for seven to ten people on average. The endurance I displayed while in New Jersey allowed me to build solid relationships in the industry that led me to the next chapter of my career, Love & Hip Hop: New York!
Q: What obstacles did you encounter on your journey toward success as a celebrity makeup artist?
A: Because I grew up in a small town, in a time without social media, one of my obstacles was simply trying to figure out how to break into the industry. I couldn’t DM Celebrity Makeup Artists or take Master Classes online. I couldn’t even build an Instagram Page for the world to see. I had to build a portfolio and send it across the globe through snail mail. I had to drive hours to take a master class. Then, the challenges became building strong relationships with networks, producers and celebrity clients. I was challenging figuring out how to build a brand that was unique and true to who I am, creating a style took time and work. Understanding that every job was not for me was another challenge/lesson that came with time.
Q: What lessons did those encounters teach you about yourself and have you been able to utilize that knowledge in later years?
A: I’ve learned to trust the process. There were so many times that I wanted to give up, because I felt like I was running in slow motion. It’s like I just couldn’t figure out how to make it. In hindsight, I was exactly were I was supposed to be. Learning, growing, and preparing for the blessings ahead. I, now, know that everything is in a divine order and happens when its supposed to. Because so many doors were closed in my face, I learned how to turn obstacles into opportunities. Lessons learned create a path for future endeavors. There were so many people that helped me before I even recognized my own greatness and they taught me the importance of uplifting others to recognize their full potential. Growing up in a small town, with limited resources, bred a fighter determined to win. Even while working in D.C., there weren’t as many career options for makeup artists and that experience taught me how to be resourceful and create opportunities for myself.
Q: What is a standard workday in the life of Mila Thomas? Daily Challenges?
A: I can’t say that there’s ever a standard work day, but I’m normally up by 6 a.m. no matter what. At that time, I’m either checking or responding to emails. Because the majority of my clients are on television or doing press, the bulk of my day is usually spent on a Hollywood set. While one day may be spent primarily on set, the next day could be spent shooting a music video in the desert or doing a campaign shoot in Germany. This could all take place in the same week! My schedule is really that random and, being that a lot of my clients have shows filming on the same day at the same time, the challenge becomes scheduling my day to accommodate everyone. This is when an amazing assistant is greatly appreciated!
Q: I am smitten with the vast number of clients that you service, from Sheryl Lee Ralph to K. Michelle. Describe the feeling of sitting across from a distinguished diva like Sheryl Lee Ralph and being trusted with her makeup? What is that like?
A: It is extremely humbling and I’m always honored that someone as iconic as Sheryl trusts me with her glam, honey! I mean this woman is so fabulous, wise, and real! I’m always jotting down her quotes, which all become life lessons. Being in the presence of an African American actresses/ activist that has seen the changes through the eras and triumphantly made it, it is always an honor to be exposed to such wisdom. Sheryl is still an actress to be reckoned with and is sought after. I’m just so honored to work with her!
Q: K. Michelle appears to be a regular client that has established a trusting relationship with you. As a makeup artist, how do you create that type of relationship with your clients?
A: Creating a long lasting relationship with clients takes time, patience, and trust. First and foremost, remembering that they are my clients and respecting who they are as well as their status by always showing professionalism is priority. I love K’s honesty! She’s a great communicator. She knows what she wants and has no problem telling you. As an artist, I like constructive criticism. That’s how I grow and learn. However, it’s also my job to be strong enough to share my expertise and give my professional opinion. No matter what I’m going to always do what is in the best interest of my client.
Q: What events led to you becoming the Glam Coordinator for VH1’s Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood and what is that experience like?
A: While working on the East Coast, I was able to build strong relationships. It was there that I was offered a job working for Love and Hip Hop: New York. That was the game changer! I’d lived in New York for seven years. I had worked for MTV, The Food Network, Comedy Central, VH1, Bravo and E! I was building my name and brand in the world of television and nurturing valuable relationships. One of those relationships was with Mona Scott Young. She recognized my work, as well as my work ethic, on the New York show and eventually hired me as her personal makeup artist. By the time the Love & Hip: Hollywood franchise was created, I had done several of Mona’s VH1 shows. I’d even acted as Key Artist for one of the shows, This Is Hot 97. So, she felt that I was qualified and prepared to take on the Hollywood franchise. As a result, I was offered my own show, acting as the Glam Coordinator and Key Makeup Artist for Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood! Accepting the job made me the first person to act as both Key Artist and Glam Coordinator for one of the Love & Hip Hop franchises. I moved to Los Angeles within the month. I arrived on a Monday and hired my team to start shooting the show the following Thursday. I was totally out of my comfort zone, but I knew that this was a turning point for my career and I was determined to win.
