Sonia Kashuk, Woman Entrepreneur

imgres-3My good friend kept telling me about Sonia.  She said “you will love her, she’s your kind of girl.”  My friend knows me well.  Sonia is definitely my kind of girl.  Smart, scrappy, tenacious, hard working and as far I can tell she never stops. She has created her own path with a line of beauty products that are not only aspirational they are affordable.  Sonia is inspirational.

Sonia grew up in Miami and then at 10 she moved to Minnesota.  That’s a big move.  Warm to cold.  I was almost 7 when I moved from LA to Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was a tad younger but being cold and seeing snow was certainly a shock to the system.  Her father’s job moved them there.  He ran the operation for a wholesale meat business.   Her Mom did a variety of things and was always working.  She sold exotic cars to doing bookkeeping.  Always hustling without a clear career path.  Having 5 kids in that generation is probably one of the reasons why.

Sonia worked as soon as she could convince someone that she was older than she was.  She drove her bike down to the local shop, Feldmans Village Shop, where sooner than later she was helping with what they were putting in the store too. She was always into the retail business.  She was focused on fashion, color, shape and form.  She was loving being involved in the local women’s clothing store but her parents said college was in her future and it was not a choice.

Sonia graduated high school and ended up at University of Minnesota for a month.  She just knew it was not for her.  She was in their fashion design program but it just did not feel right.  She had a brother in medical school, a sister in nursing school and Sonia decided she should bag University of Minnesota and apply to art school.  It was not a pretty conversation with her parents but she applied to the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Design and started in January.  It is hard to stand up for what you want but she knew she was more of a free-spirit and art school just felt right.

Sonia stayed for three years.  There was a long lost cousin that owned a textile mill in Medellin, Columbia and she wanted to learn about it.  She went down there to check it out.  When she returned she was very much in to fashion.  A friend of hers who was a music producer had written a song and asked Sonia if she could do the wardrobe for the video.  The song was Funkytown.  The night before the video was set to shoot the make-up artist cancelled.  Her friend looked at her and said, “you do it”.  She had zero idea what she was doing but she did it and it changed everything.

She called her parents and told them she was transferring to beauty school.  Her parents freaked.  She started freelancing in salons.  Quickly Sonia realized that she was good.  She was making good money but the place to be was NYC if she was really going to make it.  She started reading every magazine and seeing who the make-up artists were.  Linda Mason kept showing up.  Sonia called Harpers Magazine and asked how to get in touch with Linda.  They gave her Linda’s agent info, Vicky Cole.  When she finally got Vicky on the phone Vicky asked her “you are who and you want to do what”?  After massive persistence Vicky finally said “OK, be at this place at 9am on the following Tuesday”.

She showed up at Linda’s place and Linda opened up the door with entire face painted in green.  She was working on the Willie Wear show.  I loved Willie Wear!  I still remember the checked cotton doubled breasted suit I owned.  The head of  PR for Willie Wear was Mark Bozek.  All of these people have come full circle in her life.  By the end of the year first week Linda asked her to come along with her to do the shows in Paris.

She did this for around 3-4 years.  She’d go to Minneapolis and make cash then go to NYC and sleep on friends couches to work with Linda on the shows.  She really wanted to be able to support herself in NYC.  When she finally landed permanently in NYC, Vicky became her agent.  She ended up meeting Arthur Elgort who introduced her to the team at Vogue and she ended up working with them for almost 15 years.  At the time, her best friend whom she had met after beauty school in Chicago moved to NYC too.  That friend is Cindy Crawford.  They started out together in NYC moving only a few blocks from each other to begin their lives.

In 1989 she got a call from Aveda to consult and possibly do a make-up line.  She met with them and consulted for them for 7 years.  Her focus was art and commerce.  She loved creating the photo shoots from hiring the photographers to figuring out the concept.  It was her community.  The relationship with Aveda continued until Cindy and Sonia teamed up to do the Basic Face Book.  The make-up world was starting to focus on technique.

At the time many of the make-up artists were getting their own lines from Bobby Brown to Laura Mercier.  People would ask her why she wasn’t doing that.  She thought nobody needs another make-up brand.  While she was in Target on their book tour she realized there was a void between mass and prestige.  Most of the products in Target were really dreck with horrible packaging.  She had this moment where she decided to approach Target about creating a make-up line for them.  Professional make-up for Target.  She had a friend who connected her to the right person and the partnership began.

It was about being chic with great design. She owned the line within Target.  This was pre-Michael Graves and all the other designers that Target has brought in.  Sonia had the concept first.  She saw it.  Originally Target thought of it as a kind of science project but Sonia was driven.  You have to push to get things to happen in a large company and push she did. Her line has been on the shelves for almost 16 years now.  Target’s beauty sales are roughly $2billion a year now.

About a year and a half ago she hit the wall.  It is hard being an entrepreneur particularly one inside a big corporation. She wanted to make her exit as important as her entrance.  She sold her namesake brand to Target this past year.  She is starting to think about what comes next.  It is still about color, shape and form.  Everything is connected back to the physical brand when it comes to the consumer product space.

Sonia might be tiny but she packs a solid punch.  I can hardly wait to see what she does next.