Sierra Gates, 25, may be noted as the beauty guru of one of Atlanta’s most popular cosmetic parlor’s The Glam Shop, but this celebrity makeup artist didn’t develop her empire overnight. At 15, she began restructuring herself into a self-made entrepreneur in attempts to flourish beyond struggle and adversity from her past. At an early age, Gates was faced with an unplanned pregnancy. In her mind, the birth of her daughter was a blessing, but as for her parents, their response wasn’t as pleasant. Gates was kicked out her home and was left with no choice but to quickly learn survival skills to sustain a decent life for her new bundle of joy. She began working at a makeup kiosk in a local mall to make ends meet, but she eventually discovered she had a real God-given talent. With business expanding rapidly, Sierra was able to open her first beauty service loft inside of West End Mall.
Ten years later, Gates has made tremendous progress and transitioned from renting a shop space to running a full-blown beauty franchise. Since then, she has launched her own cosmetics line, Sierra’s Secrets, opened her Glam Shop and plans to open a second location. The success doesn’t stop there; she has also racked up a famous clientele like Zonnique, Toya Wright, Reginae Carter, Mz. Shyneka, Ming Lee, Perez, Shod Santiago, Tokyo and Dayy Bella.
After dominating the beauty industry, Gates is ready to spill some of her secrets with her new book Behind the Glam. Rolling out caught up with Gates to discuss what steps she took to get started, why she chose to write a book and what it’s like juggling life as a wife and mother of two.
At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to work in the beauty industry?
When I was a little girl I liked doing hair. My mom always had me looking cute and up-to-date. I had a daughter when I was 15-years-old and it lead to me being put out. I came home from school and all my things were outside of my mom’s house. I needed a place to stay for me and my daughter at the time, so I was going from house to house. I was about to be in my 11th-grade year of high school. I really just needed a job to provide for me and my daughter. One day I just hopped on a Marta bus to go to South Dekalb mall. My first stop was this makeup stand. The lady told me she would hire me right now if I could show her that I could do makeup. A girl from my school walked up and asked me if I worked here. I was like yea, I think so. She asked me if I could do her makeup because she was going to a concert. I did her makeup and I don’t know what happened, but that is when I knew God blessed my hands to do makeup.
What was your experience like living on your own at such a young age?
My mom and dad took good care of me. I always had nice things growing up. When I got to high school and I made that one mistake they downplayed me so bad. They made me feel really bad about having my daughter. My mom begged me to have an abortion and I didn’t want to do it. The whole time I was pregnant they were telling me that I wasn’t going to be successful and that I would be on welfare. My biggest thing was to prove them wrong. I had been through so much that year … I made up my mind that I [was] going to do whatever it takes to show them that I am not going to be a teen mom that doesn’t know how to direct my daughter on the right path.
How did you develop a large clientele without marketing your brand?
My clientele grew from me working in the mall. I got better and better every day. I knew that I had something going and I knew that I had to do this for my daughter. I started to think to myself what is next for me. One of my clients was an exotic dancer at the time. She would always tell me that I would make so much money if I did makeup for the dancers in the back of the club. I was 17-years-old so I was wondering how I was going to get in the club. I went and met the owner and he tried to convince me to start dancing. I knew dancing wasn’t for me, so he let me work in the back of the club doing makeup. Once I started to make up in the strip club it was a wrap. I was introduced to do a lot of different people and my name really got out there. I was working there for about six months making $400-$600 a day. After seeing my money come in, I started to think more wisely and take this thing to the next level. I saved all my money because I knew what I wanted to do.
When did you open your first salon location?
I opened up my first salon suite at Glenwood Market in Decatur, Georgia. As I began to approach 18, I found myself feeling tired of the club. When I opened the suite I tried to launch a makeup line called Sierra’s Secrets. It wasn’t the most extravagant salon, but it was a start. I would work there during the day and the club at night. I got exhausted and knew something had to change. I decided to go to hair school so I could have that paper to say I completed a program and could open a salon. Although I was in hair school my heart wasn’t in it, so I dropped out. I still felt like I was missing something.
What role has social media played in the promotion of your businesses?
The biggest thing for me was word of mouth. I have only been on Instagram for a year or two. I do celebrity and well-known people’s makeup, but it has been from word of mouth. I remember when well-known people on Instagram would come sit in my apartment on the floor and get their face done. I didn’t event have furniture at the time. Miss Jerrika and Dayybella would come when I was about 17-years-old. Social media does play a huge part of people’s businesses, but I have been really blessed and don’t need social media. My waits are like 4-5 hours just to get their makeup done. Branding is more than just social media to me. It is about treating your clients right and making them go tell the next person.
Why did you decide to write Behind the Glam?
It’s not really a full book of my life. It gives you pieces and parts of my life and then it shows you how I started my cosmetics line. I did it for young girls crying out. I dropped out of high school, had a baby and was homeless. I was all of those things. My mom told me I was going to be a failure and on welfare. Even doing makeup people told me I wouldn’t be successful. I feel like I am one of those ones who got people wanting to start doing it as a real job. If your dream is to do makeup and you feel like you can’t because you have a child that is wrong. Just because you make a mistake doesn’t mean you can’t reach your dreams in life. This is what pushed me to do the book. I do have another book that is going to come out next year on May 24 called Sierra’s Secrets. It is going to be a full review of my whole life.