Mally flashes her signature smile on the QVC set.
THE GLAMOUR GIRL
Mally Roncal, Founder, Mally Beauty
“WAKE UP. KICK ASS. BE KIND. REPEAT.” That’s the “Mally Mantra” celebrity makeup artist-turned-beauty mogul Mally Roncal posted on her Facebook fan page the morning of her interview with Style—and it’s a perfect description of her carpe diem attitude.
An only child and second-generation Filipina American born to two doctors, Roncal learned early on not to take life for granted. When she was just a year old, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and given six months to live, but she fought back—and thrived to see her daughter’s 17th birthday.
“We had so much fun,” shares Roncal, 42, who says her always impeccably put-together, Chanel-clad mom inspired her “drag-queen-level obsession” with beauty, which included playing with makeup before she could even talk. “We lived by seizing every single moment together. I think that’s why I am the way I am now—very positive and sensitive. I’m lucky to see life as one big play date.”
Roncal’s boisterous personality (and big smile) shine brightly on QVC, where she launched Mally Beauty—a full line of professionally inspired cosmetics and beauty tools—in 2005.
“It’s like the Olympics of television,” she says of the circus that is appearing on the shopping network, where she has become famous for her Mallyisms, including calling everyone and everything gorgois! (Yep, it rhymes with “moi” and is a fancier way of saying gawgeous.)
Imagine standing there with two monitors in front of you—one live and one that’s going live in a few minutes. You’re trying to articulate the benefits of a product, while looking fabulous, being funny and approachable, and simultaneously dabbing makeup on models and interacting with the program’s hosts. A ticking clock tells you how much shrinking time remains to sell an item and there’s a producer buzzing in your ear with comments like your hair is scratching your mic” or “move to the left, we can’t see the product” or “this is good, you’re doing great” or (the dreaded) “we’re going to move along”—all based on real-time data about whether viewers are flooding the station with calls…or changing the channel.
“People might laugh and be like, ‘How hard could it be?’” says Roncal. “But there are 4 billion things going on at the same exact time. Whether you watch QVC or not, you can’t deny what those people do on the air is an art.”
But plenty of people are watching.
“Since our first sale in 2005, we’ve grown to more than $70 million in retail sales worldwide. Six of our products won QVC’s customer choice award last year—beating all other similar items out of hundreds of options on the channel” says Don Pettit, CEO of Mally Beauty, which is headquartered in Towson and boasts a staff of talented expats from other beauty companies, including Noxell, CoverGirl and jane cosmetics. The team recently celebrated another magnificent milestone: Mally Beauty’s retail launch at all Ulta Beauty locations in May.
“It is a joyful journey for us all,” says Pettit. “Mally has an appreciation of people that is infectious and uplifting. She’s also the single best makeup artist I’ve ever seen in 30-plus years in the beauty business. She knows how to make women feel wonderful about themselves.”
Indeed, Roncal has developed a loyal and passionate following of “Mallynistas” that includes everyday moms and working professionals—just like her. (She and her model-turned-photographer hubby have three young daughters and live in West Chester, Pa., not too far from the QVC campus.) While she can’t pinpoint this group down to a specific demographic as her fans span all ages, races and geographic regions, Roncal does see one common thread: All of them lead busy lives and respond to her openness to try (and teach them) new things—like, say, how to use an eyebrow pencil.
“My fans tend to be women who need a girlfriend, cheerleader or a partner-in-crime to give them permission to do something beautiful for themselves,” she says. “I’m very unapologetic about being who I am when it comes to makeup. Wanting to feel pretty doesn’t make you inferior, less strong, less smart. It makes you confident.”
Of course, women aren’t just responding to Roncal’s “schtick” so to speak, but also to the quality of her makeup. Around the Towson office, she is renowned (and revered) for being lovingly “psycho” about testing, testing and testing her products. (Hint: she’s not afraid to say, “Take this crap back and start over!” if she doesn’t like a new mascara or foundation.)
“There’s a difference between throwing a product on the shelf and saying ‘if you like it, you like it, if you don’t, you don’t,” Roncal says with a laugh. “But I have to stand up on national TV, essentially face-to-face with a customer, and tell her my mascara is going to give her longer-looking lashes or this eyeliner won’t budge. The only way I can do that is to believe it.”
Not budging (or smudging) is a big part of the Mally Beauty brand, which was inspired by Roncal’s work as makeup artist to the stars, including everyone from Angelina Jolie, Hayden Panettiere and Maggie Gyllenhaal to Rihanna, Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez—one of our faves. (“She has this confidence that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before,” confides Roncal. “It’s electric.”)
After working as a design assistant for Tracy Reese in the Big Apple, Roncal started doing makeup for fashion shows and editorial features—and got her big break when her agent called her to work on an Us Weekly photo shoot with a young Emily Watson. She spent the next decade traveling the globe and doing makeup for some of the world’s most famous women, as the celebs-on-magazine-covers trend took flight. But after meeting her future husband, she decided to cool her jet-setting ways and settle down to start a family…and a beauty empire.
