how she did it

Case Studies // From International Makeup Arti...

From International Makeup Artist to Successful Entrepreneur – Ruby Hammer Shares Her Inspirational Story

It’s most likely that you will have heard of the makeup brand Ruby & Millie – it was an incredibly successful brand that was created in partnership with Boots. What you might not know is that Ruby, who helped to make it so successful, also launched other brands into the UK, such as Tweezerman and Aveda – and I don’t need to tell you how successful they have been, as I’m sure you’re aware. Ruby is also a very successful international makeup artist, has recently launch “Ruby Hammer Recommends” with Debenhams and on top of all that is a mother. It’s fair to say that she must be one very busy lady!

In 2007 Ruby was awarded an MBE by the Queen and boy does she deserve it. She’s a role model and inspiration to all women and I wanted to find out how she’s managed to get to where she is today.

This is a fantastic interview and I hope you will feel inspired by it.

Find out more about Ruby Hammer Recommends here. 

What made you decide to become a make-up artist?

Well, it was a fluke actually. I’ve always loved makeup from a child watching my mum. My mum was very young when she had me. She was 17 so I’ve always seen her getting ready with eyelashes and short wigs, big hairpieces, this-and-that all through the ‘60s. I was fascinated by it and I loved how she looked and how she changed herself. This was all in Nigeria which is where I was born. Then we moved to this country. I’ve always been conscious of fashion and trying makeup on. We’re immigrants. My father was a doctor. Makeup was not thought of as a career. I just didn’t think of it. It’s just a passion and a love. I loved doing it; same as my mum. It wasn’t something that I was going to make a living from. So I went to university and I got an Economics degree. It’s only when I finished the degree that I met my boyfriend. He was my boyfriend who became my husband. By chance, I met a friend of his who was a makeup artist and I assisted her – it came out of the blue. It wasn’t like a formal “This is what I’m going to do.” I looked at the magazines. I knew who the makeup artists were. I copied their makeup on myself and on my friends when going out. It’s only then when I met this lady when she needed an assistant one day at London Fashion Week in ’84, I just said, “Oh, I can help” so she thought she could use me and said, “All right, I’ll see you at the Duke of York tent at 5:00” or something ridiculous. My face must’ve blanched. “5:00?!” She said, “Well, there’s 25 girls and we got to get them ready by 9:30.” I just turned up and I assisted. From there, you sort of test if it’s a fit. As I would say, the rest is history.

Wow! So how did you go from becoming a makeup artist to launching your own beauty products?

It’s all an evolution. There’s no game plan like “Oh, I’ll follow this and then you follow this and then you go from group A to group B.” During the first year, I had to establish myself as a makeup artist. I was a young wife and then I was a mother very early. I’ve had the family. Then In the meantime, my ex-husband and I were launching Aveda and in doing all of that, it just means your eyes and ears are peeled. I’m establishing as a makeup artist but when the opportunity comes and you know you’ve got the right stuff or whatever, the opportunity came. It came for both me and Millie. You know, it just came and I took the opportunity. It’s not a game plan like “Tomorrow, I plan to conquer the world.” It comes and you think, “All right, I’m not scared of that.”

Do you think the opportunities come because you’re working so hard in the right place?

Yeah. I think you’re open to them because obviously, that’s what we were doing. Ruby & Millie was just a chance to do what we do for other people but with ourselves at the forefront. What you’re doing as a makeup artist is you’re helping launch, establish, publicise and market somebody else’s brand. We know all the tools of how to do it. The opportunity came by groups backing us to say, “Here you go, girls. We’re going to put it towards you. What do you think?” So we had to think very hard. Oh, my God. This is much more of a commitment because it’s all about you. But we went with it. I went with it.

You’ve worked with Millie Kendall for over 15 years – what kept the partnership so strong?

I worked with her for longer because she used to do the PR for Aveda, for Tweezerman and all those other brands that we used to have a distributorship in. She’d get all the PR for those. That’s how I know her. Then the Ruby & Millie thing is an extension of that. Now she’s done something different. I do Ruby Hammer Recommends. It’s always evolving, isn’t it? Things move on. Nothing ever stays exactly the same. It’s not a formula. I don’t want people to just sit there and think it’s some sort of formula that we’re just following. What kept the partnership strong is because we both got the same level of passion about cosmetics and the beauty business in general. We have different strengths and weaknesses and when we work together, it just became stronger. I can put my assets into place and she can put hers in place. This has worked out for us so far. It’s a process. There are going to be other projects you’re going to see that she’s going to do herself and I’ll do myself because that’s how it is. If there are things we can do together, we’ll do them. If not, it’s just the way life goes on. We’re not joined at the hip that it goes on like that forever and ever.

