You would think going from industrial engineering into the world of make-up artistry would be quite the jump, but for Alexandra Butler it was a natural, faith-filled move.
If you don’t the name Alexandra Butler you most certainly know her clients, Missy Elliott, Cynthia Bailey, Bianca Lawson and Lalah Hathaway just to name a few. The St. Louis native and Atlanta-based make-up artist (MUA) has quickly established herself as a celebrity go-to and melanin master in the world of glam. Most recently, she made her television debut on the Kim Kardashian produced make-up competition reality show Glam Masters on Lifetime. The jet-setting wife, entrepreneur and MUA sat down with Adore Colour to discuss her best lessons learned, Instagram no-nos and the value of knowing of your worth.
You went from a background in Industrial Engineering to Makeup Artistry — that’s a big jump. What prompted the shift in your career focus?
So as a child, I was always very artistic and loved to draw and paint. I only went to school for engineering because I was equally as good at math and science and my parents strongly insisted I go to school for something that would make me a successful adult. While in engineering, I noticed I had zero passion in that career and tapped back into my artistic side when I was challenged with doing my own makeup for my wedding since it was in Jamaica. That’s what sparked me wanting to pursue a career in makeup. I posted how I was going to do my makeup on YouTube [on a] destination wedding forum and got such positive feedback.
You’ve had the opportunity to work with some great entertainers over the years. How did you begin doing celebrity makeup? BONUS: Favorite celebrity to work with.
Working at the MAC Counter, especially in Atlanta, I came across so many celebrities or industry professionals. You have to always be prepared for anything and be ready to speak to anyone when it comes to your goals in your career. My particular break came from when I would work with my regular client named Ms. Lucy, who I later found out was Da Brat’s manager. She wanted me to do Da Brat one day at the counter and so I begin working with Da Brat for special projects. She would come to the house or the counter to get her makeup done by little ole me. When Love and Hip Hop brought the franchise to Atlanta, Brat’s best friend was the producer and when they were looking for MUAs for the show, Brat put in a good word for me and I was hired. My clientele grew from there and word spread that I was an amazing MUA. Networking is key!
Instagram is notorious for self-made MUAs. What’s your advice to MUAs hoping to take their love of makeup artistry from hobby to full-time career?
Not sure if you have seen the latest drama from me giving advice to newer MUAs on Instagram, but I just recently posted about MUAs charging what they are worth. If they consider themselves professionals, and if they are not at a point in their artistry where their skills are strong enough to charge accordingly, I suggest to continue to practicing for free. It sounds harsh, but the message is very clear. I have noticed the majority of MUAs not charging their worth and devaluing the industry. By undercutting other MUAs, it sends a message that not only are you cheap, but that it’s ok for clients to expect to pay little to nothing for quality makeup. It makes it very hard for professional MUAs to charge what they rightfully deserve if other MUAs are doing celebs for shout-outs or working for free and offering quality skills. So that’s my latest advice, know your worth and respect yourself more.
What made you start your mentorship program? Why is it so important that we pay it forward, even as we ascend to the top?
I started my mentorship program because so many MUAs would reach out to me and want to learn how I applied makeup. Then to take it a step further, so many MUAs wanted to just learn everything from me. When I was coming up as a new MUA, no one wanted to share what they knew, let alone allow me to shadow them, so I told myself when I got to a point where someone would want to shadow me, I would allow it. But of course, if I invest in you, you have to respect my business and invest in me, so there is a price tag on a mentorship. It’s an investment, but that’s what building a career is about. Making smart investments.
Who are your mentors, professionally and personally?
My mentors are fellow successful black women, most of whom aren’t even in the beauty industry. My circle of friends are all entrepreneurs who own successful businesses, so I have a team around me who encourage me every day. I honestly look up to those who stand on the same values I stand on no matter what industry they are in. My mother [is also a mentor to me]. She was the very first entrepreneur I ever met. She showed me the ropes (the good and the bad) at an early age. That’s why business comes first for me, even before the artistry. It’s been instilled in me.
Favorite make-up tricks and tips for women of color?
Less is more! As black women, the melanin in our skin is something that other races are currently purchasing so we need to embrace it. My aesthetic for makeup is natural and simply enhancing. I don’t believe in piling on makeup or caking it up on the face. All of my clients want to look effortless and more youthful, so I have a light hand when it comes to application. I do believe in coverage, but when we look at our current industry leaders (i.e., Beyoncé, Rihanna, Angela Bassett, etc.) their makeup is never too much or overdone. Gone are the days for heavy, caked on makeup.
Being an entrepreneur can be the quite the grind. I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of no’s along the way as well. What keeps you going and motivated on the hard days?
I believe in God, period. My faith is extremely strong in God. He has brought me through some rough times and has proven to me, that I am good enough. Once he opened my eyes to this industry and the skill and talent he gave me in my hands, I haven’t doubted him since. Times get VERY hard and things aren’t always positive, but God has a way of bringing me back to him with my faith. So, I go through my 5-minutes of freaking out and then I’m back to the grind once those 5-minutes are up. No’s push me harder!
How did the opportunity for Glam Masters come about? Was it hard having your work critiqued on a national platform?
It’s funny because my bestie, and fellow ATL MUA, Robin Johnson, was the one who suggested I applied for it. I wasn’t interested at all and didn’t have a desire to work with Kim Kardashian, but I figured, “what do I have to lose?” The experience was amazing and I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was hard to take criticism because like the great words of Erykah Badu, “I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit,” but it was fun. The challenges were difficult and in the end, even though I deserved to win [and didn’t], I had a great time and met some awesome people.
Biggest mistake you see aspiring MUAs and entrepreneurs make?
Biggest mistake is to dictate your worth or your success based off of someone else’s. I can attest to this because when I was slaving at the counter years ago, I would do this. I’d see those freelance MUAs come to the counter all happy and working on TV shows and I would question when it would be my chance to do so, not knowing what they had to go through to get there. Or not understanding there was a process I needed to go through to appreciate such opportunities. If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve stressed that to my younger self.
What’s your “me time” look like?
Cocktails, laughs, friends, family, good food and traveling. I have no issue taking my “me” time AT ALL. I work hard and I play even harder.
What’s next for you?
I have a special project that I have been sitting on for a while now that will allow people all over the world to access me on a whole other level. I am going to be able to use the platform that I have built over the years to educate and inform the masses. I have a passion in helping others, so I will be taking that to the next level very soon. So be sure to stay tuned.