When it comes to beauty, few people can match Sylvia Russell’s knowledge. As a TV hair and makeup artist who worked for 15-odd years behind the scenes at TV studios (in addition to owning a salon), she’s primped and powdered everyone from news anchors to actors and pro athletes.
In 2017, the Atlanta mother of three fulfilled a career-long dream of launching her own brand: Puckerd Cosmetics, a luxe lip-gloss line founded in partnership with her good friend Fernitra Johnson.
Sylvia sat down with heymama for a chat about building a powerhouse career as a single mom, why she loves mentoring other women and, of course, which lip looks are trending for spring.
HEYMAMA: You’ve worked in the beauty industry for years. How did that journey begin?
SYLVIA RUSELL: I actually started my career in beauty! At 18, I sold Mary Kay cosmetics and discovered I had a talent for sales. It started the wheels turning—I knew that one day I wanted to sell my own line. I love great products and have always wanted to share them with my clients.
In the industry, you’re known for educating and mentoring other women. Why is that important to you?
Supporting and educating other women is so important to me. Growing up, I didn’t have direct contact with mentors; I just learned from watching others. If I’d had someone who was more of a direct influence in my life, I might have pursued my dreams earlier in my career. I know how difficult it can be to want success and not know how to achieve it. Hearing, “You can do anything you put your mind to” is not enough—there’s a whole lot that goes along with that quote! If I can help one person realize their dreams and achieve their goals, I consider myself a success.
Sylvia Russell, cofounder of Puckerd Cosmetics. Photo by Dean Johnson.
Your business partner is also your best friend. What’s that been like?
Working with my best friend has been a learning experience for me. I’ve always operated as an individual, so coming together with her has helped me take note of weaknesses within myself. She has a business background, which has helped me rethink the way I approach the business side of things. Our ground rules for working together are: Always be honest, don’t avoid the hard questions, and don’t take things too personally—it’s just business.
You’re a single mama to three kids. How has motherhood shaped your perspectives on working?
I was always a hardworking mama. Everything I did was to take care of my children and provide them with the tools they needed to become independent young adults. My children helped me stay laser-focused.
We talk a lot about how many women are driven to “pivot” toward more personally fulfilling careers after having kids. Did parenthood play a role in your decision to launch Puckerd?
Yes. I love my children desperately, but it was important for me to live my dreams, as well. After my last child, I knew I wanted more for myself and my career. I didn’t want to be a salon owner my entire life. For me, the important thing was not allowing guilt to keep me hostage. I refused to let myself believe that my one sole purpose was to be a mother.
What’s been most surprising in starting your business?
Nothing really surprises me. I’ve learned to take every obstacle for what it is—to respond and come up with a plan. I actually faced my biggest challenge before I launched, by not having great mentors in my corner.
What would be game-changing for your business right now?
A financial investor would be a huge game-changer. I’d also love a mentor who can teach me to grow Puckerd Cosmetics into a thriving multilevel business where our message is loud and clear: We exist to empower women.
If I can help one person realize their dreams and achieve their goals, I consider myself a success.
What are some of the major lip looks trending for spring?
Out-of-this-world lippys will be everywhere this season. From high-voltage shines to galactic glitters, lips will be popping with gorgeous stains and creamy lip balms that make lips look full and kissable.
Your products are made with natural ingredients and are produced in North America. Tell us more about your commitment to quality.
It’s important to me that my products are made in the U.S. because it keeps jobs on U.S. soil. It also allows me to visit with my suppliers much more easily than if they were outside the country. Today’s beauty consumer is very knowledgable; I want to make products that everyone will want to wear.
Besides your own line, what are some of your favorite beauty buys?
I love Better Than Sex mascara. It’s the only brand that makes my real lashes look long and full. I also own at least three pairs of false eyelashes at all times—even without makeup, you look good in eyelashes.
What are some daily rituals that help you get it all done?
I wake up early, pray and write in my journal—or try to write, anyway. I also like to watch to motivational videos first thing in the morning. It’s all about feeding my mind and spirit with something positive.
Give your kids room to grow, learn and make mistakes.
Teach them to visualize their hopes and dreams early: Create vision boards with them, read books and expose them to more than just life inside your home and personal world.
Remember that you too were once a kid.