Welcome to Byrdie's new series, The Hustle, where we profile diverse, interesting women and woman-aligned folks in the beauty and wellness industries who are usually behind-the-scenes. From the cosmetic chemists formulating your holy-grail serum to CFOs driving the biggest beauty companies forward, these women are the definition of career goals, and they're getting real about the journeys that led them to where they are—the highs, the lows, and everything in between.
Today, get to know Melinda Solares, Sephora’s newly-minted Beauty Director. Solares serves as one of the company’s beauty experts (along with Myiesha Sewell and David Razzano). This role allows her to share her insider knowledge of new products, industry trends, product application tips, and more. You’ll spot her on Sephora’s social channels and in campaigns teaching folks how to get a shimmery eyelid with just the swipe of a finger, or a selfie-worthy blow dry in half the time. As if being the face of a brand isn’t enough, Solares uses her platform for mental health advocacy and does it all while repping her Cuban heritage. Over the past five years, she has risen through Sephora's ranks and has collected a world of wisdom while navigating through the corporate cosmos. Ahead, Solares shares her best career advice, her tried-and-true beauty tips, and the most rewarding aspects of her role.
Walk us through a day in the life as Sephora’s Beauty Director.
As a Sephora Beauty Director, my role involves focusing on an unbiased point of view for all kinds of product recommendations, trends, and beauty advice. I try out everything and offer our viewers and our clients an unbiased look at the products. I know, my life is so terrible. I get to try beauty products all day, every day [LAUGHS].
My job is to teach, but I'm also trying to inspire our viewers to have a little bit more fearlessness with beauty and how they express themselves. I’ll film how-to videos and tutorials, where I review products and show how to use them on Sephora’s IGTV or YouTube. At the moment, I'm doing that from my at-home studio, which has been such an experience. I could be a lighting person after this!
After I wrap a shoot, I might be creating an Instagram Story, reviewing some new products, or meeting with editors to discuss some of the newest trends I've been seeing. Sometimes I'm working with our cross-functional teams or prepping for different shoots and events.
What were your previous roles at Sephora that led you to this position?
I started at Sephora about five years ago in the makeup merchandising department. I worked directly with some of our fastest-growing brands to help them develop their upcoming product launches. When you're in merchandising, you get to sit in the kitchen with the brands and discuss what they’re developing, what Sephora is seeing, and how we can partner together to make the best product or offer the best new beauty trend to everyone out there.
I moved from San Francisco, where Sephora’s headquarters is located, to Los Angeles when I heard the company had just opened its video studio. I knew immediately I had to be a part of it. I was obsessed with video. I used to do a YouTube trend report for the merchandising department just because I was passionate about it. Video has always been where my heart is because I get to connect with our audience. Somehow, I managed to convince Sephora to create a new role for me in Los Angeles that did not exist. I was very blessed in that sense.
When I moved to LA, I joined the social media marketing team. I had so much interest in content, but most of my work was behind the camera. I wanted to do a little bit more in front of the camera. So, I became one of the first members of our #SephoraSquad, which is Sephora’s group of really unique, very unfiltered, sorry-not-sorry content creators and storytellers. Since then, I’ve moved into my role as Beauty Director, and it's absolutely the dream. I hope to share my internal and external beauty tips to make sure we're thinking about beauty holistically going forward.
What are the parts of the job that make it your dream job?
I have to pinch myself almost every day when I'm unboxing products or playing with makeup on camera. I think one of my favorite things is the fact that I get to explore my creativity. As I mentioned, my previous experience was a little bit more business-focused and more number-focused. So getting to explore my creativity with a company like Sephora that, in my experience, has always promoted inclusivity has been a joy. I consider it a huge privilege to be able to use its platforms for a lot of the things that I'm passionate about.
I consider it a huge privilege to be able to use [Sephora’s] platforms for a lot of the things that I'm passionate about.
What are some of the not-so-glamorous parts of the role?
No matter what, the hardest thing to deal with is Internet bullies. It makes me sad when we have a new support squad member, talent, or a brand founder that we're working with and I have to emotionally prepare them for the kinds of comments that are often posted when you expose yourself to millions of people on the internet. Honestly, it's a conversation I have internally and regularly with my therapist as well, just to keep me in check. I am very confident, and I like to think of myself as very self-aware. But I think no matter how much you are of both of those things, if you don't take time for your wellness, you'll always be forced to take time for your illness.
How has it been starting your new role during the pandemic?
