Today we’d like to introduce you to Uju Okechukwu.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Uju. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’ve always been an artisan. It kinda runs in the family. As a child, I drew portraits and stills, my siblings did the same, plus comics, and as I grew older, I started experimenting with more aspects of Art like painting, fashion illustration and dressmaking, shoe restoration (flipping), nail art, hair making and some I can’t remember right now.
I was and still am very great with hands. Asides my artistic side, another thing I was notable for was my ability to turn anything into a business. It was so clear that even as young as seven years old, I told people that asked that I want to be a businesswoman when I grow up. This was particularly frowned at by family members because in an African home, you’re either a Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, Accountant/Banker or unsuccessful.
The summer before I got into university, I visited my aunt in Houston, where I spent the entire holiday. She has a daughter, a few years older than me and attending the school I was to attend. On a random, hot Houston afternoon, she asked me if I knew how to do my makeup since I was going to a school where every girl was big on it. I was only 16 years old and in 2014, 16-year-olds were not wearing makeup lol. She proceeded to give me a full summer training on how to do basic, beginner things like drawing my eyebrows and applying foundation.
On getting to school, I mixed with other 16 and 17 year old but I stood out because my eyebrows were always “on fleek”. It got me a lot of attention, especially in my locker where I had assortments of Mac lipsticks and pencils which my cousin had picked out for me before I left for school.
It wasn’t long before word got around about me and when our matriculation was around the corner, I started getting requests from people to have their makeup done. Only thing is, I couldn’t do more than the basics! I disclosed it to my potential clients but they didn’t mind and loved what I did on them. Even professional makeup artists that came around that day commended the work I did as they stated, “You did well! It’s not as easy to do someone else’s makeup as it is to do yours.” I figured my artistic abilities helped with that.
By the next summer, I was in Los Angeles for the holiday and I had access to fast and free internet, something that is not as available in Nigeria. I created a makeup school for myself by watching YouTube videos for 8-12 hours everyday and practicing with the few tools I had and things I could find in my aunt’s bowl of makeup. I did this everyday for the whole summer. Towards the end of the holiday, I started helping my aunt with some of her work to earn some money and also got small cash gifts from family friends. I used 90% of it to buy as many drug-store makeup as I could afford including BH cosmetics, LA Girl, Maybelline, Loreal and Revlon. I couldn’t afford to buy to many foundation shades so I got the lightest and darkest of black people shades and mixed them well enough to fit any client’s tone.
My career kicked off, and I became one of the go-to MUAs for birthday parties, graduations and matriculations in my school and nearby schools. Although getting to work outside of school was a challenge as we were not allowed out of the school gates without parent’s permission (Christian school). Getting to work on holidays was not easy as well because as I said earlier, careers in non-professional fields are not taken seriously in African homes. I still did my best to work, sneaking around and having a family member escort me to jobs.
In 2018, the year I graduated, I started to lose interest in traditional makeup applications. The process started to feel like a routine. That’s when I started incorporating more flamboyant colors and small artistic details to my client’s makeup which a lot of them did not appreciate. It wasn’t long before I started working with photographers and videographers on high fashion and beauty editorials, music videos and fashion runways. I then found a balance between my editorial and traditional work.
In 2019, I made the move to come to LA permanently to pursue my dream in the entertainment central of the world, under the condition that would get my Master’s degree in Finance while at it. I was willing to give up traditional makeup for good. Things did not turn out the way I had expected and I fell into the palms of depression and anxiety and almost gave up on my career but I met someone God-sent in early 2020 and I can almost say he saved my dream. Now, I’m back at it full force! Y’all be checking for me!
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
A wise man once said, if your work is too easy, then your dreams are not big enough. Being in a restrictive Christian school, the overprotection that comes with being the only girl in 4 children, choosing a career path different from the norm and much more. Another challenge that a lot of females in the business world face and is not talked about enough is the sexual expectations from men in order for us to get good work. It is very real and I’m glad I was able to navigate through my career without giving into any of it, even though some opportunities were forfeited.
When I came to LA, I was hit with the difficulty in movement as I didn’t have a car throughout my first year and I lived pretty far from the city. It was a 2-hour ride on the bus to get there. I also had a hard time networking because of the fast-paced nature of LA and my distance from places I could meet people on a regular day.
Regardless of the challenges I faced, and the ones to come, I keep pushing and will continue till I breast the tape!
Please tell us about Bejuiced Makeup.
The name of my brand is Bejuiced Makeup. It came from a nickname a friend used to call me, “Juice” derived from my name, ‘Uju’ and also from my popular punchline, ‘I put the JU in JUICE!’ I specialize in both editorial and traditional makeup artistry with a stronger focus on the editorial aspect, broken down into high fashion and beauty shoots which I photograph and retouch by myself 50% of the time. I guess we can say I’m a portrait photographer as well. I also work with models for runway shoots and my work is not limited to only females, but male models as well. I can say this is what sets me apart from many other makeup artists on my level and my field. One of the things I am most proud of is that in my five year career as an MUA, I have never left a client unsatisfied. I do my best to ex-the-cell with whoever I am working with, from the lady across the street to actors on the set of Netflix productions.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I have made a lot of mistakes in my short career. All I have learned from, none, I regret. Every mistake and wrong turn was part of the journey that has brought me to where I am today. So, I would not change anything in my perfectly imperfect story. It’s perfect for me.
- Phone: +1(424)527-7322
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://instagram.com/bejuiced_?igshid=1uk90c5x9a8ug
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/uju_so?lang=en
Photographers: @stjphotography_, @willens_, @lasalvy, @the.alfe, @made.brand, @asamaige; Models: @yfmoaksy, @jazzman_c, @darabanjoh, @patricia_m.i, @tarabond7, @uto_rosman, @bassi_jr; Hair: @hairbyopesmade