Q: How would you weigh the importance of networking as makeup artist? How has networking played a part in your journey?
A: For me, it has been about building relationships more than “networking”. Honestly, I never understood how to properly network. It always felt a bit awkward to me, not to say it doesn’t work in certain scenario’s. However, for me, when I took the word “networking” out of my vocabulary and replaced it with relationship-building, it felt more genuine. Understanding how to build and nurture solid relationships has been vital for my career. I definitely saw the shift in my success when I began to focus on building great relationships. For example, when I start a new show and I’m working on set, I get to know everyone from the executive producer to the interns and even the catering company. By the time I leave, everyone will know something about me and will know my name without looking at my business card. As a matter of fact, I won’t even have to give it out! Making a connection, finding something in common with people, and simply being nice to everyone has made all the difference for me.
Q: Being that the beauty industry is such a saturated one, how do you set yourself apart and brand yourself in a way that attracts clientele?
A: My brand is who I am as a person in addition to my artistry. I pride myself on being kind, positive and very professional. As simple and common as that may sound, those three things are huge and definitely will make someone stand out. As for my work, I’m an artist tried and true. The industry is over saturated with makeup enthusiasts, but not artists. There is a major difference between the two. It was always important to carve out a niche for myself. When you look at my work, you know I specialize in beauty for television, women of color, and build glam teams for major networks. Those three things are prevalent in my social media presence, which is an amazing tool to both market and brand yourself. I also try to make sure my Instagram feed is visually appealing and consistent so that when you visit my page there is no confusion as to what I do.
Q: What are your views on Brand Ambassadorship and how do you think such association has positively impacted the world of beauty for Women of Color?
A: Women of color are still underrepresented by major beauty brands and while there are some ambassador opportunities that lead toward inclusion, there is a dire need for more. My immediate response to the insufficiency of colors for brown and dark brown girls is to simply support and buy more black owned products. There are amazing black products available on line and in retail stores. I’m a huge fan of AJ Crimson, Danessa Myricks and Black Opal, just to name a few. Larger brands, while making an effort, still are not taking the time to understand all the needs of women of color. Products still are not customizable nor are they tailored to different undertones and skin types. Therefore, there is a need for more black beauty experts and brand ambassadors to create and educate in order to bridge this tremendous gap.
Q: Before we conclude this interview, I want to that you for allowing me this grand opportunity once more and ask one last question. As you know, many young women have found themselves gravitating toward careers in the beauty industry. What advice would you give to the young woman reading this saying that she wants to be the next Mila Thomas? (Where should she begin her journey? How?)
A: She should begin her journey first knowing that she doesn’t have to spend thousands of dollars going to a beauty school. That should be the last resort. First start by finding a mentor that you can shadow and help guide you. Try to also work for a professional makeup brand that educates and trains artist such as MAC Cosmetics or Makeup Forever. After you go through solid training, continue to shadow great artists and practice, practice, practice! Use social media as a way to build and your work. Always remember quality over quantity when posting your photos. Once you have marketing material, decide where you want to live. If you want to do makeup for television and/or film, Los Angeles is the most lucrative city. If you’re more interested in editorial and ad campaigns, go for New York! Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Be patient with the process and no matter what, keep going!
I hope that all my readers, especially the beauty enthusiasts, enjoyed this interview. Mila, you were an absolute pleasure to work with. From your humble demeanor and willingness to do this collaboration, it is evident that you are infinitely deserving of the many blessings you have received and those that lie ahead. You are not only kind-hearted, but a true sweetheart. (I knew we would hit it off once I realized that you share the same name as my little sister!) The Black Girl Today Family wishes you continued success and look forward to what’s next for the Mila Thomas brand. It was truly an honor. Thank you again for the opportunity!
Here are some of our favorite Mila Thomas Looks on some of our favorite Black Girls of Today!
KEEP CALM & GLAM ON
To See More Mila Thomas: