Marlena Stell is a beauty influencer and a self-made businesswoman, having gained a strong following on YouTube and other social media platforms. And while it takes a certain amount of luck to become Internet famous, Stell has worked hard to ensure her success, turning her regular life into that of a celebrity.
The popular makeup guru started her YouTube channel back in 2008 and has amassed well over 1.4 million channel subscribers. Add that to her more than 700,000 followers on Instagram, and voilà — you have a bona fide social media star. But Stell is not just an online celeb. She is also the CEO of her own cosmetics line called Makeup Geek. Stell’s journey from music teacher to makeup sensation is a fascinating one, and her success story will inspire just about anyone to follow their dreams — whatever they may be. Here’s everything that you never knew about Marlena Stell.
She got her start in music
Stell was raised with a strong work ethic. “My parents made sure I worked hard to earn my keep,” she told L’Empereur Magazine. Her dedication and drive helped her to become the self-made businesswoman she is today, but, before she was a makeup maven, Stell had a very different career. “I actually earned my degree in Music Education and spent many years as a music teacher leading choir, band, and group piano for middle and high school students,” she said. “My first workers were actually former students, and one student still today works for Makeup Geek.”
Stell minored in stage makeup in college and had a side gig as a makeup artist for special events. She was still working as a music teacher when she first started off in the beauty influencer world, but she eventually left her first career behind in order to work on her growing business full-time.
The pre-Instagram beauty world was totally different
In 2008, Stell launched her YouTube channel in order to share her love of makeup with a wider audience. While influencers on YouTube today often have professional-level productions, the scene was much, much different back when Stell was first getting her start in the online beauty influencer world. “Wow, the dynamic has changed tons!” she told L’Empereur Magazine. “Back then there was no Snapchat or Instagram, and the only users on Facebook were the hipster crowd. When I started on YouTube the number of influencers was much smaller and we all filmed in our spare bedrooms with subpar equipment.”
Stell records with high-end equipment and amazing lighting these days, but, when she was just starting out, she had a handheld video camera and lights she bought at Target. “My backdrop was these old school damask curtains!” she added. “Good times back in the day. Now I feel like YouTube videos are so highly produced … very different from 2008!”
She finances everything herself
While many business people rely on investors to fund their companies, Marlena Stell has done everything on her own. Once she started gaining attention on YouTube, she knew that she wanted to start her own business so she started saving up her money. This gave her a lot of control over her cosmetics line. “I finance my entire company — I don’t have investors,” she told Forbes. “My line of 50 eye shadows retails for $6 per shade. I am able to keep prices low, in part, because I sell directly to my large following.”
Staying connected with her audience also works well for her business model. Being active on social media helps her know what her fans want. “I see how other cosmetics brands try and fail to connect with customers,” she said. “No one wants to buy from corporations any more. They want to buy from personalities.”
Stell loves her curves and has no time for body-shamers. “I’m calling this ‘My Life as a Fat Girl,'” she said in a YouTube video. “I hate using that term because it has such negative emotions to it, but that’s what I’ve been called my whole life. I’ve struggled with weight since I was 7 or 8 years old, and it’s always been an up and down battle. … I’ve always just had a struggle with keeping weight off.”
Stell said that she was in her 30s before she truly became comfortable in her own skin and learned to love herself. She added that being healthy and happy is more important than being thin, a sentiment she later backed up on Twitter where she wrote, “So d*** tired of people assuming if you’re plus size you’re automatically unhealthy. At my lowest weight I was depressed, starving myself to where I lost hair and was miserable. Now I’m off most my meds, happy, and bloodwork came back A+.”
She and her mom are best friends
The bond between a mother and her daughter is a special one, and Stell is blessed to have a strong relationship with her own mom. The two are very close, and they spend a lot of time together. One of the perks of being rich and famous is being able to travel, and Stell loves being able to share her success with her mom. “Even though I travel all the time for work, travel is one of my passions,” she told Forbes in 2015. “Every year I tell my mom to pick any destination she wants for a mother-daughter trip. Last year we hit Paris and London and this year we’re headed to Seattle for spa treatments.”
