Communicating What Makes You Different Through Branding with Tammy Ma | Keravie Lash Loft
It’s amazing how Tammy’s beauty story started several years ago. I was in school when she first put up a blog and then there we were, enjoying our drinks together in that busy Starbucks talking about her journey amidst the loud Christmas music.
We talked about my favorite topic— the importance of branding, social media and original content!! And this girl had lots to say about it! Keravie stands out from other studios not only in terms of its aesthetics, but also because of the personal touch of the overall brand that people find it very easy to connect to.
I have learned so much from our time together. She was probably the easiest person to talk to and interview because I felt like I was just listening to a podcast. I felt my drive being renewed and I was inspired again to choose who I surround myself with, to reach out to the right people because they’re always there, and to always listen and go back to where my heart leads me to.
Realizing that, I thought about the people I have yet to meet and connect with. They may be starting a blog, or maybe they’re in school. And it just makes me excited how the universe will bring us together.
I was drawn to Tammy’s store (it is so so beautiful and refreshing!) and even though at the time I was thinking to myself, “What do you think you’re doing?” I knew that I was, as always, being guided. I didn’t have any experience with lashes, but it’s amazing how learning about a person’s story opens you up to so many possibilities and reveals how similar we all are in the midst of all our uniqueness.
Read on to know more about her story and her insight on self education, goal-setting, branding and more! :)
// the following is a transcript from an audio recording interview with Tammy. A FEW parts have been omitted and rephrased to be brief and to make it easier to understand in writing.
The start of her love for beauty
I’ve always been interested in makeup and beauty even as young as seven or eight. I think it was my mom- I saw her putting on lipstick and getting ready for events. I thought that moment was just so magical and it was so foreign to me because I was young, I’ve never seen that before. I don’t even think I was even influenced by watching that on TV but literally seeing her get ready for a wedding and just watching her transform from mom-mode to this done up beautiful woman who looks so different from what I’m used to made me see her in a different way. I got older and my mom would sometimes discard lipstick etc and I just started collecting them. Like, she didn't want them? Oh, well they’re treasures to me. I got this pencil box where I would collect things that I was inspired. I would never wear them but it made my little makeup kit so I started that pretty early on.
Fast forward 10+ years when I was in university, that’s when blogging kind of got started and this was back when blogging was truly for the serious journaling, sharing your adventures and creation with people without the intention of selling anything and making any money. I guess this would have been around 2007-2008. I started a blog and it was just kind of filling my days at university. For me it was definitely a hobby and then towards the end, right when I was close to graduating, that’s when you start seeing the sponsored posts. I started getting contacted for looks and reviews. I thought that I would probably be doing it for longer but as little as you know it, after I graduated I had zero interest in dedicating my time to such minute details. Once I graduated I felt like I needed to really dedicate my time to the profession or career that I went to school for all these years so I ended up not doing too many things on my blog. Eventually I shut it down over the next couple years as I got further into my career. I just didn’t have much time anymore.
I graduated in marketing at the University of Alberta and then I found out I didn’t really love doing office work and eventually I ended up in real estate which is what I did for the next five years after. It was definitely a very different road from what I thought I was gonna be doing and as I started exploring what were the different tracks I could take, I realized that doing one specific thing only as a profession just wasn’t enough.
ON BEGINNING HER LASH CAREER WITH A SUPPORT SYSTEM
Around 2012, lash extensions started getting introduced into the arena. That would’ve been my first year in real estate at that time. Again, it just started as a hobby, my friend and I both had very terrible experiences with lash extensions. They didn’t really have anyone in the marketplace that really knew how to deal with Asian type lashes. So we both decided to get certified in lash extensions for the sole purpose of doing it on each other. *laughs* I know, we took this $1500 course to do it on each other. And we were like, “Hey maybe we should do this on other people so we can get better and then start charging our friends $20 to $50 a set just so we could learn how to do it.” I always kind of did it on the side though lesser and lesser so as I progressed in real estate.
A couple years ago I decided I just want a change. Real estate was a very rewarding career on many levels but working every single weekend and every evening.. it was a really high pressured job and I just wanted to see what else there was so I quit my job without having a real idea of what to do next, which looking back, that seems a little bit spontaneous but in the moment it made a lot of sense to me. I kind of went down that road of more of an entrepreneurial journey so I dabbled in other businesses as well but I was still doing lash extensions on the side. Last year, I decided to continue taking on more clients and as I started doing that I realised “Okay, am I gonna do this full time or not?” It still took me awhile— I just didn’t know what I wanted to do next. Over the last I guess year and a half, by itself it just started snowballing. I created an Instagram account just started posting pictures and people started contacting me and my friends started referring.
