Ashley was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Her and her mother moved to Atlanta when she was seven. As a kid she wanted to be a pediatrician because her love for children and taking care of people. Ashley began honing her steady work ethic on the college dance team at Hampton U, “Ebony Fire.” Ashley is zealous and generally known to be candidly uncut with a clever sense of humor. She’s hilarious. “I really benefit from being able to talk to people and make friends everywhere I go,” she told me. To my estimates, Ashley is definitely a “people person.”
I caught up with Ashley at the Atlanta based cafe “The Flying Biscuit.“ It was her suggestion, but she read my mind. We caught up on recent events and she confessed that the last two years had been kind of rough for her. “I was lost for a good two years, wasn’t sure what I wanted. Everyone kept asking what I was going to do and I got tired of not having an answer.” She shared her turn around with me later on in the conversation. We briefly discussed brand building and how vital it is to have a talented team around you. Through my research I noticed that Ashley has one of the dopest young websites on the web right now. She attributed some of her organizational success to her publicist Kelley Rogers. “Yeah Kelley stays on me! Keeps me on my toes.” In just three years, Ashley has done work for countless national publications; MOD Magazine, Health Magazine, and Vogue Italia just to name a few. AG’s star shines bright because her talent is undeniable. It’s only right that she takes the stage for this week’s #ShineHard conversation.
So what is your Passion and when did you know?
Gray: Makeup is my passion. It’s like an art to me. I love the end result of taking someone from their natural beauty to a completely enhanced state. Making them feel totally different from when they first sat in my chair.
I knew at Hampton actually. I was getting ready to graduate my senior year. I’ve always liked fashion, I did make up in high school for all my friends and the dance team (Ebony Fire) in college. At first I wanted to be a stylist. I thought “Yeah, I could do wardrobes!” I think that lasted about a week. Styling is a lot. So then I said “Well what about Makeup??” So I started by doing the Homecoming Fashion Show in 2010. I teamed up with Roderick Hawthorne and I was doing some modeling for Pat Williams‘ promotional group. I was charging $15 a face for Senior Ball. I thought I was making money *chuckles* but that is when I really knew.
Who did you look up to as a kid?
Gray: My bedroom wall. I would always hang up pictures of models on my wall and the Makeup section from different magazines. Its so crazy how it came full circle and I didn’t even realize it. I was more fascinated with the style and makeup than the actual models.
Who inspires you most these days?
Gray: Well, I like Franchesca Tolot, who is Beyonce’s make-up artist. Sam Fine an African American male, and Pat McGrath, she’s a black woman from Great Britain and I love her. She’s so dope because she personally never wears make-up at all! She’s so bomb, she’s probably my favorite. But yeah, I knew about all these people before, but I just wasn’t inspired by them the way I am now.
But honestly, I really try not to study too many people these days. I try to just stick to my own style. I don’t wanna start doing stuff somebody else’s way, because for a minute I was just obsessing over every other artist but my own $h!t. It made me feel bad about my work, like, “Why am I not this? Why am I not that? Why Why Why.” I unfollowed almost all of em! No more beating myself up. I’m focusing on me now.
Tell me about your versatility. Any other beauty skills? Nails? Hair?
Gray: I do have some hair skills. When I do advertising jobs, they won’t book for two separate hair and makeup people. You have to know both. And I did people’s hair all the time in school. I’m a perfectionist. If you give it to me I can make it happen. I treat people like it’s ME in the chair.
So tell me more about your journey these last two years?
Gray: There was a point where I had this whole little breakdown. I was going through a lot trying to figure out my next moves. I was hurting on funds and struggling to find purpose. I was crying, seemed like everyone was coming down hard on me, and I just couldn’t take it any more. Shoot, I’m my own worst critic.
I told myself, “January 1st?? I’m doing SOMEBODIES makeup” I have this superstitious thing that however you spend your new years is how the rest of your year is going to end up. New Years Eve I didn’t go out. I booked somebody to do their Makeup, had a lil glass of champagne, and meditated on my goals and what I saw for myself this year. I was knocked out by 12:30. I was #Focused. I went back on my Instagram to pinpoint when things really turned around. Everything has taken off since that day. January 1.
How do you go about getting clientele?
Gray: Well I’m not a big talker. I don’t really talk myself up. That’s not my personality. I’m very modest when it comes to my work. I feel like I don’t have to say anything, my work will speak for itself. A lot of times its just through referrals and meeting people. For example, there’s a photographer I work with that put me onto a girl named Toya. Toya owns a boutique out here in Atlanta. I did her make up for a shoot and she loved me. By her referral, I’ve done work for her friend Delicia(Cordon) too. It’s kinda just who you know, really its word of mouth. It’s about trust. I’m at a point now where I have consistent people.
I like the challenge of proving yourself. Like I honestly love when people come sit in my chair and they doubt me. It gives me such a high like “I’m bout to Beat the hell out of your face.”
Why would someone sit in your chair if they don’t think you’re gonna be good?
Gray: You know sometimes it just happens. You’ll get a model that’s like, “Ooh, I don’t know…” or I’ll get a client that’ll say “My make-up artist wasn’t available so I figured I’d just use you,” trying to make you feel like the second pick. But really my style is not like anybody else’s. I just take it as an opportunity and I show their ass.
Tell me what makes Makeup by Gray different from any other brand?
Gray: People enjoy the fact that I come to them. They feel more at home, they feel more comfortable. A lot of makeup artists work out of a salon or at a counter. So when you find that person that will come to you and you don’t have to go anywhere..? They look at that as like a bonus and they’ll happily pay for that service. I work hard and I deliver.
What accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
Gray: I would say being published in Health Magazine is one of my top moments. It was one of my best jobs, I got my name on a national publication and got to work with some really great people. It was a really cool experience for me.
What have you learned from your success thus far?
Gray: Hmmm, well… I had a falling out with a few friends. I feel like it was just meant for me not to hang with certain people anymore. Had those friends that always trying to put you down. Maybe secretly wanted to be in my place, I don’t know, but I had to let it go. And when I said I was done with all the BS things just started opening up! I had to consolidate my circle and the right people started coming back in more. Now all my people are on the same wave length. We’re all like, “Lets get this money, “Lets do this”. “How can we work together?” Having a great support system helps a lot.
Johnny: Yo, its said, “You are only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with. We have to be brave enough to let go of people that keep weighing us down.”
What is the #1 factor to your success?
Gray: Two things.
Blind faith. There was a time when I didn’t have any money, I wasn’t working anywhere. I felt like I couldn’t really do anything for myself. I had to trust God and keep walking. God won’t put you in anything that you can’t get through and I believe that. I trusted him more than ever this year and I love who I’m becoming.
Having an accountability partner. Talking to my mother about goals and problems is what keeps me sane at times.
If it wasn’t for makeup, what would Ashley Gray be doing?
Gray: I really don’t know. I have no idea. That’s how I know this is what i’m meant to be doing, because there is nothing I enjoy as much as this.
What advice do you have for aspiring makeup artists?
Gray: Just keep moving and stay active in your networking. If something bad happens just shake that sh*t off and keep pushing. Don’t be distracted by the negatives that get thrown at you. Expect them. Everything isn’t always going to be peachy keen, but if you can stay positive and keep your focus, you will reach your goals. Plus, going through stuff makes you appreciate it 20x more. That’s with anything.