Everyone knows there’s one event in every girl’s life where they way she looks matters almost as much as the event itself: her wedding. While grooms pull out their hair gels and year old beard trimmers the night before the event, the very first thought that pops into the mind of every to-be bride is “Who should I book for hair and makeup?!” It used to be that the answer to this question would have been “Mac” or “Sephora” or a beautician from a parlor who specializes in Caucasian events. About a decade ago, however, the powerhouse that is the “East-Indian hair and makeup industry” first spread its wings. Today, countless young girls with Blanche MacDonald certifications in hand know exactly how to cat-eye a brown girl’s lids and create an up-do that can withhold even the heaviest of Chooni’s. This “East Indian wedding” market seemed, for the most part, to be untouched until the early 2000’s. Today, the industry is so popular within the Indian community that you have to book these artists at least a year before your event. Further, you are no longer just booking artists, you are booking a business.
So, who are these artists who give us ordinary Indian girls our Kim K cheeks and Kylie Jenner lips with a little hint of an inflated sense of self? We asked over 100 girls: “Who are the Best Hair and Makeup artists in Surrey.” Here are our top 5 answers.
Ever since the advent of the beauty industry, society seems to hold a certain imagine of what the girls in the industry must be like. After my sit-down conversation with Harp Sohal and Shannon Mann of Pink Orchid Studio, the first thought that popped into my mind was “These are two of the smartest girls I have ever met.” Their keen business sense, knowledge of the industry and overall speech and presence astounded me. Further, they have such a genuine passion for the industry: their faces light up talking about anything from pencils and shadows to gels and curlers. The second and third thoughts that came into my mind were “these are the two sweetest and most down-to-earth girls I have ever met”. They have the celebrity status without the cliché snobby celebrity personality. They are witty, they are fun, and they are so thoughtful. They have such genuine desire to do everything in their power to make their client feel like the most beautiful person in the room. Before thinking about the money or the business behind what they do, they genuinely feed off of the satisfaction they receive from clients walking away looking like the best bride they possibly could.
What made these girls go into the beauty industry? What did their parents think? How did they build this empire? Find out what answers they gave that made me walk away asking “So, whenever I get married…who do I ask for a booking?!”
What do you think sets you apart from other hair and makeup artists?
HARP: Honestly, for every bride, we give it our all. There will be times where a bride’s jewelry set will break and we’ll send Shannon’s husband—poor Shannon’s husband (laughs) we’ll send him saying “Here! Go! Here’s a picture of the set, here’s the store it’s from, go, get it!” (laughs).
We do it all and we love to do it. Anything to make her look perfect and feel perfect. That’s our number one priority and we never forget that. That’s the Pink Orchid way.
Also, when we first started out in the industry there was only, especially in the Indian industry, there was only one person doing both hair and makeup. And when we started Pink Orchid, we decided to specialize: we decided one person will do hair and one person will do makeup. That way you get to hone your own craft and master it. It yields better work, it saves time and, honestly, it just makes appointments more enjoyable! When there’s two of us, the dynamic completely changes! it just feels like a Saturday night with girls getting ready, chatting, getting to know one another while doing hair and makeup and building a bond.
SHANNON And just little things, for example, when we’re working on a bride, we’re never just sitting down. We use every minute to do the best possible job. And it’s not just hair and makeup. For example, one person will be putting on her chooni, and the other will be getting the tikka, and if one finishes, the other starts preparing for pictures downstairs—one time we finished maybe a minute earlier so one of us started ironing the groom’s kurtha! That’s just the Pink Orchid way. We’re never just sitting twiddling our thumbs, it’s “go, go, go!” What could we do to make this day go flawlessly? What else can we bring? What else can we add?
I think that’s why our brides trust us so much and are so happy with the end result. We look out for them and we do everything to perfection. You’ll even see us talking a bride down when she’s upset at her their in-laws! (laughs). We’re not just makeup and hair artists: we’re counsellors, we’re supporters, we’re friends. We’re everything for our brides.
HARP: And I think what else is different is that we’re a “one stop shop,” from our product line, to our eyeliner, to our lashes, we created everything specifically for our brides. For example, with eyeliner: in our culture, during the doli, brides would cry and there’s no waterproof eyeliner that we noticed would really last all day and was really 100% waterproof. So we made one! We made eyeliner that was water-proof, smudge-proof, doli crying proof! (Laughs). We do this to cater everything specifically to our clients and give them the very best work possible.
What were your professions before Pink Orchid?
SHANNON: I was an ICBC Claims Adjuster for 10 years.
HARP: I was a Senior Underwriter under CAA for 8 years. We were both in insurance.
SHANNON: We both, you know, we listened to our parents: we worked hard, we got our degrees, we got government jobs and we were getting pretty good hours and making really good money. But we weren’t inspired. We were plugging in 8 hour days, clocking in, clocking out and it just wasn’t challenging, it just wasn’t fun. I left in 2007 and now when I see someone from ICBC they say “you were really overdressed to work for a call center!” (laughs)
HARP: Yeah! I worked at a call center too and I remember everyone would say “you do know no one can see you, right?” (laughs). We just live and breathe the hair, make up and fashion industry—even in our days behind a desk!