So I was just operating out of my 9x9 bedroom, this 81 sq ft space, and you had to walk through my entire house just to get there. It was so funny how it all started and I just decided “I guess I’m just gonna do this. So I’m gonna do it right all the way” so a lot of it was self taught. I had taken some courses but I would say with lashes, the majority was just myself pushing myself to be better.
I spent a lot of time on Instagram, there are so much free content and knowledge out there. But the problem is you need to navigate it and really dig through some mess and the real expert advice for which there is a lot. You need to know the difference between the two. The other thing too is
knowing what you know and actually applying it are two different things so what you know in theory doesn't mean anything until you actually put your hands to practice.
So I would watch lots of videos I would watch every single resource out there and then I would filter it and then I would try everything out myself — learning how to do different types types of volumes and when I would hit a brick wall I would contact people in my “blogosphere” I guess or Instagram connections and I would sit down for coffee with these girls who had tons of experience, who spent so much money on these courses and then I would just ask them “Can you meet me for coffee? I wanna show you my work and please give me as honest feedback as possible” and I would just meet with them and ask some questions and they’ll give me pointers. It was so helpful. I was working in a salon and you don't get that type of support when you’re working on your own and because the industry is completely unregulated, people sell these courses where I’ve seen amount of money that honestly they don’t teach you enough to really get you to where you think you’re gonna be at the end of the course.
So that was a lot of help— having a really great support system in place. Edmonton is such a friendly community for that if you look at the right places. I would say that a lot of the growth early on was a direct result of the women I was able to meet along the journey.
That and honestly spending tons of hours making lash fans, watching TV.. I would spend 8+ hours a day just doing that. Going through tons and tons of lashes just perfecting my craft. That’s I think why I was able to progress so quickly, because most people don’t understand that you just need to do the work and that a lot of the work is just by yourself.
the story of keravie lashloft
Over the last 9 months, I started doing research and realized the industry’s changing so quickly. Lashes are getting bigger and bigger but there’s a growing segment of women who believe that “okay, lash extensions are great and there’s always going to be a place for it but some people just can’t wear lash extensions or they’re allergic to it or the look isn’t for them or they’ve got beautiful lashes already so maybe all they need is to enhance what they have.” So I worked together with my gel lashes partner she’s Studio N Beauty, Natalia. We flew out to Hong Kong to meet the creators of the brand. We got trained by them to become the master trainers and became certified as the master trainers for Canada so now we’re the distributor for that company as well. We’ve posted a few classes now since we started and in the beginning we weren’t really quite sure what the market was gonna be like because I find in Canada it’s a little bit slower moving in terms of growing trends but since we’ve started offering the gel lashes, people love it.
Lash lifting has been around for some time but I think this concept of really taking care of your lashes that’s what we really want women to pay attention to.
Really making sure you’re paying attention to your lashes the way you would with your hair. I mean we dye our hair and we buy all these conditioners for it and here we women are asking their lashes to be so many things— we want them to be longer, we want them to be stronger, we want them to be fuller and darker, but as women we do nothing to take care of them. We are abusing it in so many ways and so we really wanna change that mindset and to really champion this growing trend towards more natural beauty.
Over the summer we looked at places. It’s always been a dream of mine to open up my own studio. I started talking to Kingsway I think it was in June. Three weeks later we picked up the keys and eight weeks later we opened up the shop.
Ever since I got my certification in lash extensions years ago I have briefly looked at opening up my own studio then but I was so young I have just finished school, I had no experience in business so I kind of sat on the backburner. As I started doing more lashes my husband started asking me “where are you going with this? Are you just gonna be working from home forever?” By last summer this is pretty much all I was doing so He really pushed me to think about what I wanted it to become and so he started looking at different locations around the city and he asked “what is it about lashes that women are loving? And I told him, “women are wanting something that’s more natural, something that’s more affordable to upkeep, something that would not be going to look different from their natural lashes already.”
He loved the concept of gel lashes and so when we designed the store for Keravie that was really what we were after— to create the store so that it became specialised in the gel lash lift.
Kera comes from the word Keratin because of the gel lashes and the lash lift. And then “Vie” is a French word for life so Keravie is Keratin Life and then when you say it out loud it sounds very similar to C’est La Vie which is a French way of saying “That is life”
I wanted it to embody strength and this growing movement of strength that women are really looking to embody and I love that.
We’re in a era where women have more power than we ever have than the last couple years and by “more power” I mean it’s simply just closer to equality. So yeah, it was something that I felt very strongly about.
BRANDING, THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA & CREATING ORIGINAL CONTENT
Branding was really important to me because there are so many lash artists in the city. I think— and I have no concept of what the numbers really are— but I imagine there are over thousands of certified lash artists in the city and lot of these people just come out of nowhere. They don’t have any certifications, they may have taken one course but they don’t have any experience and yet we’re grouped under the same umbrella of lash technicians.
