Sona Gasparian has come a long way from applying coworkers’ makeup at her job in a mortuary to creating her own makeup brand called Pérsona Cosmetics, now sold on Ulta.com.
Gasparian moved to the U.S. from Armenia when she was 12 years old. Not speaking English, it took her a while to become acclimated to her new home. “I got a job at a mortuary where I used to bring my makeup bag and do all the girls’ makeup,” Gasparian recalled. After attending a makeup school, she was hired at a MAC counter where she broadened her experience. “I recommend that to anyone starting out. That’s where I learned most of my craft. You work on so many different skin types and skin tones that you really get to learn.” MAC has also been a launchpad for aspiring content providers such as Patrick Starrr and Samantha Ravndahl.
From there, Gasparian started out slow on social media with a blog, a few YouTube posts and a Facebook group. But when a woman drove a few hours from Mexico to attend a seminar she hosted, she decided “there is something to this.” Gasparian’s blog and YouTube channels expanded. “I took over my parents’ bedroom to have room to film,” she said. Now, she has 746,000 subscribers on YouTube and 227,000 followers on Instagram. She’s expanded beyond beauty and recently shared thoughts on her struggles of being an immigrant, bullying, acne and launching her career. She is a charter member of a founder’s club of beauty brand creators including Marianna Hewitt and Anna Petrosian.
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Following on a dream to create her own beauty line, Gasparian started Pérsona Cosmetics. Her point of difference was to devise palettes designed for the 55 percent of the world population with brown eyes. Her days at the MAC counter helped identify a lack in the market. Her new collection of cruelty-free Cali Glow Highlighters just launched on Ulta and the brand’s original product, the Identity Palette, sold out during the retailer’s 21 Days of Beauty campaign, she said.
Here, Gasparian discusses her biggest regret in her social networking, her most proud moments and why it is better to be an influencer versus a celebrity in today’s social media-fueled society.
WWD: What have been some of the most exciting moments in your career so far?
Sona Gasparian: I was getting 7,000 to 10,000 visitors a day to my web site five or six years ago. I turned that into my blog. I started making videos and connecting with people all over the world. One of the biggest things to happen to me was when Urban Decay, one of the first companies to reach out, wanted to send me free products. I was screaming…I’m going to get free product! Then Glamour magazine reached out for a show called Elevator Makeover. They flew me to New York and we shot a whole season with 12-to-14-hour days. After that my YouTube channel started growing. Recently, I made a video using Kim Kardashian’s KKW Beauty, which she reposted on her Instagram story and I gained 2,000 followers.
WWD: Talk about your followers and their interaction with your sites?
S.G.: I was never one whose community grew superfast, but they have always been so supportive. I never really experienced any bad comments that some have. I’d rather have fewer subscribers and followers and a tighter community than one with multimillions and negative comments all the time. If you look at my Instagram, you see lots of interaction and I personally answer all my DM’s in a timely manner.
WWD: Anything you regret as you’ve built a following?
S.G.: My biggest mistake was I didn’t make Instagram a priority. When videos started popping up on Instagram I felt I didn’t want to ‘cheat’ on YouTube. That was stupid of me as the two are very different. With YouTube, you take more time with it; Instagram you scroll through in the supermarket line. As time went on I started focusing on both platforms.
WWD: What made you launch your own brand?
S.G.: Having my own makeup line was always my dream. Being a makeup artist, I’d write down names [for her own line]. I had to not think too much about moving forward or it never would have happened! From my community, I noticed that the market was missing a palette designed specifically for those with brown eyes. It’s kind of crazy that was missing from the market. I started out online and a few months later Ulta reached out. I have big plans to expand in 2018.
WWD: Who do you follow and admire?
S.G.: Lisa Eldridge is my mentor. I also like following other makeup artists like Patrick Ta and of course Makeup by Mario.
WWD: Ever fear posting too much of your personal life?
S.G.: That’s where we are lucky that we are influencers, not celebrities. With celebrities nothing is off the table. Sometimes I have “off” days and I’d rather not post. I want to be a positive person and want to make a positive impact on my followers’ lives.