What led you to starting your own business?
I remember trying to choose a major for college when I was in high school and feeling so overwhelmed and confused. When you come from an Asian-American household you have few options: finance, medical, or law. I chose the fastest option, accounting to be specific. From the day I arrived at college, I felt out of place—it just didn’t feel right. I always wanted to do something artistic, so I switched from accounting to architecture. I chose these because they were “prestigious” titles and it seemed like what I was supposed to do. That didn’t feel right either and I lasted a few months before I quit attending. At this time I was serving full-time until I could figure what I would try next.
Then I was approached by a financial services company, and I decided to give it a try. The job was interesting and had potential for huge rewards, but I didn’t have that spark when talking about it. However, while working there I learned so many things about myself, gained a lot of independence, and fine-tuned my mindset to think on my feet. For the first time, I’d started setting goals and dreaming about what my future could be. I also experienced a ton of rejection trying to sell life insurance and mutual funds to clients who were twice my age. That rejection also taught me I needed to have confidence in myself and love what I was doing. So when working here, I realized I wanted to work for myself and open a business—all I needed was to find something I was passionate about to pour my energy into.
Shortly after I got my lashes done for the first time, the lash artist said she was looking for an apprentice. I thought it was a silly idea at first and brushed it off, but after a while, I started to entertain the idea until I finally gave it a try. When I gave it a try I realized this was the artistic niche I had been trying to find—I fell in love with it immediately. She told me I needed to get better before she could give me clients so I decided to go home and practice until I improved. I started practicing on all my friends and coworkers, while I was still serving. I didn’t charge them at first, but then I noticed they kept coming back, so I realized that I could and should start to charge them. I realized as an apprentice, my potential for growth would be limited, so I decided to go out on my own and open a lash business.
What was that journey like?
After deciding to open a business, I started researching. The first step was to get my esthetician license, so I dropped everything I had going on, moved to Indianapolis, and went to school. I was going to school full-time, serving full-time, and trying to build up clientele in my free time. Seven months later I was making more money than I was at my serving job, so I decided to quit and go all in with my business. I lashed out of my house for a while until I saved up money to rent a small salon room. Quickly outgrowing the small room, I started looking at other spaces that were larger. After finding a space for me, I was approached by a large lash company about whether or not I would be interested in becoming an educator. The decision made sense for me, so I soon joined their team. I realized I needed an even larger space if I planned on training often, so I paid for the space right next to me, combined the two neighboring spaces, and remodeled.
Throughout the journey, I realized I had just been keeping myself busy until I’d finally found my passion. I set huge goals for myself, and soon I began accomplishing those goals. I didn’t sit around and think about what could go wrong or spend months trying to figure out a perfect plan, I just wrote down what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, and started tackling my list. I knew that there were already so many well-established lash artists in town, but I was willing to work extended hours, so I was able to appeal to more clients because of my availability. I don’t have a business degree, and I didn’t know a lot about the back-end of running a business, but I knew I could learn along the way. I would try things, and if they didn’t work out, I would change it up. I knew I would make mistakes, and I was okay with that. I don’t think you ever feel 100% ready to open a business. You just have to make that leap and start. Understand and trust yourself to learn as you make mistakes.
As a woman-owned business, are there certain hurdles you feel are still in place for women pursuing a career in business?
I think women-owned businesses are increasingly more common, but I have faced challenges being a woman—even more so being a young woman growing a business. I’m 25-years-old today, but I was younger when I was trying to find a space for lease, I was turned down by several men who refused to give me the opportunity to prove I was a solid business because it was so new. One leasing agent showed me the property and though I met all the requirements, they continued to have me jump through hoops.
In what ways do you implement inclusivity and diversity in your business?
I treat everyone who walks through my door with the same respect. You never know someone’s story upon first meeting them, and I love getting the opportunity to know them. The Babe Cave is a place where anyone can choose to be anyone they please without fear of judgment. It is a chill, relaxing safe space; I strive to make it an inviting environment to anyone.
Now, as I’ve become established in the beauty industry, I hope to see more businesses prioritize catering to more than just one client. I’m hopeful more companies in the beauty industry will continue to focus on being more inclusive and appreciative of others.
What tools and resources do you use to help reflect on yourself as a business owner?
Journaling is amazing and great for reflection. Podcasts have also helped me grow. Writing down my thoughts helps me see things I could improve, or find a solution while hearing outside opinions and ideas has helped me see different perspectives on my own business. I listen to a variety of podcasts on beauty, business, and mindset. These have shown me a different perspective than what I am typically exposed to. Meditation is a great tool as well; I find it very hard to slow down and stop all the thoughts racing around in my head. But when I make time to do this helps me stay grounded. In addition, I also like to list out what I’m grateful for. I find this helps me keep a positive attitude.
How have your experiences impacted the value of diversity to you as a person, business owner, and community member?
I think my experiences have impacted me the most. I grew up in different circumstances than the average kid and was able to see parts of the world most people never see in their life. When I was eight, I went to live in South Korea, where I did not speak the language or knew anything about the culture. My father put me in taekwondo lessons to keep me busy and meet kids my age; this is where I learned everything. At first, it was very frustrating being a few steps behind everyone, but I quickly picked up the language. Soon, it felt like home. I think being thrown into a new environment taught me a lot about how to form connections and learn quickly.
My childhood has played a huge part in my determination and drive today. Later in life, I ditched society’s norms on education and value, found something I wanted to do, moved to a new city, and leaving with zero support from family braced me for just about anything.
I love to empower women and give them hope. Becoming an educator has brought out a different side of me, and I can’t explain the fulfillment it brings to see students succeed. I teach lots of techniques, but the part I most enjoy mentoring on is the mindset. It’s important to have support and to believe in yourself. I know how hard it was doing that. I did that on my own, with so much negativity surrounding every step. But if I can help show women to empower themselves to believe in themselves and relentlessly go after their goals, I think I can make a small difference in their lives. We’re told that when we grow up if you do X, Y, and Z, you’ll be successful. Success just isn’t that linear, and it doesn’t need to be. I think the more we exemplify the way you can become anybody you want to be, the more people will believe in it. More people will step outside of their comfort zone, and they’ll find what ignites their passion.
Images courtesy of Lizz Bell, The Babe Cave, LLC. Copyright Sweet Caroline Photography