The Create & Cultivate 100 annually honors 100 forward-thinking women across industries who are taking the world by storm. Accepting challenges, breaking through barriers, and inspiring the masses, each woman is finding new roads and paving the way for others. This year, Anastasia Soare was included as an honoree in the beauty category. Read on for her full interview about the building of a brow empire that began as a one-woman operation.
When Anastasia “The Eyebrow Queen” Soare launched her namesake brand, Anastasia Beverly Hills, nearly 20 years ago, there were virtually no brow-specific makeup products on the market. (Something that’s, frankly, impossible to imagine for anyone who’s set foot in a Sephora lately.)
Cut to 2019, and Soare’s seemingly simple idea to produce high-quality brow-shaping products has evolved into a projected $335 million business. Actually, “business” doesn’t really do it justice—Anastasia Beverly Hills is a veritable empire, with products spanning brow pencils, eye shadow palettes, and even foundation. And her celebrity fans have cemented her iconic status. Yes, we’re talking major clients from Michelle Obama to Kim Kardashian and Oprah Winfrey.
Ahead, Soare tells Create & Cultivate the #1 piece of career advice she’d give her younger self today, why she believes entrepreneurs should give their employees the space to spread their wings, and what keeps her motivated on her most challenging of days.
CREATE & CULTIVATE: You launched the first Anastasia Beverly Hills product line almost 20 years ago. How have you been able to create longevity for your brand? What tips do you have for people trying to give their brand lasting power? What's the secret!?
ANASTASIA SOARE: To be authentic, and to be hands-on. Always be in the kitchen. Everyone has a different path that led them to the top, and that’s just what’s worked for me.
Q: When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you #FindNewRoads + switch gears to find success?
A: When I moved to the United States, I knew no one and I didn’t know the language. There are certain challenges you encounter while navigating a new country that only other immigrants can truly understand. I was constantly on a mission—to convince the bank to give me a credit card, to convince the landlord to rent me the salon space, to convince detractors that eyebrows could be big business. I believed in my vision, and that is what kept me going. I learned to never give up, to never take no for an answer. Skills you can learn, experience you can gain, but determination and passion will be your guiding lights.
Q: We can only imagine how many lessons you've learned along the way. What do you wish your younger self knew when you were first starting out in the beauty industry? Why?
A: I wish I had the reassurance that, of course, it’s not supposed to be easy. I can’t tell you the number of evenings I went home ready to give up, not sure I could continue one more day. And then I would wake up in the morning and start it all again. I love this Mahatma Gandhi quote, “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And then the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.” I sacrificed so much when I left Romania, but I knew that I wanted to create something for myself that would give me purpose each and every day.
Q: You've been very hands-on in your business (especially when it comes to all things eyebrows). Why has it been important for you to take this approach? How do you balance delegation and creative control? What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs navigating this?
A: The reason I’ve always been so hands-on within the brand is that, for a long time, the brand was just me: one woman, doing eyebrows in a room of a salon. I was singularly responsible for these women’s arches. They trusted me, and we developed a rapport. The business has grown exponentially from the face-to-face exchange it once was, but I still feel that sense of responsibility to my customers. Luckily, I’ve had an incredible team behind me. I’m not an easy boss, but I believe I can spot when someone is good at something and encourage their abilities. My advice for other entrepreneurs is to try to be on the lookout for the same and give your employees the space to spread their wings.
“Skills you can learn, experience you can gain, but determination and passion will be your guiding lights.”
Q: You've seen many trends come and go during your time in the beauty industry. What changes do you hope to see in the future? Why?
A: Beauty has seen such tremendous growth for the individual in the last decade and a half. For such a long time, there was such a one-size-fits-all mentality for what was considered fashionable, and everyone subscribed to that—even if it meant that it didn’t suit them personally. I think today the definition of beauty carries with it a breath of fresh air, a fluidity, and most importantly, an individuality. Anastasia Beverly Hills was built on the foundation that brows are personalized to each person’s bone structure, and that this individuality is what creates harmony and proportion. People are now making beauty their own — what’s best for their features, their skin tone, their particular aesthetic. The social media effect comes into play because suddenly there’s this access to see and be inspired by so much. There’s a chance to be different, to be better. I love seeing everyone embracing that, and I hope it continues.
Q: Social media only shows us the highlight reel but we know the reality is very different—What's a mistake you made and what did you learn from it? How did you turn it into an opportunity?