What’s the key to launching a successful brand?

We launched those: Aveda, Tweerzerman, Mr. Mascara, L’Occitane. My husband was in the trade originally but he had come from the Sanctuary background. When we’ve done all of these things, we know how to work, you know, how to market without having tons of money so we did it by PR. Millie was really good, too, in that. I’m very good at PR as well because I’m the first vulture out there. I am actually on the shoot with the editors doing it, not just getting in the first release. We fought that battle on many different fronts. The key to developing a successful brand is first, you’ve got to have something worthy of success. You can’t do it with a bad product. You can develop it and launch it and PR it all you want but eventually, it will fall flat on its ass because it has to have some intrinsic success or something good about it. If people are saying it’s great, it’s hallowed ground. It has to have something good about it. It’s got to be unique. Timing sometimes is just the way Aveda has come at that time. Today, now, Tweezerman or tweezing is just a tool that’s taking care of your eyebrows. Now, you’ve got waxing. You’ve got threading which didn’t exist five or six years ago. It’s timing. It’s also if you’re the first, on the forefront of something. Whatever people want to say about Ruby & Millie – whether it’s gone out of reach now or some of this or that – we did do something that was unique at the time. It’s a group brand that we launched to hold its own next to Chanel and Yves St. Laurent. Yet if you go to your local booth, a big one – it can’t be a foxy one, it had to be a big one – you couldn’t get that. Now, if you go to a booth, there is Chanel and Yves St. Laurent in a big store. That did not exist until we did that kind of thing.

So would your advice to someone launching a product be “Make sure you have a good quality product”?

Make sure you have a good quality product. It’s got to have some unique aspect to it. You’ve got to think – have you got money to do PR, market it and advertise? Advertisement costs a lot of money. How are you going to launch it? What marketplaces? There’s no point having something cheap and try to put it in the big department stores. You’ve got to really know your game plan about your product. Is it mass? Is it low-end? Is it high-end? Look at Tom Ford. His eyeshadows are £48 or whatever but he is Tom Ford. He can launch in all the lovely, lovely department stores. There’s no point in him going in Boots. It will not be a success no matter how great that product is. Then your product has to have some backbone. Is it PR-able? Are you going to do it via celebrities? Is there a spokesperson? Is the product going to speak for itself? Is it word-of-mouth? What is it?

Throughout your business journey, what would you say was your biggest challenge has been so far?

Well, I think the biggest challenge is that although you see Ruby & Millie as ours – we did all the work – but it’s not our brand, we didn’t own it. You’re doing it for somebody. There’s always going to be that bit of friction when you don’t totally own something and you’re not totally in control of something. With Ruby & Millie, the good thing about it is we’ve seen eye to eye in everything. If we hadn’t, we would have had a problem, wouldn’t we? It’s always about who is in charge. If you’re fully in charge and you’re making decisions and they bring you the success, it’s all fine. What if you’re making the right decisions but they’re not yours and somebody else dilutes that or takes it away from you, then you don’t get the full benefit. You’re frustrated and you can’t do anything about it because you don’t own it and you haven’t got the money to just buy back from them. Or, when you’re in the marketplace, one of the hardest things is to just sustain it. We’ve been there for that long.  Are you going to last year in and year out? You do have to take your hats off to the Estee Lauders of the world or Bobbi Brown who has come a long way since she started, you know. Anybody and his uncle will come to a launch. Every magazine will write about it, but are they going to be there three years later, and years later, and years later? It’s not easy.

Aside from the challenges, what’s been your biggest achievement so far?

I think it would be receiving my MBE in 2007 from the Queen for my services in the cosmetic industry.

That must have been a very proud moment for you

Very, very proud. Even as a makeup artist and you got shoots for this magazine, that’s unbelievable because you can’t pay or bribe somebody to be on that shoot. You’re chosen to do it and you expect there’d critics to see it. It’s still an opinion. I might love it and somebody else might hate it. I have to take that onboard, haven’t I? “Lovely makeup on those lovely pictures” but somebody else may comment “They’re bloody awful.” They have their right to say that, haven’t they? It’s an opinion. It’s a taste. It’s a view. But when you get something from the Queen, it’s like whatever happens I didn’t bribe or buy my way. I’ve just been given something and that is really, really powerful.

