Vithya Visvendra's journey from bridal makeup artist to educator
April 9, 2020
By Priyanka Ganjoo, Founder
Vithya Visvendra is a global makeup artist, content creator, and educator with a global presence and over 250,000 followers on her Youtube channel. In the past 12 years, she’s worked with hundreds of brides and many South Indian movie stars. She is the first Tamil makeup artist to teach Master Classes internationally. She is currently based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
One of the things my entrepreneurial experience is teaching me is what the kids call “shooting your shot.” You never know—a global celebrity makeup artist whose videos you and your friends have watched for a long time may actually reply. That’s how I felt when Vithya Visvendra said yes to our interview. By the time the interview ended, I realized I had found a gem of a person. Vithya is one of the most genuine and supportive people I’ve met. Here’s what she shared with me.
On how she got started
“Growing up, I used to be into art, painting, fashion, and makeup—just the girly, girly things. In Germany, we didn’t have uniforms, we wore whatever we wanted to school.
It was the 90’s, so we went crazy; I used to wear blue lipstick and colorful nails.
I was always interested in makeup, but I never, ever thought I could make it my career. Of course not, my parents would kill me. So, I did a degree in Biology & Psychology. But I didn’t have a plan. I was going through a lot of personal issues as well. I was suffering from depression for a really long time.
One day, I opened up to my parents, and said, ‘Look, I want to do something with makeup. Let me try it out. If it doesn’t work out, at least I have my degree as a backup plan.’ That’s the only way I could convince them. And they said, ‘Fine, give it a shot for a year.’ They obviously thought it wasn’t going to work out.
We used to have this app called hi5, where I used to do my makeup and upload pretty pictures. A saree designer found my pictures, and she messaged, ‘I need a makeup artist for this upcoming fashion show. If you are interested, I have 8 models that need to get ready.’ I thought, ‘I don’t have makeup for 8 people!’ But I didn’t want to let go of that opportunity. I remember saying to her ‘Let me get back to you,’ I asked my mum if I could borrow some money, and I bought every makeup product I could think of at a local drug store. For the fashion show, I single-handedly got 8 girls ready. That’s what changed me. That moment—the pressure, the stress, the hard work, all of that. I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve never had so much fun doing something even though it was hard.’
So, I went to London College of Fashion to study makeup artistry and got my diploma in 2009. My best friend was getting married that year and asked me to do her bridal makeup. Back then, the trend was heavier makeup. Brides never looked like themselves, they’d look like a done-up doll on their wedding day. My friend was petrified at the idea of looking a different skin tone than hers. There weren’t Sri Lankan makeup artists who did natural makeup on brides. So, I did her makeup and thought, ‘Maybe I should start a trend here.’
Applying my friend's makeup and seeing her so happy to look like herself made me realize there was a niche.
That’s how I started. I’d have one job every 3 or 4 months, but then it became 8 to 10 jobs every month. It started by word of mouth, and social media helped a lot. It was crazy; all of a sudden, people were flying me Business Class to other countries to get makeup done.
The more I made brides look like themselves, the more people started respecting me in the community and in our industry as a makeup artist. It became a thing; people understood that I stick to skin tones. It made me feel great that I could be this advocate. I helped brides look like themselves and feel great about themselves.
photo credit: instagram.com/vithyahairandmakeup
On parental expectations
When I started out, my parents knew that I was going through depression and they wanted to support me. But whenever we went to family gatherings, people would insultingly say, ‘She did her degree, but now she’s going to people’s houses and getting them ready.’ It was a really tough time not knowing how to respond back to family.
My parents would say to me, ‘You’re not earning any money from this. How are you going to build a future?’ But one day, my mum and I went to an Indian shop to buy jewelry. There was a mother and daughter, who seemed like she was 18 or 19. The daughter recognized me and said, ‘Oh my god, you’re Vithya Hair and Makeup! Can I take a picture with you?’ She was shaking, so I gave her a hug, and she started crying. Her mum then said, ‘My daughter really looks up to you.’ The entire time, my mum was standing on the side with her mouth wide open. She didn’t say anything on our drive home. When we got home, my mum got on the phone with all of the aunties and said, ‘Oh my god, do you know what just happened?! A girl started crying when she saw Vithya.’ I think that’s when she realized that I’m doing more than just what she perceived. That’s the day she started respecting my career as a career.
On cultural identity
When we took refuge in Germany, my parents struggled to speak German. So, they had no choice but to speak to me and my sister in Tamil. I think a lot of Sri Lankan or South Indian women who speak Tamil are able to relate to me a lot more because I speak the language and appreciate the culture and its traditions. When I did the saree draping YouTube video (which has now been watched over 6M times), a lot of mothers and grandmothers came up to me saying, ‘I learned saree draping from your video!’ My sister now knows how to drape a saree from my YouTube videos!
On makeup & skincare
A lot of people feel intimidated by makeup. They think they need to complicate things—to do the contouring, the highlight, and everything. They feel like they need to own millions of products to achieve a look because of social media. I’m the complete opposite. I try to teach people to use less products. For me, I love the idea of having good skin, mascara, and lipstick. Looking so good, so fresh but minimal. You don’t have to do big smokey eyes with false eyelashes and eyeliner. You don’t need to be highly skilled or technical. Just work with your features.
Staple products, when it comes to makeup, are a nice red lipstick and mascara. I’m also a huge advocate for skincare. Before shoots or events, if I don’t want to wake up puffy, I drink nettle tea. I taught my mum how to use Greek yogurt as a face mask, and she adds turmeric to hers. It’s an instant refresher.
I feel that Sri Lankans get left out, because we don’t really have makeup for us.
I have to alternate between 6 palettes to find the right tone for brides. Color is still an issue. Beauty brands don’t do enough peach tones and warm tones. Not just foundation or concealers, but also eyeshadows, lipsticks, and blushes. A lot of my clients will want recommendations for a good nude lipstick, but it’s hard to find one on the market for people with darker skin tones. Oftentimes, the undertones just aren’t right. I hope more beauty brands address this.
photo credit: vithyahairandmakeup.com
When I first started, there was no course in South Indian bridal makeup in the Sri Lankan community. I reached out to a few ladies I knew who were doing well in my community to ask if they were willing to teach me, but their answers were a straight, ‘No.’ They were too worried about sharing their techniques with me.
I started my Master Classes by seeing what Kim Kardashian’s makeup artist, Makeup by Mario, was doing: traveling around the world and doing these amazing makeup classes. I hosted my first class in London in 2016. It was nerve-wracking; I knew I was the first one in the South Indian and Tamil community to do that. I wondered, ‘Will people really spend the money on something like this?’ But it did so well! It’s still going well with students from around the world. That’s the most rewarding feeling—knowing that I’m giving students something that nobody was willing to give me.”
Watch a short clip of her interview here: