Don’t be fooled into thinking that Michelle Phan was an overnight YouTube sensation. With a debut book, millions of followers and a collaboration with L’Oreal, she’s worked hard to stay ahead of the game…
By Susan Devaney
What makes someone or something beautiful?
A beautiful woman is one that carries herself with grace, kindness and utmost respect to herself and others. She’s willing to learn, explore, and seek beauty in things most people wouldn’t.
Did you always want to work in the beauty industry?
I first recognised the power of make-up at an early age. From observing the way rosy cheeks and red lips transformed Belle in Beauty and the Beast to watching my mother’s daily beauty ritual, I discovered the dramatic difference that make-up could create. When I was finally allowed to try eyeliner myself, I looked in the mirror and saw a different person looking back. From that moment, I was hooked on make-up – and the sense of confidence, beauty and empowerment it gave me.
Why did you decide to publish a book?
Every day on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram—every digital platform that I’m on—I get asked questions about a huge range of topics. From dating and making videos to dealing with acne and finding a job or internship. I wanted to write a book as a way to answer everyone’s questions. Makeup: Your Life Guide to Beauty Stile and Success, Online and Off, includes my trademark beauty tips, as well as stories from my life and advice on topics including health, fashion, creativity, turning your passions into a profession, online etiquette and how to deal with bullying.
You have over a billion views on YouTube, how has YouTube helped with your success?
I went to college to become an illustrator of children’s books and help write them, and do illustrations for other things like movies. It’s funny because even though I was studying all of that, I was having so much fun filming and editing make-up tutorials. In 2007 and 2008 nobody had an online video career, but in 2010 and 2011 people were becoming more sophisticated on YouTube. At first, people were just making videos for fun, and not money. I was making tutorials as a hobby, because I really enjoyed doing it for other girls. Then YouTube opened up and I thought: is this what I want to do? So I quit my job as a waitress and took a hiatus from school and started uploading videos like crazy. Within that year, 2009 – a major make-up company contacted me.
Do you think anyone can make money from blogging and vlogging?
Building an audience takes time, especially if you want a loyal following. I’ve seen overnight sensations come and go, but if you want to avoid becoming a one hit wonder then you’ll need to commit to delivering quality content consistently. It can take up to two years to build a decent sized audience.
What are your top beauty product predictions for this year?
Asia’s beauty products are coming into mainstream markets. They are big on skin care and you already see their products in popular American markets like Target.
Who inspires you?
My mother, teachers, nurses, children, Princess Diana, Bruce Lee, Banksy, and Bob Marley.
What do you think has fundamentally been the key to your success?
I just kept pushing the envelope. I didn’t want to do the same thing everyone else was doing; I wanted to create a story and almost bring a more theatrical element to my videos. I’ve been doing this for seven years . . . that’s a long time, like doggy years! I have to constantly evolve. If you’re always putting out the same videos, people get bored, and they move on. Big pop culture icons like Rebecca Black or Gangnam Style last for a year, and then they’re gone. I think that because I constantly evolve and grow with my audience, I’m able to stay relevant.