The most challenging thing is getting that same creativity that used to happen naturally on set when you have a group of people in-person. I've been trying to communicate more, and it’s made me feel closer to my colleagues. Everyone has been open to supporting one another and being more vulnerable. We're going through some hard times. In that sense, it’s brought us closer in a way, but it's been challenging filming for sure.
Does your Cuban heritage play any part in helping you further Sephora’s commitment to diversity?
My father grew up in Havana, Cuba, and my grandfather actually founded one of the first Cuban beauty brands named Seventeen. It's always been an inspiration for me wanting to go into beauty and a cool part of my history. It was called Seventeen, an English word because his dream was to immigrate to America and bring his business here. He wanted to have an English word that would transition easily.
Fortunately, after the Cuban Revolution, my father was sent to Miami as part of the Peter Pan Act around the early 1960s. That's when they sent many children to Miami, accepted them, and gave them the ability to stay here in America. So he was sent over. His mom made it over too. It's a very long story, kind of similar to something you would see in a soap opera if I told you the whole thing. But unfortunately, his dad didn't make it. He never got to see him again. I didn't meet him either. Recently my dad and I discussed the idea that, in a way, I'm honoring my grandfather and his legacy in the beauty industry by being Sephora's first Latina Beauty Director. I feel connected to my family in that way through beauty and being able to bring that bit of history with me to this role.
For those aspiring to be in your role one day, how should they start?
From my experience, I felt that learning business was really important because I, and most individuals who are going after a role like this, most likely already have the passion, right? So I say start with the business side and learn it inside out. It pushed me outside of my creative comfort zone. I'm not going to lie; it was challenging. But it allowed me to develop critical thinking skills that I still use every single day. For example, when I was on the merchandising team, I ran reports on nationwide Sephora sales. I would analyze and interpret those reports and then help the team develop new products and trends based on sales evidence.
The same holds true for my experience in marketing. There, I was crunching engagement numbers to expose the wants and needs of the viewers. So, I was looking at the overall sentiment of the comments. When you can take an analytical perspective and do the research, you can offer better tips because you know how to identify what your audience is looking for.
The one piece of career advice you’ll never forget?
When I started, one of my first managers made a simple statement. She said, "We're selling lipsticks; we're not saving lives." It wasn't to diminish the work that we're doing. I like to think the work that I'm doing is much more than just selling lipstick. She could see my drive and sense how bad I wanted it, but she could also sense my anxiety. Telling me that was the breath of fresh air that I needed at that moment. It allowed me to have a sense of calm and move forward with my job, knowing I'm going to do a great job regardless. In a society where perfectionism is so often an expectation, I think it's important that we foster a positive environment for one another. We can make mistakes but have those mistakes be met with valuable lessons and support.
The one piece of beauty advice you’ll never forget?
If you only do three things in your routine, make sure those three things are cleansing your skin, exfoliating your skin, and moisturizing with SPF. If you can nail down consistency with those three steps, everything else you're doing with your face is going to work better.
What are your thoughts on work-life balance? Do you think women can have it all?
I'm a huge proponent of work-life balance, but I haven't always been good at it. It's taken practice. The idea of women having it all is an incredible thing to tell women and girls—that you really can do anything you want. The idea that women can have it all has also created a culture where women are starting to be expected to have it all and do it all. And that's the difference. So I feel like our society needs to shift a little bit in how it supports women. If we're going to tell women that they can have it all, then let's look at things like equal pay for women, child care resources, and normalizing flexible work schedules so that we have the tools and resources to really have it all the same way.
What lasting impact do you want to leave on the Sephora brand?
If I were so honored to leave any mark on the Sephora brand, I would hope that it is the awareness of mental health. I am just so passionate about it through my journey and seeing other people's journeys. And being a part of an industry that is so often fixated on physical beauty, I am so proud to be a voice for inner beauty and share that positivity through my role.
What’s the one Sephora product you’re recommending to everyone?
Just from reading so many comments on Sephora’s YouTube and Instagram as part of my job, one of the most commonly asked questions right now is, "How do you get a natural-looking foundation that has buildable coverage and also feels like you're wearing nothing?" They want it all, and so do I!
I've always experimented with cocktails of different foundations with moisturizers and serums to make my perfect formula. Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez came out with their Liquid Touch Weightless Foundation ($29), and I love it. It really does do all of those things, which is challenging to accomplish. It has a serum-like base, so it’s also skincare and has all those good-for-your-skin ingredients that are going to help calm and nourish. It’s medium coverage and feels weightless. You can build up the coverage or keep it natural-looking. I love to let my skin shine through because I've been working so hard on it. And I feel a lot of people feel the same way right now.