This 19-Year-Old's Bullies Became Her Customers After She Created Her Own Beauty Brand
Too often, the best beauty stories go Untold, solely based on a person’s skin color, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we’re passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be — and how they’re using beauty to change the world for the better. Up next: Tania Speaks, founder of her namesake brand.
In elementary and middle school, I was bullied terribly for having bushy eyebrows. At the time, thin brows were in. All of my peers were getting their eyebrows waxed and threaded at an early age and I had these big caterpillar eyebrows. I thought that everybody had to look the same and because everybody at my school had thin brows, I thought I had to have thin brows, too. We were all just victims of peer pressure. So, I would come home to my mom and ask her, “Can I please get my eyebrows done? Everybody at my school is doing it,” and she told me, “You’re too young for that. Your eyebrows are beautiful. Why are you worried about that right now?”
I understand now that I’m older that she was just trying to instill confidence in me. At the time, I didn’t see it that way; I thought she didn’t understand that every day that I went to school, what I saw was what I thought that I should look like. I would cry every day to her. So, I decided to cut my brows off. My mom had this razor that she always used on her brows and it seemed pretty simple to use, but I didn’t understand how sharp razors actually are. I ended up cutting myself badly and had to go to the hospital to get stitches. It was a really traumatic experience.
When I went back to school after that, my brows were cut up and they looked even worse than they did before, and I still got bullied. At that point I knew, clearly, they’re going to continue to tease me. That was my breaking point. I tried to change something and made it worse, so I started to listen to my mom’s advice. She was like, “We really need to find something so that we can grow your brows back.” We started looking for things at the beauty store but I have sensitive skin and all of the products made me break out and didn’t work.
That’s when I started Googling organic ingredients and asking my mom to buy them for me on her way home after work. I would just mix things together in my living room — my family thought that I was crazy for doing it, but eventually, I put together the aloe vera plant with the sap and vitamin E, and that worked for my brows. They grew back and I was able to tame them so that they weren’t so wild and all over the place.
By the time I got to high school with those same kids who bullied me, they were like, “Oh my God. Your brows look better. They grew super fast. What happened?” So I told them that I had a secret sauce — I couldn’t refer them to a store — and they said they wanted to try it, too. I started bringing it to school and, at first, I was just giving it away for free, but then I thought, Wait. I can charge for this. I was trying to get money to go to the movies — you know fun teenager stuff — so I was selling it for $3 in my high school bathroom. I don’t think I was supposed to be doing that, but I would sneak out of class and tell people, “Meet me in the bathroom.” I would have a line out the door. I would do their brows and then they would give me the money. They were buying it consistently.
That’s when I told my mom and said, “At school people call me ‘the brow girl.’ Can you believe that?” and she suggested turning it into a business called Tania Speaks. From there, I did my first vending event where I sold to adults — it was amazing. That’s how I got into entrepreneurship. At first, I just had the brow gel but as I started doing more trade shows and going to different events, a lot of men would come up to my table and ask if I had anything for them because they wanted to support my business, too. Some of them were getting the brow gel but others wanted something else, so I came out with the organic beard oil. That was my second product.
Then, unfortunately, during the pandemic, I had to shut down my business temporarily and rebrand. I knew that I couldn’t shut down for good because at this point, I had been featured in Forbes and Time magazines — I couldn’t just abandon my customers. That’s when I started researching cleansers, toners, and other skin-care products. I didn’t have much knowledge on that prior because I wasn’t that serious about skin care yet. But by not putting too much pressure on myself and not overthinking it, I started mixing things together and seeing what would work for me personally. That’s how I came out with the cleanser, the toner, and the moisturizer all at the same time. It took me 60 days, and we expanded into organic skin care.
Everybody asks me, “Are you a chemist? The way that you’re doing this, you would think that you have some background in chemistry.” But I don’t — maybe it’s just a gift. It’s a combination of research and then trial and error. I’m a great researcher, and I don’t give up on things. If something doesn’t go well I’m like I instantly start looking for substitutions. Then, after I come up with a product, I test it out for a few weeks on myself and then I add in some other people as a test group and test it out on them.
I think often we just sit back, watch people on social media, see all of the great things they’re doing, and feel like there’s no way we can do that. There are so many excuses you can make for yourself if you try, but if you’re starting your business, you’re trying to create a new product, or you’re just trying to find a new team member, whatever you’re trying to do, just start. Start from where you’re at.
The most rewarding part of my journey so far has been helping kids understand that they’re not going to be bullied forever. I find so much joy just talking to kids, telling them about how I was bullied, that I was in their shoes crying every day because I felt like the teasing would never stop. I try to express to them that the best thing that you can do for yourself is understand that this is not going to be your whole life. I truly thought that I was going to be bullied forever, but that’s not the case; you’re going to grow out of it.
In my case, my bullies became my customers. I became “the brow girl” and people were coming to me for the thing I was getting bullied for before. The tables turn — they always do, and you’re not always going to be in the same situation.
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