A: When I started shaping brows, it was sort of a revolutionary thing. No one was doing it. The salon was so busy that I was working twelve-hour days, seeing client after client with hardly a break in-between. Each moment that passed was precious, and I noticed that even the seconds it took to switch my tools were wasting valuable time. So I worked with a manufacturer to develop a double-ended tool: a brush on one side, and a spoolie on the other. It was the first of its kind. At the time, I didn’t know that these sorts of things could be patented, and now those brushes are everywhere. Years later, while working with a trademark lawyer, I received an incredible piece of advice. He told me that the best thing I could do for the brand was to make Anastasia synonymous with brows. So that’s what I did, and I’ve never let an opportunity like that go by again.
Q: You were the first to make products just for brows, but now there is a lot of competition (due to your immense success). How do you remain on top as competition grows? How do you set ABH apart from other beauty brands (or even copy-cat brands)?
A: I try not to spend much time worrying about what other brands are doing. I prefer to stay focused on my own work. It’s important as a business to not look too often out of the corner of your eye. It slows you down. Of course, we don’t exist in a vacuum but stay focused. Over the decades and through the debut and evolution of generations of products, ABH customers can always expect innovation and a commitment to quality. They are the pillars to which we’ve always remained committed. Above all, be consistent.
Q: With success comes opportunity, but that also means you have your hands full. What keeps you inspired and motivated to keep going even on your most challenging days?
A: I’m deeply inspired by the way makeup has the transformative power to truly affect someone’s life. When we launch products, our customers are essentially inviting us into their homes, their routines, the way they choose to present themselves to the world. It’s a very intimate experience, and I’m so proud that ABH gets to be a part of that for so many people.
“It’s important to remain relevant. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a challenge, but just another part of the business—to stay connected to your customers and consistently meet their needs.”
Q: You take a very interesting (and pretty unheard of) approach to social media, you manage much of the Instagram yourself and you don't do paid partnerships. Why did you choose this social media tactic? What have you learned by taking control of your brand message in this way? Would you advise this to other entrepreneurs starting out today? Why?
A: Thanks to my daughter Norvina, the current President of ABH, we were early adopters on the Instagram platform. She saw it as an opportunity for the brand to expand through social media and build a special relationship with users. Knowing that not everyone would use makeup the same way and that it would need to be customized from face to face, we were excited to showcase the diversity of what everyone was creating.
It also hit me just how many more people we could reach. When we would travel to the salons at Nordstrom and spent time speaking with clients about the products, we would maybe reach 100 people a day. It was all we could do with the time constraints. But when we posted those first images, we were soon getting thousands of likes. A woman commented about how she wished she had Brow Wiz where she was. I asked, “What’s your address, I’ll send you one.” But she was in Pakistan! We had a fan all the way in Pakistan, and it was then that I realized the kind of reach social media was going to allow us to have.
Q: What is your best advice for someone trying to launch a new beauty line today? Where should they start? Is it possible in such a saturated industry? Why?
A: Stay committed to quality, and never launch anything you’re not in love with yourself. People remember how you treat them, the quality of what you’ve recommended and created. Put your consumer first and make sure they know that you have their best interests in mind. Give them something they need and love from the beginning because you never get the opportunity for a second first impression. And next, try to find an empty niche and fill it. When I started, no one was creating products for brows, a kit for contouring hadn’t been assembled. Look at what the community may need, and work to give them something innovative.
Q: What traits do you need to succeed as an entrepreneur or founder in the competitive start-up environment? Why?
A: You need to be able to stay in tune with the fluctuation of your industry. It’s important to remain relevant. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a challenge, but just another part of the business—to stay connected to your customers and consistently meet their needs.
Q: You've been very smart and savvy with your business and it's been incredibly profitable. Where do you think is the most important area for a business owner to focus their financial energy? Why? What money mistakes have you made and learned from along the way?
A: It’s important to constantly have a 360-degree view of what’s going on in your company. Remember that every penny counts. I was always very conservative and very careful, but of course, I made mistakes. The biggest thing I learned was how not to make the same mistake twice.
Q: How do you define beauty? What makes you feel beautiful?
A: I believe that what makes you feel powerful is also what makes you beautiful. Running a business, seeing people around the world use my products, hearing from others that I am their inspiration on their own road as an immigrant, as an artist, or as an entrepreneur—that’s what makes me feel beautiful.
Q: What is the #1 book you always recommend? Why?
A: Never Give In! A collection of Winston Churchill’s speeches that never fails to stir something inside you.
Photographer: Jenna Peffley