How do you keep yourself motivated through challenging times?

I think we have moments when we do really well and other moments when it does get overwhelming. You’ve got to sort of walk away from it, even have a little cry but realise deep down “I love what I do”. This is what I want to do. I might feel overwhelmed or feel under pressure from personal or health or your loved ones or just from travelling. When you stand back, you realise would you want to do something else? Do you want to give up and do something else? At this moment, no. This is what I want. That is self-motivating enough. Otherwise, I’d just give it up and be in an ashram somewhere else or teach yoga, you know what I mean? Ask yourself what else would you do? If your answer is “There are 50 other things and I’m just doing this to get paid for it and that’s that”, then I will have to think through a different way to go and do something else. You mustn’t ignore that difficult question when it comes up. For me, so far, this is all I still want to do. The love of this is stronger than whatever challenges come up.

Why do you think you’ve been so successful?

I think for exactly all the things we’ve said. I work hard. I’m very clear to identify what is my passion. By putting my all in it, I get the reward for it. I feel lucky. I have faith in God. I feel my success is not at the expense of breaking someone down or taking it away or snatching it or badmouthing someone. I just do it through my own effort and my mum’s prayers, trying to do the right thing with integrity and it’s paid me a reward. You know what? I’m not ashamed to say there must be something to being at the right place at the right time and just good fortune – I don’t knock that. I worked very hard for it. It hasn’t all just landed on my plate. But I’m not so full of myself that I don’t see with humility. I’ve been lucky. I’ve been blessed. I take that and try to give back as much as I can.

Does anyone inspire you?

My mother inspires me, her philosophical way of being, how she copes with life. From the first female role model, it is an inspiration. It doesn’t just mean you all have to die and be no longer living. My daughter inspires me. She is in our sphere now and she’s amazing, she really inspires me. Then you look at other businesswomen like Diane Von Furstenberg out there. She had it all and then it all came down to nothing and she built it back up again and it’s all amazing. As soon as you know anyone’s story of how they got there and how they still hang on in there, you’ve got to be inspired.

Do you have a favourite quote?

I have one of my own; “In life, in health, and in beauty – I believe the key is balance.” For anything, I really do believe you’ve got to have some balance. You can’t just be crazy about everything. If you’re able to have that, you’ll be all right.

So how do you manage to balance?

Again, like I said, I don’t want to be somebody who sits there and says, “You know what? I got 50 answers.” I struggle the same as everybody, but I try to meditate. I try to eat well. I try to sleep. I’m having a bit of trouble with the sleep now because I realize I’m pre-menopausal. It’s coming there so my sleep isn’t as good as it used to be. Before, I just hit the pillow – boom! Now, it’s not like that. I try and have facials. I try and have deep tissue massage. I try and read. I listen to music. I go to movies. I do things that give you joy, like being with your family and your loved ones and your friends. Travel. All of those things, I try and do. All I’m doing is trying to find that balance. And it’s a balance that’s not finite, like “That’s it. I’ve achieved it today. Tomorrow, you’ve got to manage it again, don’t you?” Until the day we go from this world, it’s an ongoing battle or struggle to achieve that balance.

Definitely, I agree that meditation is going to help.

It will help. But you know what? Sometimes your mind is so restless that you don’t do a good meditation but you’ll have to go through the motions because whatever you’re doing is better than nothing. One day, you’ll have a very peaceful, really powerful experience and on other days, it’s just a load of rubbish like you think it’s hogwash. But you know what? That’s still better than not attempting it.

So what’s next for you?

Well, my new thing is Ruby Hammer Recommends. It’s a gifting range exclusive to Debenhams nationwide. It just launched in September. That’s a really lovely one that I’m looking forward to. It’s a big, big thing and we’re coming up in Christmas. At Debenhams, it’s really, really successful. It’s very exciting for me to tie up and do that.

These are products you’ve chosen?

They’re chosen with them. Obviously in gifting, it’s price-led. You have to bear in mind who the Debenhams customer is, what they’ve had success with. They’re kits, not individual items. Usually, people want value for money and that kind of thing. Within that, I’ll do the best I can in that price range to do something that has excitement, hopefully get Debenhams new customers without alienating the existing one. If this works out well, we might do a better range for them. I don’t know. These are all opportunities and chances.


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