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Michelle Phan—the most famous YouTube makeup vlogger in the world—showed up to our interview at her ipsy headquarters without makeup. "Most days, I just wear a little concealer and that's it," she tells us while sipping green juice. "I have nothing to hide; my viewers have seen me without makeup, so it's all good."
Although we were secretly a little disappointed that LA-based Phan didn't show up as Lady Gaga or one of her other wildly famous makeup tutorial characters, we were impressed by her flawless natural skin, which she maintains through meditation, green juice, and mindful breathing. "People need to breath from the lower belly, just like we did when we were children," she explains. "As we get older and more anxious, we forget to breath correctly. That's why a lot of people find comfort in smoking—it's actually a breathing mechanism. If you learn to inhale and exhale correctly, you don't need to smoke to achieve the same buzz."
Clearly, Phan is wise beyond her years. At just 27 years old, the Forbes favorite has managed to garner more than seven million subscribers on YouTube, which led her to create two extremely lucrative businesses: a makeup line called Em Cosmetics and a subscription cosmetics company called Ipsy. Instead of rewarding herself with glamorous trips and shopping sprees, Phan has used her fame and fortune to launch ipsy Open Studios, a Santa Monica-based platform for beauty creators to build their careers by using the space's studio and tools to shoot videos—all for free. Here, Phan tells us more about the launch while dropping more knowledge.
What's the response been like for ipsy Open Studios?
Amazing. Last time I checked back in May, we had 10,000 sign-ups during the first week we launched. I don't know how many we have now. It's been insane just going through the process. We have someone going through each profile to see if the applicant has a channel and an Instagram account. And it's a bonus if they're LA locals because once they're accepted we can set up time to shoot almost immediately. However, if they are international, we place them in our members-only program where they can get exclusive access to Q&A sessions and one-on-one beauty mentorships via live chat, all free.
How does ipsy Open Studios make money?
It doesn't. Although it's not filed as such, this is really a not-for-profit business. If anything, we put money into the program to maintain it. This is just my way to give back to the community and help them reach success. I'm not into keeping knowledge a secret, and it's been like that since Day One. In fact, the first video I ever did was about revealing the secrets of my everyday makeup.
How long can a member shoot here in one day?
They have three hours to shoot here, and they can shoot whatever they'd like: makeup tutorials, beauty hauls, Q&A sessions, etc. If they need special lighting or backdrops, we provide that. If they need makeup or other tools, we can provide that, too!
What do you say to those who think that it's too late to start a YouTube channel?
It's never too late, because someone who looks similar to you and likes your specific style wants to learn from you, not from me or anyone else. It's about making a connection. Think about it: when you open up the market to seven billion people in this world—I'm not saying that seven billion people are connected to the internet, maybe a quarter of that, but it's still a lot—that's a huge marketplace. If you have access to that marketplace, you're going to have a niche market that you can really not only own, but be part of and build.
What are your thoughts on blogger bashing and the pressure to be successful?
When I see a sense of jealousy and a community that feeds off of pulling people out of their happiness, I just know that they're probably going through their own battles. The internet has become so chaotic, which is why I needed to create a space, a haven, where people can come together to share and create beautiful things that mean something to them. Everyone has a chance to have what Andy Warhol calls "15 minutes of fame." Although in the internet age, it's more like six seconds of fame.
Success is relative to me. If you can take care of your family and health, that's success. But we live in an age now where people focus on how many likes they have, how many followers they have, how many Hermes bags they have. A lot of people think I just became famous on YouTube, but I was actually an influencer when I was 15 years old. I had a blog on Xanga, which had about 10,000 followers.
Being a makeup guru, what are your thoughts on Kylie Jenner's dramatic beauty transformation?
Look, Kylie is 17 years old, almost 18. When I was her age I was experimenting with my looks too, but she's in the limelight, so she's going to get judged. I think it's unfair to judge someone that young. No one asked her permission if she wanted to be put under this microscopic. If she wants to get lip injections, fine. Leave her alone. Everything she's doing right now should be seen as experimentation. If the media wasn't focusing on her, she wouldn't be considered an influence on our youth. Think about that. A lot of people want to focus on her because its controversial. I grew up in the Britney Spears age, when she was controversial. I've seen this so many times before; right now it's Kylie, and next it will be someone else.
People will always be obsessed with youth culture.
When will people wake up and realize that the reason we're so attracted to the youth culture is because that's what the media only shows? The media doesn't show all these exciting things happening around the world, like new discoveries and findings in ancient cities. What about all those megalithic structures, like the Pyramids of Giza, the Maui heads, and Stonehenge? These are 1,300 ton granite stone rocks that even today we would have a hard time moving. These are the things that excite me, but the media isn't interested in any of that.
How do you detox from media and technology?
I force myself to detox by letting my phones and laptops die. I start the day with a full charge in the morning, just like me, and then I use these devices until they die. When they die, I put them back to recharge, then I recharge. You have to detach yourself from things that keep you detached from this world. We need more ideas and less selfies. That way, we can help the world and people who are actually suffering.
When I walk out of my apartment, I make it a point every day to say hello to the mailman, the gardeners, everyone. I want to acknowledge their existence and say "You're alive, you're here, and you're loved." Like, "I thought about you today." Because so many people live like this [looks down at phone]. They're actually living in the past, if you think about it.
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