Was it hard leaving?
HARP: I left a really good job and it was a job I worked really hard at. I was a senior, I made the award of excellent each time, I got promoted every year, I had 100% benefits. I left a really good job for Pink Orchid Studios. And in our generation, you get brained washed, right? You get brained washed by our society and our families that you need to do things a certain way. That you need a government job and you need this and that—and it’s not easy to leave that and go against everyone. My parents were saying “Don’t do it! Kee pata je kam roje melna?” It was a security blanket.
But even when I was younger, I’d always knew there must be more in life. There must be. I knew there has to be more than the just the 9 to 5 and more than just Surrey. But I didn’t know anything different. It was really hard in the beginning.
So when your success accumulated, how did your parents respond to it?
SHANNON: It’s funny because it wasn’t until we got interviewed by Shushma and they said “kuriyo tusi sachee?!” (laughs). Or, they saw an interview on OMNI news and that was a big deal. And now, even to be on the cover of “Desi Today” and being able to show that to our mom and dad. That’s a big deal to us.
How has social medial contributed to your success?
SHANNON: Social media is everything. It used to be that whoever had the most money would be noticed: the advertisements in newspapers and magazines would go to the highest bidder. Social media has given all makeup artists the ability to post their work it gives our industry an even platform. And now the work speaks for itself. It’s not about who has a biggest sponsor or the biggest budget. It’s about truth. Social media has put honesty into the beauty industry where the judge is the general public.
How do you make sure you cater your work to each individual client?
SHANNON: We have consultations with all of our clients, we get them to make look books, we’ll do dress rehearsals and, honestly, we ask the right questions.
HARP: And we take extensive notes. We have a great system where anything the client says, we’ll write down, or we’ll take pictures of, or make voice notes, video notes, anything we can to keep a record of what that bride said. So say, for example, we were doing your hair and makeup, before we even think about putting a brush or a curler near you, we would educate ourselves as much as possible about you and take our notes and review it all. We make sure that before you walk in, we’re knowledgeable about everything you want. That’s the Pink Orchid way!
What made you go into doing bridal hair and makeup?
HARP: It’s funny because we never wanted to do brides. We always wanted to do fashion shows and runways. We did one bride and it was just a fluke. There was someone who worked with me and her daughter was getting married and I think 3 weeks before her wedding she’s asked “oh, I know you do makeup now, can you do it?” We didn’t specialize in bridal but my first instinct was to say “yes!” So Shannon and I took the booking. From that day, something inside of us changed. I still remember so vividly the look on that bride’s face when Shannon and I were done. She was shocked! That moment—seeing the look on her face when she saw her reflection—and knowing we were responsible for that, we became hooked! It was like a high. That’s when Shannon and I started doing brides. We became hooked and we never looked back.
If you could go back to your first year in the industry what advice would you give yourself?
HARP: Honestly, I don’t know how this answer will sound, but we worked so hard in the first year and put in so much planning and time and thought and care and effort and grunt work, I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. I think we are where we are because we were very particular about our business sense and our work ethic especially when we first started.
How would you two describe your relationship? How do you two know each other?
HARP: To describe it in one word, what we are, we’re each other’s—
HARP: Yes, narua! Which means umbilical cord (laughs). We’re first cousins so my dad and her mother are brother and sister. We’ve always been so close: we’re cousins, we’re best friends, we’re sisters. I can’t explain our relationship. I love her to death.
SHANNON We’re best friends and business partners and we support each other 100%. Our relationship, it’s a beautiful thing. I feel we’re more a married couple than we are like best friends! It’s a partnership. I call her my wife! (laughs) Our husbands get super jealous of us!
Did you always think you’d end up in hair and makeup?
SHANNON We were both always known as the peacocks of our family. We love clothes, hair, makeup, we love to dress up and to feel beautiful. We’re both very much “girly girls.” At a young age, people started asking us for help when it came to special occasions. For example, when someone would be getting married and they would ask us for our opinion for everything from jewellery to shoes! And I still remember, the first time I did someone’s eyeliner (smiles). I was 14, and it was my cousin who was getting married and it was what, 20 years ago, and she asked for help doing her eyeliner. That was my first time doing something like that for someone else. That was 20 years ago.
And, yes, later on we did what our parents wanted us to do, we got the degrees and the jobs but it was never as rewarding as this. And when I realized it wasn’t rewarding I thought well, why not open up our own business and do this professionally? But it definitely started from there, from people asking us about hair, makeup and fashion. Then we finally decided to finally kick it into high gear and create something really grand. We wanted to create a business that was very polished and amazing and, above all, we wanted to make a company.
And you guys did it. You turned your passion into a business!
