It’s a question that plays on the minds of creatives in many industries: Indie or Agency? What does being a creative look like in 2020 and beyond? How do you maintain autonomy in a world where success seems contingent on big label backing or agency support? With so much changing, Is having the industry “machine” behind us still the definition of success? We caught up with Professional Hair & Makeup Artist Remi Odunsi, an NYC Creative who shared her experience of building a career as an artist her own terms.
Q – Tell us about your background. How did you get started?
Well, simply put – I was working a corporate job that I hated, so I decided to quit. After about a month or so, I went to a photographer for a LinkedIn photo, so that I could get another job and after hearing my story the photographer offered me a job as his assistant. One day, the hair and makeup artist didn’t show up. I stepped in and the rest is history. 6 years later, this is my real job. Sometimes I can’t believe it. I always did hair and makeup when I was little, but I didn’t want to work in a salon, and had no clue how to make it a living. I’m from Chicago, Illinois and had no connections in New York City. So if I wanted to make it happen, I had to go independent. It hasn’t always been easy as an independent artist, but I’m doing what I love and I’m doing it on my terms. For the growth I’ve gained through this process alone, I feel really blessed.
Q – What does being an independent artist mean to you?
“That’s a big question. Being an independent artist basically means that you run your own show, create your own hype without major backing. I can’t always say that I’ve always been clear about the kind of work I wanted to be doing as an artist. In the beginning, I just wanted to work. If you are unclear on who you are as an artist I think having a major behind you can be really beneficial in quickly identifying and building your brand. For me, however, I think the exploratory process of finding out my aesthetic, and having a better understanding of the business side of things is allowing me to build a foundation for the long haul. Independence, to me, means having the freedom to make choices and champion yourself. It also means that if it doesn’t work out, there’s no one else to blame. For me, being independent all this time has been an invaluable journey, however it definitely isn’t for the faint of heart! . Sometimes in the age of social media it feels like everything happens instantaneously. I think that building a slow and steady base is underrated.
Q – So do you tend to avoid work where you can’t make executive decisions?
“Wow. Great question. Listening to how I feel has really been a labor of love, and a journey as well. I think it’s critical to remember that you can be independent and still make compromises. That’s a part of life, right? As long as the compromises I’m making don’t encroach on my morals, I’m pretty open. If someone wants to try something I don’t like, I’ll try it and if it doesn’t work out, that’s when I’ll make my suggestion. I feel like I’ve established my ‘comfort zone’ for an acceptable level of autonomy and I think that I attract clients at this point who are familiar with my work. I definitely don’t avoid work where I can’t make executive decisions. My work is always collaborative. However, when clients know the work and trust the vision is when we really get into the zone.”
Q – It’s near impossible to grow without the eventual backing of a big brand or agency support, right?
In the age of the internet, nothing is impossible. Forging a career without major backing involves a LOT of work, but it definitely can be done. Many of my clients are people who are self-made and making waves. You can absolutely live comfortably as an independent artist without major support, but it demands persistence and a clarity of vision. Understanding who you are as a professional and precisely what you offer is crucial in building a good name for yourself. I think for me, half the battle is showing up. Consistency is key.
Q – How do you stay motivated when doing it alone?
Motivation is always intrinsic, however I don’t think that being independent necessarily means you’re doing it all alone. It’s about finding the right people who want to be a part of your vision, or join to create a vision together.. I really don’t think that one should do everything on one’s own. In hindsight, I wish I would have started to focus on collaborating with a team much earlier, but hey – everything happens in its own time. Now that I have one, I’m truly so grateful for my team; the growth that I have seen, I owe to them.
Q – Are there any other artists you aspire to?
“I’m a huge fan of Makeup Artist Pat Mcgrath – she’s the epitome of versatility and solidarity within the craft. I feel like she built a strong foundation over time and has turned into the epitome of creative success. I’m also a big fan of Singer/Songwriter Dolly Parton, which is a surprise to a lot of people. Her hair & makeup looks are always campy and Iconic. And I feel like she is another artist who built a slow, steady, strong career. As far as my contemporaries, I’m really working on not comparing. Right now, I’m all about discovering what’s unique to me; uplifting others and connecting through my work.
Remi Odunsi is a Manhattan-based hair and makeup artist who specializes in photography and video production. Her work has been featured in Harper’s Bazaar, W magazine, Vanity Fair and American Vogue.