“I call my makeup bullet-proof,” says the former Sephora spokeswoman who had access to every cosmetics brand on the planet but couldn’t find a single line that worked perfectly for the likes of J-Lo and Queen Bey. “Nothing had the staying power that could stand up to the singing, dancing, sweating, the whole nine yards. So I decided to create my own line that gives people a celebrity look, but won’t come off until you take it off.” (Her 4:30 a.m.-applied “face” was still flawless when we interviewed her in the afternoon.)
Roncal has worked an extraordinary list of famous faces, but—if given her druthers—there’s at least one “dream celebrity” she’d still love to get her hands on: Dolly Parton.
“She’s my idol. Back when I first started a million years ago, she was going on the cover of Out magazine. They had her sitting on hay bales with a bunch of naked guys laying around her—and they asked me to do the makeup for the men. Dolly had her whole team there, but her presence was amazing. I also love Barbra Streisand. Anyone who has a look and owns it, that’s my definition of beauty.”
These days, of course, Roncal is the celebrity—with fans asking for her autograph or to put on their lip gloss in line at the grocery store.
“It’s humbling and amazing,” she says, noting that she even loves those rare moments when she gets caught without makeup in public. “The Mallynistas have no problems calling me out on it! But, truly, there’s nothing more special than when somebody recognizes me and says, ‘You taught me something that helped me to look and feel better.’ It melts my heart.”
As for her detractors who say that Mally is just, well, too damn perky?
“Between you, me and the lamppost, there are customers who can’t stand me.
I don’t read negative stuff online anymore, but I used to get hurt by comments like, ‘Nobody is ever that happy. It’s complete bullshit,’ she says. “Now I’m just like, ‘Sorry, honey. Wish you could come over to the sunny side of the street—but, feel free to stay over there.’ I’m incredibly grateful for my life and I’m never going to pretend that I’m not.”
Available at QVC, Ulta Beauty and the Mally website. mallybeauty.com
Believable Bronzer, $50. Melted Lipstick Duo, $38. Effortless Airbrush Nourishing Eyeshadow, $29. Perfect Prep Hydrating Under-Eye Brightener, $35.
THE MIXOLOGY MAVEN
Jamyla Bennu, Co-founder, Oyin Handmade
Sitting at her store counter, surrounded by her wares, Jamyla Bennu looks every bit the beaming self-made woman. But something’s wrong with this picture: She’s not mixing up her luscious bath and body products. Instead, she’s cutting up a lowly T-shirt, albeit in an artistic way.
“What can I say?” she comments. “I’m a crafty chick.”
Indeed. She started out almost 15 years ago at her kitchen table in Brooklyn, N.Y., mixing batches of honey, shea butter, lavender, rose petals, flaxseed and other ingredients into skin and hair care products that she then tried on herself and friends. Slowly refining her recipes over the years, she developed several successful mixtures, started selling them by word of mouth, and voilà! A star was born. So was a name: Oyin, which is the Yoruba word for “honey.”
Bennu launched Oyin Handmade on-line in 2003. It has since expanded to brick and mortar. Tucked into a modest basement storefront on Charles Street a few blocks above North Avenue, Oyin sells dozens of products festooned with colorful labels and cheeky names – “grand poo bar” “hair dew,” “no ash at all,” “funk butter” – all of them made by hand by a team of workers in a warehouse just a few blocks away.
Bennu, 38, is joined in her endeavors by her dapper husband, Pierre, a writer, filmmaker, visual artist and general dynamo who encouraged his wife’s fledgling business and pushed her to make something more of it. From the do-it-yourself gamble at the kitchen table, it has turned into a successful company with projected sales of $1.2 million in 2014.
“This is a milestone for us,” says Jamyla. “It’s been 10 years. First, Whole Foods, and now, Target.”
She is referring to the fact that the grocery chain started selling Oyin in a few select stores a couple of years ago, and the retail behemoth is stocking the products in 140 of its stores nationwide. “Target pioneered the multiethnic market,” Bennu says. “They realized there was a need.”
While most of her customers, says Bennu, are black women, often looking to tame their tight, curly hair, other women are starting to discover Oyin as well.
“Yay!! I love my #oyinhandmade products,” raved one recent commenter on the company’s Instagram feed. “I’m a Caucasian woman with very thick and curly hair, and they’re the best!”
Bennu’s own hair is a short-cropped mass of curls and coils, framing a high-cheekboned face sprinkled with freckles. She’s got a model’s good looks. Could that dewy glow be attributed to her products? And if so, which are her favorites?
“I don’t have a lot of time anymore,” she says with a laugh. “I have two little kids. Mostly, I just get up and go.” But she says her proudest recent accomplishment is a new styling cream called boing!
“It took forever to develop,” she recalls. “About six months. It’s got shea butter, coconut oil, Irish moss, so it fights frizz and is also very moisturizing. It was a lot of fun.”