HARP: Yes! And you know what, I specifically remember Shannon saying that she glamorize the industry and turn it into a business. Because, this whole thing: hair and makeup, it’s a successful business for so many people now, but 8 or 10 years ago it was really looked down upon. Especially in the Indo-Canadian community, it wasn’t a “good” career. And back then, it was every parent’s dream for their children to go to school and get a government job—which is amazing, I want that for my kids too if they want it—but no one was saying , you know, “go to Blanche Macdonald and do makeup.” It was looked down upon in our community. Saying you’re an “artist” to a brown parent is looked down upon. And now, we have Indian mothers walking their children into our classes and saying “my daughter has to take this class!” (laughs)
SHANNON: To go from Indian parents being embarrassed of their kids wanting to go into this industry and now wanting their kids to do it as a profitable career. It’s a full circle for us. We’re so proud. We worked tirelessly to market, plan, network and everything to take this “hobby” asndturn it into a profitable business. And look how far the industry has come. We are immensely proud. It took a lot of work.
What are the most challenging things about being a makeup artist and hair artist?
SHANNON: The hours. When everyone else is off during the summer time or wedding, we’re always working. For example, everyone’s enjoying this long weekend and we’ve been working this entire time. Everyone has their social time and we get up at 3am, take naps in the day, and we miss out on a social life. We love our jobs, we really do, but it takes a lot out of us.
What do you guys think is the biggest misconception people have about you?
SHANNON: I don’t know where it comes from but people think we’re diva’s. When in reality, we seriously bend backwards to do everything for our clients. Yes, we like nice things and to travel and experience life, but people project that negatively on us.
HARP: Yes, it’s this false idea that having nice things makes a person arrogant or stuck up. Which is totally not us. Anyone that knows us, knows that we are the girls at bridal bookings on our knees putting shoes on and fixing broken sets and just doing everything we can.
SHANNON: And I think another big misconception is that we’re shallow: that we just take everything at face value, and we’re superficial. The public has this distorted view that everyone in the industry must only care about the exterior. And honestly, for Harp and I, that’s just simply untrue.
HARP: We’re 100% all about the interior and the core of who a person is. Ever since a young age, we were always told to do everything based of what you are on the inside. And now that there’s snapchat I think people are able to see us as for who we really are. They get to see we’re down to earth, our family is our #1. That we cook, we clean—
SHANNON: We want to look good doing it though! (laughs) But yes, I definitely agree!
HARP: Everyone who adds us on snapchat, they say “oh you’re nothing like you thought you were!” You get to see us for what our families see us as, you see us for (looks at Shannon) you see us for what our “Motu Baba” sees us as! (both laughs).
What do you two think is the biggest misconception about the industry?
SHANNON: That it’s easy. People think what we do is just do hair and makeup and leave. When in reality we run an entire business. And we do it on crazy hours. I still remember this one girl who took our class and said “I didn’t realize how hard all of this is, can I get a refund? I don’t think I can do it”
HARP: And another girl asked well “is there a faster way? A quick look way?” And I said “No.” That’s not the Pink Orchid way. There are no short cuts. I remember another asked us what time we got up and she asked to quit (laughs). We told her we get up at 3am and she said “I can’t do this.”
Also, a lot of people might not know there’s never an off season for us. People think “oh, summer season’s over so it’s off season for you guys.” When that’s not true at all. When we’re not doing makeup, we’re teaching classes, we’re making our product line, marketing our product line, we’re doing a photoshoot, we’re doing classes abroad—there’s never time off! We can’t even plan our pregnancies until we looked at our calendars and we can fit it in!
SHANNON: I remember when I realized I was pregnant with our child and I told Harp—
HARP: I remember I said “how dare you?!” (laughs) I said “how dare you have this child now?!” (laughs harder). Our work takes up a lot.
What made you go into teaching makeup?
(Both) Mat leave!
HARP: I was on my Mat leave and I was giving birth in September and I only had 2 clients left so I thought “Okay, what if I have to get an emergency C-section? What am I going to do if I’m on bed rest?” So we decided to hire someone to do the mat leave. And I remember I worked till the very last possible day (laughs). And I went into labour and I did have a C-section and I went to work 2 weeks after my Caesarian!
But the whole time, I kept thinking the fact that we could train this person to do the Pink Orchid way—and believe me it wasn’t easy, we make them do extensive training and shadowing—but I thought if we could train this person, we could train other people. That’s where it began
What would you say is your signature look?
(Both together): Perfection!
SHANNON: And perfect is something different for each person, it’s perfection for that client.
HARP: When we do hair and makeup, we’ll turn our brides away from any mirrors and then that moment when we turn the bride around—that moment when she sees herself in that mirror—when we see a tear and then we know we did our job!
That’s how we know. Every time they’ll be shocked, or they’ll cry or something will happen where we know we got that money shot. And then, that adrenaline that we feel from knowing she feels this beautiful and confident because of us, that adrenaline is everything.
So, our signature? That tear and that adrenaline: that’s our signature.