Kat Von D on Making it in a Male-Dominated Industry

Most of us got acquainted with tattoo artist, Kat Von D from her appearances on both Miami Ink and LA Ink.  Shortly after her reality debut, the starlet got approached by the big beauty bosses at Sephora, in 2008, to start her own makeup line. The self-proclaimed beauty junkie instantly found herself in another successful business venture with Kat Von D Beauty. Not only did she recently relaunch her entire collection to be a vegan and cruelty-free brand, but Kat has also created cult favorites that have consistently found a place on Sephora’s Bestsellers list. In a recent conversation with James Vincent at The Makeup Show Chicago, Kat candidly talked on how involved she is in building her beauty brand and how she uses creativity to stay inspired in the ever growing industry. 

How did it start for you and what inspired the beauty line?

I think I got lucky in a lot of ways. When I was first on Miami Ink that’s when the people at Sephora were interested in seeing what my perspective was on makeup. I think they were surprised of how much of a beauty junkie I was at the time. I was already a Beauty Insider. I was a card carrying member and everything. They saw the opportunity for something different and unique. We started off with four lipsticks. The idea was to create the four perfect shades of red. Even back then I’m like ‘Oh this is so much. I can’t believe it. I’m the luckiest girl in the world’. I thought I was going to make one lipstick, fast forward to now, and we got 3 million lipsticks. Obviously it’s not that easy there is so much work in it. I think there are different ways to go about creating your own makeup line. For me, I don’t have absolutely any interest in pouring myself into anything if I’m not going to do it 110%. So there are a lot of people who just want to put their name on something, they don’t show up, just collect a paycheck, and hope it does well. As for me, [I’m] somewhat micromanaging but creatively involved in the entire process. 

I get asked a lot by people ‘How do I start my own makeup line?’ I think that I am the worst at giving advice but I do think that we’re in a day and age where it’s important to go back to handmade. That’s why I love Etsy. Anybody who has a small business that means you can do it out of your garage or your living room. And I think that’s something to be celebrated.  I connect with something that’s made with love versus mass produced or computer generated. Not to knock computers. Because computers are cool too, but there is this certain magic that happens when it has the human fingerprint on it. 

"I connect with something that’s made with love versus mass produced."

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I just always tell people: figure it out. If you really want, you can do it. There are a ton of great independent brands out there that don’t get enough love, that are vegan and cruelty free, that are producing things that are really pushing the envelope as far as artistry goes. When you get into the corporate world it’s a lot easier to play it safe, but what’s the fucking fun in that? So I celebrate all the indie brands as much as possible. 

Tell us about your artistry and what you think defines an artist.

I don’t feel worthy enough to answer that. I do like to make things with my hands and with my mind, and heart so I guess that can be called an artist or a creator. I think art is one of humanity’s most redeeming qualities in this world where we are so selfish. We shit on everything and never really give anything back, and I’m talking about Mother Nature.  It’s constantly taking and not producing. When you’re an artist its one of the most selfless acts you can do. You are giving whether you inspire somebody or make something beautiful. That’s so crucial and so important. And if we do want to be remembered by something let’s hope that it is art in a world like today where you have an orange person telling us bull shit things.

How do you come up with some of your product ideas?

We do treat every product like a snowflake in a sense that the creative process may come in a different way. Sometimes it’s the idea [first]. For example when I had the Butterfly Effect collection I figured out the art direction first. Then there are other times where it’s like the Alchemist Palette where I had this specific vision for the formula first and then you know the component and everything else came later. As far as shade names, that’s the fun part, that’s like the dessert. I get to name shades after my best friends [or] my exes. It’s almost like a little tiny love letter. Also I’m inspired by music so you guys will find that the majority of the shade names are like songs or lyrics or band names, just overall muses. 

As a female in a male-dominated industry what is the piece of advice to finding your own success?

We live in a male-dominated world with an exception of very few fields out there, actually makeup artistry being one of them. Makeup artistry is made up with the majority of female. As a tattooer I remember before the TV shows I didn’t have any girlfriends that were tattoo artist. I feel that the best representation of feminism is not making your gender an issue because that’s the problem in the beginning. I don’t want people getting tattooed by me because I am a girl. That would be the opposite of feminism. I want them to get tattooed by me because of my work. You want that to speak for itself. I don’t care if you are a girl or boy or chimpanzee. If you’re good, you’re on my team. 

"I don’t care if you are a girl or boy or chimpanzee. If you’re good, you’re on my team."

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What are some tips for artists for keeping themselves inspired?

I don’t know what it’s like to be bored. If I have any downtime I’m looking at trees. I’m going to sound like a hippie right now, but trying to understand and label what it is when light shines through a leaf. I think these things are really inspiring. Also people, if we practiced looking at each and find this special beautiful thing about them, oh my God, you are going to fall in love everyday like I do. I think inspiration is all around us. You can ask my team I drag them to so many museums. I’m like a total art nerd about it. I think that is something worship worthy.

There are times where I am completely depressed. I don’t need makeup to be happy but then I get a new palette and I look at it and its like ‘Oooh I like this color combination!’ It’s just that little tiny thing [that] gets us excited about tomorrow.

Is there one thing you love the most about your beauty line?

It’s not a product. I love all the products. I use everything that I make. I think it’s mainly the interaction. This makeup line has introduced me to such an amazing new world that I really wasn’t apart of before, especially after being made fun of as a kid at school for using black eyeliner as lipstick and shaving my head into a Mohawk. It’s nice to celebrate unconventional beauty together. I would say 40%, because 60% of the screenshots in my phone are my cat, but 40% of my screenshots are of you guys. I try my best to repost it or reproduce it and give credit. I think my favorite part of being involved in the makeup world is you guys. 

Adrienne Gadling reported this from The Makeup Show Chicago. She is the editor-in-chief of IAMSADIDDY.com