Meet the #Girlboss: MAKE's Creative Director Ariana Mouyiaris
Giving you the backstories behind #GIRLBOSSES around the world. First up: Ariana Mouyiaris, the transatlantic creative mastermind behind MAKE - a new cosmetics line that makes a difference.
"I was born and raised in New York. I was a city kid but I’m part Jamaican, half Greek-Cypriot, so I always had travel in blood. I spent my formative years at school in Switzerland, and then came back to the States to go to Brown University, where I studied International Relations. I wasn’t so interested in the macropolitics - more in history, identity, and anthropology.
Even then, art was my passion, and I was always interested in design. During university, I spent a summer interning at a trend forecasting company in London. It was run by a Danish woman and it was just a wonderful working environment - ten to fifteen women, and a mix of freelancers and designers. Everyone would bring their lunch and we’d sit and eat together. It was a very formative experience. Just being in London, I felt this creative energy. Visually, I found it very beautiful - that European architecture! - but also just in terms of personal style. It felt like an inspired place. The style, the culture…there was just so much at my fingertips, and I decided I wanted to live there one day.
After university I spent about a year at Tyler Brûlé's company Winkreative in New York, working directly with the Account Director of the North American office. It was just the two of us, and I really got to understand branding and design projects from a business perspective. It was great, but again I felt this inclination of wanting to be more involved with the creative side of things.
At that point I met someone who was English. I’m part Cypriot so I had the [European] passport, and I just hopped over to London. I was 23 at that time. I spent probably a year trying to figure out what the hell I was doing - I was a freelance designer, I interned at a gallery - and then one day I saw a job post for an assistant curator at the Design Museum. I didn’t even really know what a curator was but I thought it sounded like 'me'; lots of writing and working creatively to tell stories. I didn’t get the job, but it led me to find out about a Master’s Degree in Curating Contemporary Design at Kingston University, which I ended up taking. It was amazing - I learnt all about the history of museum practice, the future of exhibition practice, and the development of this whole hybrid field that I really identity with. I think that’s given an umbrella to a lot of the things I enjoy.
After that, I worked with Tyler Brûlé again, and then with Faye Toogood when she was first starting her studio. She’s a creative director and a lead stylist in her field. Her practice was very physical, which was something I very much enjoyed, but I I felt I really wanted to bring together everything I’d learnt. That way when I founded my own practice called Haptic Thought, which I use as my vehicle for consultancy and curation projects.
Of course I'm also I’m acting Creative Director at MAKE. When my father told me about his whole vision for We See Beauty - creating a new business model that could help address inequality and show the power of cooperative enterprise - I knew I could help to position it in a way that would make it relevant to contemporary culture. We spent about two and a half years consulting on the project - both the We See Beauty umbrella and the MAKE beauty site - and working with design firms to create the visual identity for the brand.
At MAKE, our mindset is really about creative expression and the ways in which people color their own world; it’s not supposed to be about didactic trends or colors. There have always been subcultures, but now people are finding their own voices more than ever; are more comfortable to explore. The internet has enabled these communities to find each other and personally I think that’s a very powerful thing. Beauty for me is about confidence - you could be wearing nothing on your face, or you might just be wearing mascara, or a lipstick. It's just about finding what feels good to you.
Beauty for me is about confidence - you could be wearing nothing on your face, or you might just be wearing mascara... It's about finding what feels good to you.
We’ve done collaborations outside of the beauty sphere to influence palettes. We’ve collaborated with my former boss Faye Toogood on a couple of Concept Collections - one with an Apocalyptic theme, one with an Ethereal theme. We got the photographer Jamie Beck to shoot it - before GIFs became super mainstream she was doing these slightly more considered cinematic moments, so she felt like a good fit. After that, we worked with the photographer, Erik Madigan Heck. He works largely in fashion but we asked him to take a more abstract approach to color, because his images themselves are so saturated. He went to the Hudson River Valley and shot a series of abstract landscapes, which we pulled color from to create a palette.
At MAKE we’re a very lean, mean machine! When we were developing the brand, we worked with a group of women to essentially incubate the whole thing together. But now it’s mainly myself and a man called Bill, who’s wonderful and very multifaceted. My father’s main business has a team that we’re able to tap into when we need to, so I work directly with the lab, with product development, with the Marketing team. It’s very hands on.
What’s it like to work with my Dad? Oh, that’s fun! [Laughs] We don’t work that closely together anymore because he’s busy with his main company, so we don’t call him on everyday decisions. He’s a scale man; I’m a details person. He’s Greek-Cypriot - he’s got a temper and I’ve got a temper, so we have these wonderful, explosive moments. But it works well in the sense that we both have our strengths and he knows his business very well. He started a contract cosmetic manufacturing business in the late ‘70s - he was literally pressing his own shadows, doing everything himself - with nothing but a $6,000 loan. He used to make these hot pink and yellow zinc sticks that I was obsessed with as a child, and still am! I keep asking him to bring them back.
My father is a total workaholic, so I definitely grew up seeing how dedication, commitment, and just having a very strong work ethic are all integral to success. From my mother, I got an appreciation for art and culture. I fall straight between the two - I'll work until four or five in the morning in very intensive periods and forget to eat, so I’ll trying to learn the art of balance. When I’m working on Haptic Thought I’ll go into very hectic periods when we work on projects or installations. I’m still learning to edit down what I do.
My father is a total workaholic, so I definitely grew up seeing how dedication, commitment, and just having a very strong work ethic are all integral to success.
I work and live between New York and London, which sounds crazy but I’m a Pisces, so it’s kind of my nature to move back and forth. My studio in London is amazing; I love it. I have skylights, and space, and I can walk to my local market; it's very villagey. I choose to live there because for me, it’s where the energy is - both creatively and in terms of design. I feel very tapped into my own creativity there. New York is great for business but London fuels me.
I guess it sounds like all the dots of my career have joined up, but I’m still not sure where it’s all going to go and that’s the exciting thing. For me, MAKE is a personal project in the sense that it’s something I really wanted to be able to give back to my father. He enabled me to see and view the world in an amazing way, and I really appreciate his politics. He doesn’t believe that taxing society is going to change things any more; we have to independently create models that work within the capitalist system that we’ve created. He believes capitalism can be cooperative and socially beneficial.
We See Beauty is structured in a way where the end goal isn’t necessarily to make millions of dollars; it’s to be driving and incubating other businesses. I think my father ultimately want to to use his business he knew, which is beauty, to establish a model that other people could look at and say: how could we apply this to our industry? It’s a vertical enterprise, which is why we’re able to give the percentage that we are, but we’re still starting a business from scratch - budgets are tight! It’s really hard to make it work.
We See Beauty is a for-profit business, which then donates 33.3% of its revenue to the We See Beauty Foundation. The Foundation’s work is to raise awareness, incubate, accelerate and support cooperatives in America. We’ve given grants to cut-and-sew fashion accessories cooperative in North Carolina, and we’re doing partnerships with Mercado Global, which is a company that works with cooperatives and non-profits in Central America, particularly Guatemala. We’re still finding different partnerships that help express our goals. I think right now our challenge is to spread the message in a way that makes people realize they have a choice. If you buy things that do more with each purchase, change can happen.