What Led Me to Create a Makeup Brand That Stood Up For My Cultura

Gaby Trujillo
Gaby Trujillo

My love for beauty began at a very young age. My mom moved from Cuba to Miami with me in 1996. She was in her 30s and began a career in skin care and cosmetology. I was 3 when we came here, and was raised inside of a salon filled with eccentric hairdressers and fashionable nail techs. That exposure to beauty mixed with the existing fact that I was a very artistic kid who loved anything colorful and bright led me down a path of makeup obsession.

My mother worked multiple jobs in Miami to give me a better life than the one she had. She then went to beauty school and got licensed to become an aesthetician. A few years later, she worked at salons and grew her clientele while saving money, and eventually opened a spa in Miami Lakes called The Dragonfly Spa.

During my teenage and early college years, I worked at my mother's spa as a receptionist. I was around beauty 24/7. When it came down to starting my first semester in college, I was set on studying psychology. But as soon as school started, I immediately hated it. I'd find any excuse to skip class. I would even go so far as to drive all the way to school only to end up staying in my car crying about how much I hated it. It was hard for me to admit that school wasn't for me — how could I go back to my extremely disciplined mom and tell her that I just didn't want to go to school anymore after everything that she sacrificed for me?

I found the courage to tell her the truth, and that Spring, I dropped out of college, registered at a local makeup school, and finally found my dream. I fell in love with makeup. I spent the next few years putting 150 percent of my love and energy into my artistry. That time was defined by a lot of back pains, early mornings, and very busy weekends where I barely saw my friends. But it was worth every second.

By the age of 22, I landed my dream job at MAC Cosmetics. It was amazing to know that I was working with one of the top global makeup artistry brands, and I quickly excelled and was offered several full-time positions at different counters. It didn't take me long to realize that a full-time position would mean less time to work on clients and more pressure to make my sales goals. I didn't want to sell makeup, I wanted to apply it and learn from it. I continued to freelance and build my personal clientele, which led me to meet the amazing people behind Boxycharm, a beauty subscription box.

I began doing makeup for Boxycharm's monthly campaigns and quickly built a relationship with their team. They saw my passion and determination, and when a position was created for an in-house beauty expert, they thought of me for the job. My new title meant I had to create tutorials while helping them build a social presence on Instagram.

Over the next two years, I worked alongside some of the most brilliant and passionate people I have ever come across. I started to think of my time there as my own version of a university. I was taking crash courses from my coworkers in every subject, from social media strategy to brand development, manufacturing, and everything there was to know about influencer marketing.

I also got to learn about new emerging brands that were disrupting the industry and making waves with their authenticity and connection to their audiences. The black-owned brands I came across such as Beauty Bakerie and Juvia's Place were very inspiring to me. These women were creating gorgeous products while sticking to their roots and their culture and creating a brand for their people.

Then one day, while chatting with my then-coworker and now dear friend Sheyla, we started to talk about how incredible it would be to create a brand that reflected our Latin culture. From that day on, starting a Latinx-inspired brand was the only thing I ever thought about. Fifteen months later, La Reina Del Caribe Vol. 1 palette was born.

I wanted to create a colorful, unique palette that paid homage to my Cuban culture. I bet my entire savings in the making of this palette. Weeks would go by and I would test every single shade. The pigmentation, the color payoff, the texture — everything mattered to me. Every single eye shadow was named after someone or a memory that tied me back to Cuba: El Malecon, Varadero, Celia, Guantanamera, and Cafecito, to name a few.

Next was coming up with the name of my brand. This was a hard one. At first, I wanted to name it Roots because I wanted something that reminded people of their own culture, but this train of thought led me to think of Alamar, my hometown in Havana. Alamar Cosmetics was the one. I called my mom to tell her, "OMG, mami, I'm going to start my own makeup company and I'm going to call it after Alamar!" She was not really reading into it, and thinking I was onto another crazy bobería idea of mine.

Gaby Trujillo

But in May of 2018, I launched Alamar Cosmetics with its very first product, Reina Del Caribe Vol. 1. A month later, I made enough profit from the sales to make up for what I invested, and I quit my position at Boxycharm. My brand is now a family-run business, and everyone important in my life plays a key role. My fiancé runs operations, my soon-to-be sister-in-law manages product packages, and I also have employed Latina-owned businesses to run my social media marketing and public relations. It's important for me to keep it within the family and within the community.

Today, my brand has launched five additional collections and continues to pay homage to my roots, and also my Latinx identity. This is only the beginning, and I can't wait for the world to see what's in store for Alamar Cosmetics.