My Story: Brand Founder Témi Shobowale on Beauty Standards, Authenticity and the Power of Diversity Behind the Scenes

Image courtesy of Témi Shobowale. Design by Danielle Campbell

Welcome to My Story, our new weekly series dedicated to creatives of colour and their paths to success. By championing these diverse stories and backgrounds, we hope that our understanding of the cultural conversations around beauty and fashion will expand and that respect for our differences will flourish.

Meet Témi Shobowale, a Nigerian-born, Toronto-based professional makeup artist and entrepreneur, who is also the founder of skincare line Essentials by Temi and HerDay, a series of local meet-up events geared towards bringing together and uplifting women. Here, she shares, in her own words, her beauty brand’s story, biggest inspirations and what she hopes transpires from the large outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

On where she grew up:

“I was born in Nigeria and my family immigrated to the United States when I was about eight. I’ve always grown up in and around predominantly Black neighbourhoods. Like, when we first moved to the States, we lived in the hood in Detroit, Michigan. Then we moved to Maryland, which was definitely a step up from Detroit. I eventually came out to Toronto in 2008.”

On what sparked her love for beauty:

“My love for beauty started with my mom, and it’s a double edged sword that goes deep. My mom was really into beauty, and anyone in my family would tell you that, when I was younger, I used to always run around in my mom’s Christian Dior red lipstick. I would sneak into her room and into her makeup kit. She always had fancy stuff that she would get when she travelled, all these different perfumes. Dior’s J’Adore is her favourite scent. She’s just a Dior person. Red lipstick and Dior Beauty is something I just noticed about her my entire life. That was my first step into makeup.

She also bleached her skin, which is a very toxic result of the European standards on African and Afri-Caribbean societies — on the Black community in general. Colourism exists in every culture of colour, for the most part, and there’s always this sick mindset where, if you’re lighter, you’re more prestigious, you’re more bourgeois. It’s a classist thing, in my opinion. When I was younger, I would always see my mom buy ingredients and mix them all up. I’d ask her what she was doing, and she’d say, ‘Making lotion.’

I will always remember how shocked I was when I saw a photo of my mom when she was younger and she had darker skin. She had her red lipstick on, chocolate skin, funky sunglasses, and a high shoulder blazer on. She looked so peaceful. I was like, ‘Who is this?’ Everyone told me it was my mom. I was just like, ‘Wait, but she’s dark-skinned. What’s going on here?’ That was a big twist for me as a child — one thing that has stuck with me forever. It’s weird that I could pick up on it so young, but that really played a big role. I don’t believe in bleaching, I’m against it, but it’s still a big issue to be honest. It’s a big thing in my culture.”

Image courtesy of Témi Shobowale.

On what motivated her to break into the beauty business:

“I used to always get bullied for being dark-skinned. I always thought that people would bully me more for being the chubby kid, but it was always more about my complexion growing up. Eventually, that whole lived experience would push me into stepping into the beauty industry. When I started back in the early 2000s, there weren’t really a lot of Black makeup artists. There weren’t a lot of people like me to look to. I always looked to Pat McGrath, the only person where I was like, ‘Oh my God, I just love what she creates; yet she keeps her own look so simple.’ She was goals! I really respected that.”

On starting her own beauty brand:

“Officially, it was launched in April of last year, but I’d been working on the brand for at least three years. For anyone who knew me before, they knew that I’d been doing my DIY workshops with HerDay, and that’s where it really started – I started making body butters and doing custom orders. My face oils came when I finally launched the line last year.”

On the DNA of her beauty brand:

“I learned so much about beauty products and the industry through working in beauty retail, and I started to catch on to how, a lot of the time, more money is spent on the packaging instead of paying attention to the quality of ingredients. I wanted to create something backwards from that. So when I launched my brand, I wanted simple packaging, nothing fancy, but it still had to still feel luxe. And I wanted to focus on providing clean ingredients, however I could source them. And if I can get everything Fair Trade and organic, amazing, because that’s what our skin deserves.

I also wanted to fill in the gaps that I saw were missing in my part of the industry: Black women makeup artists creating luxury organic skincare lines. This is why when I first launched, I didn’t send product samples to beauty editors, I sent them to makeup artists who would understand what I wanted to create, and could give me the right feedback. And one thing every makeup artist can relate on is how important good skin prep is for a great makeup base. I wanted to create products that were great essentials for everyday, but also amazing skin prep for makeup artists.”

On Essentials by Temi’s signature ingredients:

“I really believe in the power of essential oils and their role in aromatherapy, which is why they play a big part in my brand. I want customers to be able to have an aromatherapy addition to their skincare routine, like you’re creating a ritual, because we all know the power of scents – that’s why we buy fragrances, candles. Essential oils allow me to include that into skincare without using any fragrances. You’ll see oils like lemongrass as a star player, which has great skincare benefits, but it’s also for spiritual reasons for me: it’s a grounding scent both emotionally and mentally. For body products, it’s definitely shea butter, because I wanted something that was very close to home for me, something that I felt connected to. One of the first products that I ever made and sold was my Lemongrass and Thai Tea Buttercream.”

Essentials by Temi Lemongrass + Thai Buttercream, $28. Image courtesy of Témi Shobowale.

On her personal Essentials by Temi hero product:

“My Soothing Oil, because it really saves my skin. I’m someone who does not listen to her body as much as she should when it comes to diet. Like, I know I’m lactose intolerant. I know eating certain foods causes me to break out. The only thing that always comes to the rescue is my Soothing Oil. It keeps my breakouts in check. I use it every day, morning and night.”

Essentials by Temi Soothing Elixir, $28. Image courtesy of Témi Shobowale.

On the meanings behind her brand’s visuals:

“I feel like my whole brand aesthetic is just authenticity. Just wanting to see more people who look like me, and to be able to show off my friends. I want to show people that beauty comes in different ranges of shades, and that there are a lot of different shades of Black skin, first of all. Different shades of people in my community, whether male, female, or whatever pronoun you identify with.”

On her favourite work gig as a pro makeup artist:

“I’ve been transitioning into the film and TV industry, and the most amazing project I’ve had the opportunity to work on was The 410 on CBC. I was handpicked for the gig, and it was written by my friend Supinder Wraich, who’s a Canadian actress. Supinder played the main character Suri, and she made it her mission to have a diverse set behind the scenes — it was the most diverse set I’ve ever worked on in my life. We had a woman of colour director, and a person of colour as the assistant director. I was a Black woman keying the department for hair and makeup. One of the main hairstylists was also a person of colour. The show really pushed a lot of limits. As big and multicultural as Toronto is, the city’s film industry is not as multicultural as it should be. I felt amazing every day I was on set.”

On the Black Lives Matter movement:

“I’m getting busier because of what has happened — the last few days have been a rollercoaster — but it’s also weird for me to celebrate right now because I want lasting change. I feel like this is something I’ve been very vocal about for years, especially being in the beauty industry. And it’s tricky because it’s not that I’m sitting back right now and not doing anything. I’m still educating people, sharing knowledge, and speaking up. I just don’t want to have to be loud about what’s happening right now. I’m glad that people are finally doing things that they should have been doing for a long time, that people are finally catching on, that’s there’s finally an outpour for the need to support Black businesses, artists and creatives. But is this all going to last? Are we going to be consistent? If not, that’s when I will have to get loud again. So, I’m trying to conserve my energy — just in case we have to go through this again before 2020 ends.”

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