Her close-knit family also includes a supportive dad. Stell said that, when she was first launching her business, her parents were her first employees and that her mom continued to work with her once it was off the ground.
Her ex helped run the company
Adding to Stell’s support system is her ex-husband, Nick Reichert. Reichert helped start Makeup Geek with Stell, who was his college sweetheart. “He is the COO and much more inclined towards book-keeping and the back-end, while I am obviously the forward-facing product person,” Stell told Forbes in 2015. Even after the divorce, Stell said they “still get along great,” and that Reichert remained COO even after the split.
Reichert has since left Makeup Geek, but he stayed on board until 2017. According to Reichert’s LinkedIn profile, he “stepped away from the operations of Makeup Geek to refresh [his] mind” and “work on other projects.” Reichert now runs Racketboy.com, a website devoted to retro video games that he founded in 2004. As of 2018, he is also the marketing manager at the Michigan-based Jackson School of the Arts. It’s a far cry from the makeup business, but his time at Makeup Geek probably helped him hone the kind of business skills that come in handy in any field.
Stell struggles to find support in the industry
It’s a good thing that Stell has so many people in her personal life who support her, because she has had trouble finding support within the industry itself — but not for lack of trying. The entrepreneur said she has tried to connect with other women in the makeup business, but, for the most part, she has had to figure things out for herself. “I have found it really hard to find a mentor,” she told Forbes. “Women in this industry can be really catty. There are a few amazing women who I have worked with, including Jaclyn Hill, who I have helped, and helped me in return. I really admire Bare Escentuals longtime CEO Leslie Blodgett, but despite many tries, I have not yet been able to connect with her.”
While finding a mentor in the business might have been beneficial, Stell seems to have done a pretty good job on her own.
Opening up about her miscarriage
Fame and fortune can’t protect you from heartbreak, and life has not always been smooth sailing for Marlena Stell. In August 2018, she revealed in a YouTube video that she had recently suffered a miscarriage. She decided to share the devastating experience with her followers in order to help broaden the discussion about the often-taboo subject. “It’s a really sensitive topic,” said Stell. “I didn’t think at my age, with my health problems, that I could even get pregnant.”
Stell’s pregnancy came as a pleasant surprise, not only to Stell herself but also to her fans since Stell had previously said she wasn’t interested in having children. She said that, as she grew older, she changed her mind and is now open to growing her family. Stell added that, while it will take some time to recover from the loss, she does plan on trying again to conceive in the future.
Her fashion line is all about inclusivity
Stell started a new business in 2018, though she had to push its launch date back a little bit because of health problems. Her new business, a fashion line called Marsté, is an inclusive clothing line for women that runs from sizes 0 to 22. As noted by Stell, the line features many pieces that are loose-fitting and that can fit larger sizes. She has plans to eventually extend the size range, and she’s shared that it’s important for her that the line works for a wide variety of women.
“I’ve been a curvy girl my whole life and the whole reason I created Marsté was to have something for everyone,” she said on YouTube. “The whole premise of Marsté is to have an amazing quality clothing line,” she continued, adding that everything is fair trade and is made in the U.S. by people who are treated well and paid fair wages.
Finding a passion is key
When asked what the most important quality in life is, Marlena Stell had a simple but profound answer. “I think it’s passion,” she said in a YouTube video. “You have to be passionate about something whether it be about, you know, what you’re doing for work, or about your children, or about charity projects that you’re doing. Have something that you’re passionate about. That’s what seems to drive your life.”
Stell said that her passion is “helping women to feel beautiful.” She doesn’t think that makeup is necessary to be beautiful, but she also acknowledges that makeup can help many women feel a lot more confident. “Under all of the, you know, exterior … I really want women on the inside to feel beautiful,” she said. “I don’t care how it happens, I just want women to feel beautiful.”
Noting that she feels women are often put down in society, the YouTube star advocated for “more positivity of making women feel better about themselves.”
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