Ask a Genius: How Nina Mua made her passion for makeup pay off

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Ask a Genius: How Nina Mua made her passion for makeup pay off

While it’s fun to keep tabs on the rich and famous, you may wonder who works behind the scenes to keep them looking beautiful. Celebrities often employ whole teams to dress and style them, especially before a big event. These beauticians work tirelessly behind the scenes for the chance to show off their work on the red carpet.

Nina Mua, a professional makeup artist, is one of them. Originally from Moscow, Mua quit her job and moved to New York City nine years ago to pursue her longtime passion of doing makeup. Her work has appeared in magazines like Vogue Russia and Glamour.

Mua now owns the Nina Mua Makeup Academy, which offers comprehensive makeup courses for budding artists in New York City.

Our conversation with Nina Mua is the latest edition of Ask a Genius, our regular series of talks with brilliant people. This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

When did you first fall in love with makeup?

I discovered makeup at age 14. Makeup was a really powerful tool to me. I began to do my friends’ makeup for special occasions, and I became really good at it.

Ten years later, I was trying to be someone else. I had worked so many different jobs. I tried to be a psychiatrist. I worked in hospice. At one point I was studying to be a lawyer. Money was just not giving me happiness.

So I gave up and went to a beauty academy and that’s when my life became wonderful and different. Now I’m no longer working. I do what I love and people pay me. This is exactly what makes me happy.

I don’t even have to advertise my services now. Everything is word of mouth and referrals. It is my first dream job. I didn’t know I could make a career out of this. Back in the day, the beauty industry wasn’t as big as it is now.

Was it challenging to completely change your career?

No, not at all. From the first makeup lesson I took, I was hooked. I began approaching people in the elevator where I lived and asking if they wanted a free makeover, so I could practice. And that’s how I began to get clients.

I began to be invited to fashion shows. People asked me to join their professional teams. It was very natural for me. I was taking any opportunity, even if it was as low as $20. I didn’t focus on money. I was just so excited to do makeup for people. And eventually, the money came.

Soon, I got bored where I was. So I moved from Moscow to New York.

What happened next?

After a couple years of freelancing, I wanted more. So I decided to start my own school. I started completely from scratch, and I didn’t speak English very well. It seemed impossible at the time.

I initially offered classes for free. I then was hosting workshops and seminars for other makeup artists. I began looking for a permanent space, and found one but couldn’t afford it. So to finance it, I got some old friends to help me, around $3,000. I gave myself two months to pay it back.

I was able to pay the loan back in a month in a half. And in a year and a half, I was financially stable. It was really challenging. I was doing everything by myself. I was teaching, answering emails and freelancing on top of that.

I have a financial director now. We have metrics to track. Every single person on the team controls their own operations, like how much they charge and how often they offer classes.

How do you help your students find their own dreams?

We change people’s lives. We give them the tools and inspiration to have the career they want and follow their own dreams and goals.

I want all my students to reach their goals. Some of them want to become full-time makeup artists, some just want to enhance their beauty. If you look professional, if you feel confident, you’ll be successful in any industry.

(If you're looking for a new job, here's where to look.)

What keeps you going?

I receive feedback all the time, and my students say I am changing people’s lives. Some of my students go on to open their own businesses, because they are inspired. Or, they become photographers after working with my photographers.

When you have something really meaningful in your life, it inspires you to be better in other aspects in your life. I believe you can manage everything and live a harmonious life. There’s a balance to everything.

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Image: Nina Mua