To continue our Black History Month series, where we are paying homage to those making waves behind the scenes, we got a chance to catch up with celebrity makeup artist, Ashunta Sheriff.
Ashunta has worked with clients such as, Taraji P. Henson, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Sanaa Lathan, and Tika Sumpter (just to name a few). With a roster of this caliber, we had to know how this girl from Harlem-who also has her own beauty line-got her start.
Sheriff describes herself as, “a nerdy black girl”, who attended boarding school and college on scholarship, and strived to excel in science and mathematics. She went on the complete a degree in cultural anthropology from Howard University.
Though she did not see a creative future for herself, Ashunta recalls watching her mother, an aspiring vocalist at the time, get prepped for shows, and remembers being fascinated by the glamour of it all. She would get in trouble for getting caught in her mother’s YSL make up case, time and time again.
Ashunta admits that she always had a knack for creativity; she was involved in dance, theatre, and much more. It was her religious lunch breaks at the MAC counter, that later made her give in to her creativity. With no professional experience, she decided to interview with MAC cosmetics, and soon declared herself a makeup artist.
She vividly remembers the moment she got her big break. It was when makeup artist, Stacy Gray, complimented her on her work, at an event, and asked for her business card. Weeks later, she received a 4:00am call from Stacy, asking if she was available to be on location within an hour and a half, to work a 112 video shoot. With little time to spare, Ashunta asked her mom to babysit her then 9 month old, and went on her way. She notes, “When you are trying to build, and trying to work and establish yourself as a hard worker, you need to always be readily available. So I would say, keep your phone ringer on and keep it by your pillow.”
Consequently, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs was a fan of her work on the set, and she was contacted by his assistant to do his makeup for his appearance on the Regis and Kelly show. She had to borrow money from her mom, and then boyfriend, to purchase $1100 worth of product for the gig. From there, she began to be consistently booked, and the rest was history. She says, “If you are pushing yourself towards your dreams, you have to have a good support system. Get everyone on board with your plans, so that you can end up giving back to them tenfold because of the help they gave you at the time.”
When asked how black history has impacted her and how she feels it’s influenced her work, Ashunta attributes her awareness of culture to her mother and stepfather, whom she says, fueled her with “intense books that celebrate black culture”. In reference to her aesthetic as an MUA she says, “I don’t’ want to change my skin tone, I don’t want my neck to be a different skin tone from my face. I celebrate that difference that we have, that’s what makes us unique. As a race of people, we literally can look Asiatic, we can look Latino, we can look European; we’re really chameleons, and I think we need to celebrate that a lot more.” She goes on to say that much of her inspiration is drawn from anything tribal.
When asked if she thinks the beauty industry has done a good job creating products that represent all shades, she says, “Now, I really love where make up actually is. It’s an oversaturation, but it’s needed; you can never have too much.”
Sheriff credits MAC as being the catalyst for diversity within the industry. She describes the Herald Square MAC counter as “the United Nations of women”. Ashunta believes that this catapulted the industry to the point where brands were starting to take notice and create campaigns with “beautiful brown girls, with real black woman features”.
Her advice to those who aspire to be in the industry is:
-Never turn down an opportunity; find a way to make a way
-Fake it ‘til you make it, but once you make it, be sure to educate yourself i.e. set protocol, creating an invoice, and how to appropriately price jobs
-Take the time to research the “who’s who” within your respective industry
-Connect with others; you never know who will turn up later on
So what’s next for Ashunta, you ask? Her Ashunta Sheriff beauty line will be expanding in the fall available at ashuntasheriffbeauty.com. She is also set to release a book soon (can’t wait!), chronicling her journey as a single mother. We certainly wish her all the best!
In the meantime, you can keep up with her on IG @ashuntasheriff.
Thoughts on Ashunta Sheriff? Any others you’d like to see featured in our Black History month series?