This story was originally published August 15, 2016.
The following is an interview with a former Sephora employee. As told to Taylor Bryant.
From The Start
I graduated from Syracuse University in 2011. After college, I couldn't find a decent job and wasn't willing to settle for one I didn't love. Eventually, I started interning at a fashion PR firm where I worked backstage during Fashion Week. During that time, I fell in love with the idea of being a makeup artist. Shortly after the internship, I went to the Make-up Designory in NYC to learn more about the industry. I decided to get a job as a seasonal employee at Sephora for a steady paycheck and to gain some working experience.
There are many different avenues you can take as a Sephora employee. You can choose the managerial route, the educational route, and you can become a senior artist or a personal beauty advisor. Eventually, you can try out to be a Sephora Pro Artist. Or, there are people, like me, who used this time as a color cast member to try to get their freelance makeup artistry business off the ground.
Every Sephora has a different atmosphere, depending on where you work. I worked at the Sephora in Times Square, where it's hectic from 8 a.m. until midnight, when we closed. I was initially hired as a temp for the holidays, but afterward, I was brought on as a full-time employee and worked there from 2012 to 2015.
It was actually a perfect place for me to begin my makeup career (even though I hate Times Square), because I was thrown into wild situations. I was able to practice my skills on hundreds of different faces — not just perfect models. These are real people with real skin and real self-esteem issues.
I'm going to be totally blunt about this: The absolute best part about working at Sephora was the GRATIS. Tons and tons of gratis. Brands will come in and train you on new products and, oftentimes, they give them to you for free to try. After working there for years, I still have drawers and drawers of those products. It is just as amazing as it sounds.
I can think of more than 50 brands (skin care, makeup, fragrance) off the top of my head that are available at the Times Square location. A client could walk in and pick up any given product and I'm supposed to have extensive knowledge of said product with tips on how to use it. It requires a tremendous amount of study and skill.
There were also always really cool events going on and, since we were in Times Square, a lot of celebrity brand ambassadors would come to the store. It was an absolute MADHOUSE when they came, but it was cool to see it all go down.
Even after going to makeup school, there are a few hacks I learned during my time at Sephora, like using primer to clean up eye makeup instead of makeup remover. It removes fallout quite well, without messing up the makeup underneath or leaving an oily residue.
Right before I left Sephora, they started to expand the K-beauty and natural-beauty lines. I discovered the brand Erborian there, which combines French and Korean skin-care practices. I also grew to adore Tata Harper and Tatcha.
You are encouraged to wear makeup — and even though I don't typically wear lipstick, I would put it on and keep it on for my entire shift.
I think people would be surprised by the fact that so many employees don't wear makeup on their days off. After having to apply it every day, the absolute last thing I wanted to do on my days off was wear anything.
We wore headsets in our ears so our managers could make announcements, make stock calls, and for Loss Prevention — otherwise known as stealing.
One day, I was standing in the front of the store when I heard an announcement from Loss Prevention that a client who had stolen something was about to walk out. They described her to me, so I watched her wait at the revolving door for people in front of her to exit. She proceeded to WHACK her entire face on the side of the revolving door. She left an entire imprint of her face — from the grease on her forehead to the lipstick she was wearing. There are some crazy things I saw while working in Times Square, but that might be the funniest.
The worst part of the job — as with many retail jobs — was dealing with terrifyingly rude clients. There are people that expect everything from you and don't show a lick of appreciation. A client once threatened to "kick my ass" because I couldn't find the exact shade of bronzer she wanted and wouldn't accept my recommendation to use a foundation powder, instead. She was so furious with me that she threatened to hurt me and I had to get security to escort her out of the store.
Something that surprises many people is that we don't get commission and we can't accept tips after a makeover. Since we're not working for extra bucks, I do believe the recommendations we make are more honest.
I do think working at Sephora has helped me get to where I am today as a freelance makeup artist. As I said earlier, working on so many different faces really taught me how to enhance individual features.
Working there also taught me patience. I am so careful now to respect every single person working in a store or restaurant. I've learned that "kill ‘em with kindness" is the best way to approach any sort of situation. It has completely changed the way I shop, dine, and — of course — do makeup.