Harmony Artist Esther Perez shares her story
The Little Girl From Cuba by Esther Perez
I was born in Cuba, a small Caribbean island known for it’s cigars, rum, and infamous dictators. From the very beginning, I had a “not so small” obsession with beauty and cosmetics. I spent a lot of time as a child looking through government sanctioned beauty parlors and spending time with the ladies in the neighborhood as they got together to do homemade beauty treatments (eyebrows, facials) and helping to create hair rollers out of tin cans (we were very inventive!).
Around the age of thirteen, I was handed a pair of tweezers by my aunt and asked to do her eyebrows and under that afternoon sun, my near OCD obsession with perfect eyebrows began. My aunt loved her eyebrows and in little to no time, I began to have many visitors from my town. My backyard turned into a “not so secretive” eyebrow secret business. I learned many tricks and tips over time, and even used charcoal pencils to help fill in the eyebrows of those who were missing hair. However, I was never satisfied because I knew it was only temporary and soon they would have to wash away my work.
Time passed and I did the mandatory things in the life of a young woman of my generation. I got married to a nice Christian man, had two beautiful children, and then my husband promptly left for the life of bachelorhood. There I was, a young single mother of two kids and scared out of my mind as to where to go from here.
I knew I wanted more for my children than the life they would lead in Cuba. I wanted more for myself too, so when the opportunity to migrate to Canada presented itself to me, I took it without much hesitation. Arriving at Toronto, I knew life would not be easy but I also knew the millions of opportunities I would have to do something I love in a country as free as Canada. I quickly signed up for the free English classes in the local college, got a job at a factory, and signed up for classes to become one of those fancy estheticians with their beautiful white coats and fancy hair. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much.
My introduction to permanent makeup (especially eyebrows) was a demonstration by a guest speaker and my mind was BLOWN. Here was the solution to my eyebrows being perfect; no more washing it off when you went home. The only problem was that all the teachers only taught the same solid and overly dramatic look and were grossly overpriced! Yet, I went ahead and found someone doing the training at a much cheaper price out of a dingy office and went home completely clueless. This was my first time experience of “you get what you pay for”. There was a lot of microblading experimenting, mathematics, and chemistry involved in trying to figure out where to go from there when it came to measurements, colors, and technique for eyebrows. I felt a little betrayed by my training, cheated out of money I didn’t have much of and seemed to have received the bare minimum for my troubles.
Yet I kept going and with trial and error found my own technique for a powdered look that was less imposing than the traditional solid ‘tattooed” eyebrow look. However, it wasn’t that popular since the fashion still was to have them purely solid. Yet I still wanted something more; I just had not found it yet.
At work, I began to gain a reputation for shaping beautiful eyebrows. It became my bread and butter and all through word of mouth. It made all the financial difference for myself and my children. Rent became less tight, and I was able to buy nicer things for the kids, things I could never have had no matter how hard working my parents were. In those moments, I felt assured about my choices to migrate. I also met my husband in that time, and I felt like I could finally start to date and live past my work again. Life was good, not perfect, but very good.
I lived for eleven years in Canada before we took a collective decision as a family to move to the state of Florida in the USA and take the title of immigrants for a second time.
In the year I had wait for immigration to receive my papers to work, I studied up on all the new permanent eyebrow methods that were popping up and decided to go ahead and take a more focused chance at permanent make up. My first find was Softap, a manual method which promised a more natural look with less trauma to the skin. I took the class in Miami and loved the manual method, went right on home and began to practice day and night, to the point that my family began to make comments and give me the side eye because I would be up until one in the morning tapping away at pig skins.
My second find was using Nouveau Contour, my first time going away from a coil machine into the digital world. I saved up for a year for the Intelligent model and I was out of this world excited because now I could do lips too. In all honesty, I thought having the best machine would fix all the smaller problems I was having with my work when it came to color retention and other things. Sadly, not many PMU artists at the time were willing to share their knowledge with others, making everything a trial and error experience. Thinking back on it now, I would not have had it any other way.
At the time I was renting a room out of a day spa in Naples, Fl, where I began to be known through social media, along with word of mouth for my eyebrow shaping. I used Instagram and Facebook to advertise my eyebrow work, updating almost daily with all my before and after pictures. That was the key. I took pictures of everyone, even if their eyebrows were hopeless, because I sometimes even surprised myself with how well they turned out. I used that opportunity to talk to my clients about PMU and what we could do to enhance what they already had. Since they had already trusted me so far, they had no hesitation to try something new. This technique to gain clients for PMU worked for me until I finally was known only for that and no longer took clients for regular eyebrow shaping. My daughter has now taken over that part of the business, working alongside me and making me proud in every way.
What truly changed my life was when the Nouveau Contour Academy hosted the Permanent Make Up World Conference at the beginning of 2013 and a man named Wei Shi did a demonstration on something called ‘eyebrow embroidery.’ I had never paid attention in a class as much as I did that day! I was speechless as this master used a hand tool with a needle cluster much smaller than any Soft Tap needle that I had ever seen and created these crisp and perfect looking hair like strokes and most natural PMU eyebrows I had ever seen in my life.
That weekend I also met Tina Davies who I had been following on social media and was one of my favorite PMU artists, and still is. I admired her work greatly and when I introduced myself to her in the hotel lobby, she was humble and incredibly friendly and I was amazed by that grace, especially since she was so well known.
After I got back from that conference, I was a woman possessed. I studied every video I took from that day and researched this method that only seemed popular in Asian countries. I watched many videos in Korean, Mandarin, and Thai, trying to catch as much of the method as I could just from that and taking all I learned to the practice skins. I filled a hundred of those large skins before I ever touched someone with the method. If my family thought I was crazy before, they hadn’t seen anything until those sleepless days. I went through so many companies for the microblading needles, the pigments, even the pencils I used to mark the strokes with, before things finally fell into place. At the end of it all, and all the money I spent, I came to the conclusion that less is more. Nowadays everything for this method of PMU is so readily available. We are so blessed that this technique caught on the way it did. We even have the most amazing teachers, each with their own take on the method that is so unique to them, yet all equally beautiful.
Throughout that whole experience, I had decided to open a YouTube channel to share my work with the open web, along with some tips and tricks to help others who were also searching for answers. That’s where I began to interact with fellow artists who wanted to learn from me. I began with some one-on-one classes at my shop, and never thought to have it more than that until I was contacted by a lovely lady whom I had previously helped named Marisa from International Beauty Education and Events. She and her partner Simone wanted to host a class with me because they saw the interest online thanks to YouTube, and since I never turn down an opportunity to try something new, I said “yes”!
Our first class was marvelous. I never thought I would feel so at ease talking about something I loved in front a group of lovely expectant faces. Because of this, I plan to keep teaching what I know for as long as the world will have me, to grow with the experience and give it my all.
My obsession now is “lips”-something which I’ve been working on to perfection so that I can finally share it with the world in a way that is easy but effective. Like with everything else I do, it is about looking as natural as possible, almost like a blush that brings back the youth of your lips: soft and feminine.
PMU opened so many doors for me, especially financially. I never in my wildest dreams would have thought, especially growing up so poor, that I would be making the same money annually as a doctor. It just proves what dedication to something can reward you with. God has been good and that is my great advice to anyone that will listen- practice and dedication. These two things will take you a long way in life if you allow yourself.