How Makeup Helped 1 Beauty Founder Go From Ignoring Her Heritage to Celebrating It

Courtesy of Emily Rudman
Courtesy of Emily Rudman

Too often, the best beauty stories go Untold, solely based on a person's skin color, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we're passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be — and how they're using beauty to change the world for the better. Up next: Emily H. Rudman, makeup artist and founder of Emilie Heathe.

I'm a Korean-American, but I'm adopted — my mom and my dad are both American. I grew up in New York City in the late '80s, early '90s, but even in a big city like that, I wasn't surrounded by a lot of diversity as a child. From my parents' perspective, I'm their kid and it never mattered that I didn't look like them, but for me, I was in this weird situation. I didn't look like my parents, but I also didn't know anything about my Asian background. I also didn't speak Korean; I didn't understand my Asian culture. It made me feel a little lost at times.

My beauty journey started at a really young age. I loved drawing as a kid, and as I got a little older, I fell in love with comic books and started drawing my own. But then when my older sister got into makeup, I wanted to be just like her, as any little sister does, so I followed her path and switched out my comic books for beauty magazines and started playing around with makeup more.

I fell in love with using makeup as another form of artistic expression. I loved being able to transform and escape from daily life with it. My beauty journey has been about a lot of self-discovery and learning to love myself as an Asian-American, because for a long time, I wanted to look like an Abercrombie & Fitch model with blond hair and tan skin, and it just wasn't in the cards for me.

I knew at a very young age that I wanted to have my own makeup company — my dad was an entrepreneur, so I had that spirit infused in me. When I got into makeup artistry in the late '90s, there weren't very many places to shop for beauty products aside from department stores, and I wanted to create a brand in the "aspirational category," which is what I prefer to call the luxury category. I wanted to make something different and unique with products that felt like a work of art.

Courtesy of Emily Rudman

Having struggled with my identity and feeling like I wasn't seen impacted the type of brand I created. It was always important to me to create something that would make people feel good and confident about themselves — because that's why I fell in love with beauty. I went through this journey of first ignoring my ethnic heritage, and then I got to a place where I wanted to celebrate it, which is something I like to do with my brand. I utilize a lot of well-known Asian ingredients in my formulations like bamboo, rice, and sea buckthorn. I never wanted to create an Asian-only brand, that wasn't ever my intention, but I did want to think of an Asian-American consumer first and then expand beyond that.

I went through this journey of first ignoring my ethnic heritage, and then I got to a place where I wanted to celebrate it.

I can think of so many different instances in my past where I was treated differently, but at the time it didn't cross my mind that I was being treated that way because I'm Asian — I thought it was because I'm a woman. Now I understand that it was a little bit of both. There are a lot of misconceptions about race, socioeconomic status, and even the language that you speak as an Asian woman. I've had manufacturers say to me, "Why don't you just get your husband to pay for this?," and I don't think they would say such a thing to a male founder.

I've also been told my whole life by people with good intentions, "You're so beautiful for an Asian," or "You're so American for an Asian." And I've always said, "But I am American. I'm Asian-American. I don't know what that means." It's as if being Asian is somehow a bad thing or taboo.

I love seeing that the world is going in the right direction. Change is definitely happening, but there's still work to be done. It's important to remember that not everyone needs the same thing. There's a difference between being equal and being equitable. In order for things to actually be equal, you really need to give each individual person what they need to get to where they need to go — whether that's through education, hiring more people of color, or starting a program to help cultivate opportunities. You can't just look at everyone and say, "I treat you all the same because you all are the same, and I don't see your differences," because our differences exist.

I am Asian-American, I have darker hair, my skin is sensitive, I have smaller, flatter eyes — that's my reality. What you can do to help me feel like I'm being seen is acknowledge those differences and choose to include me and make products that speak to me as a consumer. Everyone wants to feel heard and seen.