It was really made clear to me that being able to communicate why we are different is so important because again you can go to anyone to get your lashes done but WHY it is important for them to come to us is because we are different. We go through this vigorous training with all our artists before we’re allowed to practice on any real person and we want people to understand that we guarantee our work. You’re gonna be safe with us. Your lashes will be safe with us. And you know that when you come to us, you’re gonna leave feeling great, confident and ready to take on the world because I think if you look good, you’ll inherently feel good inside. When you feel like that, what is there to get in your way of getting all the things you want? That’s how I feel about myself.
When it came to designing the aesthetics of the brand I wanted to make sure it was really different from everyone else’s. I took a scan of everything that was out there and then I decided to myself I wasn’t gonna do any of that. I didn’t wanna copy anyone else at all. I wanted it to be truly original, what I truly believed in and my personal aesthetic.
Before I took a scan of what was out there, I just designed my own logo, I created the name and always made it a point that everything I would put out would always be original content because I found out that when I was sifting through different Instagram accounts, everyone’s accounts are literally the same— an eyeball and then a quote and then another eyeball.
There was just no difference between any artist out there so I wanted to make sure that all the content was original. So I made sure that everything was never.. that it wasn’t anywhere else and it was originally ours. That was really important as well as sharing consistency throughout the branding so all of our photos are brightly lit, it’s clear, it’s crisp..
Social media for me is really about storytelling. To an extent you have a space to put your gallery and your portfolio, but I think why people are on social media is because they want to be entertained and as people we are very much into finding authentic human connection.
I made the Keravie brand something that people can really connect to on a personal level. We would share our stories— some of the struggles that we might have gone through. We do a lot of storytelling through our Stories. We use our Instagram Stories really as a narrative to a situation, or idea, or a product. Sometimes we have this just a scan of someone’s face but more often than not, I wanna tell people something. They don’t really tell people something necessarily through simply just one picture. Like, there’s something behind that. Obviously there’s value in that, too.
But when it comes to lashes I feel that my role is to educate people and what better way to do that than to show them my thoughts on something? If it was about hybrid lash extensions, I would say this is what it is. This is who it’s suited for. This is who it’s not suited for and a couple more photos of what we’re sharing. I have those posted on our highlights. So when people come they can go through it and it becomes not just an instagram story but a story book.
DESIGNING THE AESTHETICS OF KERAVIE
When we started designing the aesthetics of the store I just came back from a trip with my girlfriend over in Barcelona and Ibiza. In Europe, they live in nature. I mean, unlike us where we live inside and it’s a concrete jungle because we’re all driving our cars everywhere. In Europe, it’s a little different because the climate’s a little bit warmer and when we walk outside there is greenery everywhere. It was so magical. When I came back here I felt a little bit out of love so I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be so great if you could just live and be in a space like that all the time?” So this feeling of wanting to bring the outside in really inspired the design concept for Keravie. One of the iconic photographs that we have when you see the space you know it’s from us it’s kind of a picture on the couch where if you sit down on that couch and you look around, you’re just surrounded by greenery and plants hanging down from the ceiling and little pieces of greenery just hanging off shelves. I really wanted to bring that in. Of course, it was a great way to purify air— in a mall you wouldn’t typically see that. And what a great way to purify air than through what nature has already given us.
I was looking for someone to help because I didn't know how to style plants. It’s actually so much harder than you think! Then I found this girl on Instagram @kimberlywynn and she incidentally two weeks prior, I guess, asking the universe to find her someone or some business to let her plant-style. And then little do you know, two weeks later I messaged her “oh do you do any freelance consultation for plant styling?” And she was like “hell yeah!” So we got together and it just kind of took a life of its own. The concept evolved a little bit overtime but I’m so happy with how it turned out. I’m just slowly adding more and more plants to the whole now.
THE MAJOR CHALLENGES AND HOW SHE OVERCAME IT
I think in general and with Keravie, the biggest challenge is finding yourself and your voice.
With Keravie, I had this notion of what the shop is gonna be and as I got started I felt like I got really bogged down by the little detail. In the beginning, I couldn't really find the right people because I didn't have anything. When I was interviewing in August, all I had was this hollowed out phase on the second floor. What you see today, it used to just be a construction mess. I was interviewing in that messed up space and I didnt have these beautiful pictures. I didn’t have the content yet and it was very difficult to communicate what Keravie was. The details and making everything come together was quite difficult in the beginning. I think because of how hard it was I made a lot of confessions that didn’t quite align with my brand image. It was a mistake that I later paid for.