Even more fun are the hilarious videos that accompany boing! and its brethren on the website. The brainchild of Pierre, the videos feature a crowd of people in goofy wigs and fake noses cheering on an Oyin employee who extols the virtues of a product. It’s not enough that a pomade works on your hair, for example; it also “helps in the kitchen” and “fights crime.” (In the video, an Oyin worker appears to smash a tomato. Cut to a scene of perfect slices. Wild applause. For the crime-fighting bit, the employee hurls a jar of boing! to the side. Off-camera, you hear a man crying out in mock agony. The worker then returns to his hair spiel.)
Though Bennu calls herself the “Grand Mixtress” of the operation, she credits her husband with product development and naming. Neither of them has a background in this kind of business. After she earned her master’s in anthropology at New York University, Jamyla dropped out of a Ph.D. program to pursue her love of creating body products—“the magic of emulsification,” she calls it. Pierre stopped working in banking to focus on his art. Together, they turned their talents to the labor of love that is Oyin.
“Love” is a word that comes up often in conversation with the Grand Mixtress.
“It’s a great thing to do for a living,” she says. “I love meeting customers, seeing the impact these products have had on their lives.”
2103 N. Charles St. | 410-343-7020 | oyinhandmade.com
Funk Butter all-natural deodorant, $6. Grand Poo Bar solid shampoo, $7. After Bath blended body oil, $12. Boing! curly hair styling product, $15.
THE BUSINESS BEE
Kara Brook, Owner, Waxing Kara
When many people think of honey, they think of that hipster-foodie version of syrup that needs to be specially requested from your local diner to pour on pancakes. For beekeeper Kara Brook, honey is much more than a sweet treat.
Brook’s Waxing Kara business specializes in Bee Inspired Goods, which range from, yes, things you can eat—like organic Eastern Shore honey and lollipops—to household products like candles, “bee bling” jewelry and beeswax art. Plus, she has partnered with experts around the globe to produce a hive’s worth of haute beauty products.
Take, for example, her signature face mask—a “Botox alternative” with Manuka honey and a small amount of bee venom (stay away if you’re allergic!) imported from New Zealand that’s used to give your face a tiny lift.
“There’s just enough of venom to trick the skin into thinking it has been lightly stung, which stimulates circulation as it tightens and smooths the surface,” Brook tells Style from inside the Honey House, the main venue for her product line, which serves as both a retail space and warehouse in Owings Mills.
Fret not, nature lovers. No bees are harmed in the making of this product. A glass-covered electronic device is installed beside the hive. The bees gently secrete venom on the glass as they attempt to sting the surface, which they can’t penetrate, so their abdomens remain intact.
Brook’s other notable beauty products include a honey-based body scrub that can exfoliate your face and keep your skin moisturized, and a body scrub that’s 100 percent pure, crystallized honey. (You could eat it, if you wanted to.) The Honey House also sells a trio of organic, tinted honey lip balms, along with a collection of handmade soaps that serve as natural humectants and antibacterials.
With Brook’s knowledge and the wide array of products, you might assume she’s long been queen bee in the honey trade. Surprisingly, she got her start only three years back. No doubt her artistic identity helped her claim this quirky new territory with confidence.
“An artist is just something that you are. You’re born that way,” says the Baltimore native and MICA grad, who feels particularly well wired to take creative risks. “You’re always a little different from day one—and that’s me.”
In her earlier career, Brook worked as a graphic designer for a then-fledgling AOL and loved it, but she still missed creating art.
“I made a deal with myself,” she says.
“I said that by the time I was a certain age, I was going to go back to it.”
At first, Brook would just paint with acrylic on snow days. But then she fell in love with an encaustic (wax) painting, which inspired her to take workshops on the art form.
She set up hives at Chesterhaven Beach Farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to get wax. After the first harvest, she “realized the glory in honey,” and was hooked—or perhaps stuck on the ritual. From there she committed to her sweet new life.
“I really like the idea of Eastern Shore honey,” she says. “There’s something so tranquil and peaceful about it.”
In reality, the process of putting these lovely products on the market has involved endless hard work. Beekeeping isn’t some ethereal and elegant process. It involves suiting up, sweating and being prepared for the worst. “It’s natural to be afraid,” she says.
Brook’s fearless best friend, Joyce, accompanied her the first time she ventured into the hive, which proved easier than Brook expected. Physical danger actually seems to be the least of her worries. A stickier problem: A Varroa mite issue has been killing her bees off, which puts a hinder on her efforts to keep organic.
But it’s all worth it for the entrepreneur who thrives on her collaborations with other beekeepers, seasoned artisans and beauty experts across the country. She’s also having fun experimenting with unique honey recipes for a future product. And the proceeds of her business have allowed her to continue her support of VisionWorkshops, a nonprofit that teaches at-risk youth the art of photojournalism.
“I’m really not trying to prove anything anymore,” she says. “This work is very meditative in a way. As soon as I can track inventory and not be a week late ordering lollipops, I’ll be golden.”
10989 Red Run Blvd. | Owings Mills | 410-415-3027 | waxingkara.com
Peace of Mind Bar Soap, $9. Bee Venom Mask USA, $70. Strength Bar Soap, $9. Sweet Lips Organic Tinted Honey Lip Balm Trio (Plum), $24.