Looking back on it now I realized how important it is to have a plan and to have a vision—and to try to deviate from that if you have new information that you need to pivot and create new holes or a have new direction. There are definitely some decisions I made because it was easier and it became so obviously wrong later on. When I think about when I made those decisions, I still pay for it eventually. But at the time when you make it you think, “oh it’s so hard to do the right thing..” You know,
Not that I regret any of the decisions I have made because they’re always learning experiences, but the hope is that you make a thousand mistakes and make as many as you want, but you want to avoid making the same one twice.
SELF LEARNING and being with the right people
I mean I’m glad I did my degree but I graduated before all of this happened and marketing has changed so much over the last 10 years.
I don't feel like you need to get a marketing degree to know marketing these days. Honestly, all you have to do is listen to some podcasts because everything is out there now.
Podcasts are great. I don’t really listen to a ton of music in the car, usually it’s just listening in silence where nothing is playing and I’ll just driving and rolling over my thoughts or yeah, listening to podcasts.
I discovered that I love learning. I love being the person that drives my own learning.
I think that when you’re not someone who’s always learning, you’re going backwards because the world is always moving forward. If you don’t advance in some way, If you don’t grow professionally, I think inherently you’ll become dissatisfied with yourself.
So my team is made up of women who have learning as one of their main goals all the time no matter what they are doing because in any job, if you’re not challenging yourself in some way then what is your purpose? It is soo much a criteria (when I’m hiring people) because I feel that when people don’t have a goal of some sort that they’re working towards, they’re not fun to be around! *laughs* I don’t even know how to say that well!
For myself, when I felt a little bit goal-less I felt bored. What was my purpose? I was just not happy. Whereas when you are with someone who has a goal who is working towards something they want to overcome, who they are and their energy changes. Those are the people who are happy, they’re inspired easily by things. They inspire other people. You just naturally wanna gravitate towards these people. I only want people who have that same mindset to be surrounded by.
Because they say that the top 5 people that you spend the most time with, you’re just an average of those 5 people. And so, I can’t control how they act but I can control how I act and I can choose to be surrounded by people that I am inspired by.
I’m actually quite risk averse. It’s really weird. My husband is definitely more of the risk taker so he talked me into a lot of things that I normally would never think to do myself. He’s definitely one of the five people in my life who really lift me up and helps me become the best person that I can be.
“I am now in a space where I’ve found the brand voice and what we stand for. Because of that, because of how concise it has become, it attracted the right people”
WHAT OTHER BUSINESS OWNERS SHOULDN’T MISS
It was definitely a lot of trial and error in September, just like working through processes. We worked through THREE different types of booking systems and we might actually change it one more time. That was really challenging working through the technicalities of owning a business. We were able to do a lot of information collecting so that was really very valuable. I think something that a lot of small businesses omit is getting feedback from their clients. That’s something that we do over the last couple months and because of that, we’re able to create content, we’re able to create service value that is a direct request from our clients. We’re really able to cater into business in Keravie to the clients who are the best for us. I can’t even imagine what kind if decisions I would make without the direct feedback. A lot of times you’d just be guessing.
THE BEST THING ABOUT HAVING HER OWN BUSINESS
What I love about it the most are the people. I feel like I am now in a space where I’ve found the brand voice and what we stand for. Because of that, because of how concise it has become, it attracted the right people— people that I was hoping to find when I first started designing Keravie in my head. It’s really the girls that I work with. I get so excited to see them, so thrilled to work alongside them and I’m so inspired by their passion and their creativity. Every single one of them brings to Keravie something different and that’s great. We’re just like a melting pool of talent and it has helped us evolve and change and adapt to the marketplace in ways that we need. I love that the most.
I just love all of it. I probably work more than I have ever- well that’s not true either. I probably work the same as I have in real estate but the reward is definitely different. I feel like I am growing a lot more than I have in the last couple years as a result of having Keravie.
TWO WORDS SHE WOULD ATTRIBUTE HER SUCCESS TO.
Passion and perseverance.
Passion because I think that is the no. 1 driver in anything that you do. If you lack passion in any area, the only thing that can move you are.. just need— physical need, or need for money, or you need to house yourself etc, but if you have passion, a true love for what you do, that is what gives you energy.
Perseverance because nothing in life is easy. We see perfect lives on Instagram and people just turn out content of their lives as if it was easy but nothing actually is. Everything is really hard work and if you don’t have perseverance, as soon as you hit a hurdle you will just topple over and give up.
If you have both, achieving your goal is so much easier because when you have perseverance, you’re gonna get up again when you get knocked down. But also when you get knocked down again for the tenth time, because you’re passionate about what you do, you still have the energy to keep going even until the 20th try.
I think those are, at least for myself, the key ingredients to success in anything that you do no matter what it is.
Keravie Lash Loft
phone: (780) 479-7574
Level 2, Entrance 7, Beside The Bay
Monday - Friday 10:00am-9:00pm