Entrepreneurship in a Woman-Dominated Industry with Jessica Tan

On The DMV Wedding Pros Podcast this week, I got to chat with Jessica Tan from J.Tan Artistry.

Jessica Tan is based in Northern Virginia and specializes in bridal makeup services. On this episode, we talk about how the wedding industry is largely woman-dominated, entrepreneurship as a woman, what support looks like as an entrepreneur, and how COVID has affected the event industry and Jessica's work.

Hey Jessica! Thank you so much for joining us. Can you introduce yourself?

Sure! My name is Jessica, and my business name is J.Tan Artistry. I'm located in the DMV area and I specialize in bridal makeup services. I strictly do makeup, but I love working in the wedding industry and I'm really happy to be on this podcast.

I'm so excited to have you! I know that every hair and makeup artist is different, so you only do makeup. Do you have a team of hairstylists that you refer, or do you just work with whoever else is hired?

So when it comes to hair, since I don't do hair, I actually work with Sarah from DC Bridal Hair, who is an assistant for A Stylist Abroad. We do a referral discount that goes both ways. If a client comes to me who wants to book and needs someone to do hair, I refer them to Sarah and they get a 10-15% discount from her hair services. It's been a really beneficial and mutual relationship and so far we've worked two events together. It's been going so well, and I'm so glad I could find a hair stylist who's passionate about only doing hair. We're both on the smaller side of our industry in terms of our following and presence on Instagram, so it's really nice to empower and inspire each other.

I love that partnership, that's so smart. I've been thinking about doing the same thing with a photographer in the area, but it's tricky to figure out how that will work, so I'm glad that you found something that works for you!

We are going to talk about women in the wedding industry today, which I'm really excited about. You brought this topic to the podcast, and I'm excited to dive into it. Where do you want to start with hair and makeup?

So far working with hair and makeup, I've encountered only women. I've found it a very positive and uplifting experience. To preface this, I used to be a computer information systems major in college and it's predominantly men. I did it for awhile for the main reasons people do things - career, stability, financial stability. It was just the thing to do, and I felt pressured to do that. Being in a classroom with a lot of men wasn't the environment I wanted to be in. I felt like I had to work ten times harder to get myself shown, or to be credited the same amount as my male counterparts, so I switched into marketing, which was more balanced. I thought it would be more women, but it was actually pretty equal. I've been in workplaces where it's more men and where it's mixed, and so far the wedding industry has been mostly women. I just wanted to show my perspective and observations coming from being in those different environments.

I didn't know that's where you started, but that fits in so perfectly. I think that there's a stereotype of course that women are catty, or they tear each other down more than they build each other up. I imagine the place for that in the wedding world might be hair and makeup honestly. I'm sure you all have your own techniques, but what has your experience been there?

So far it's been really positive. On the styled shoot we worked together, I had never met the hairstylist before and I didn't know what to expect because she does hair and makeup. With another styled shoot I did awhile back, she was only a hairstylist. There was no competition, or I didn't feel the need to be competitive. But when it came to the shoot where she offered both, I was pleasantly surprised. She's older than me, she's been in the industry for longer, and she started out in makeup and now does hair. She was just really nice and very uplifting. She said she learned a couple things from me and I definitely learned from her. It was more like a mentorship than a sense of competition. I'm so glad it did turn out that way. She's a beauty educator, and she ended up writing about me and how it's more about the sense of community not competition.

In terms of working with other makeup and hair stylists, I always try to get to know the hair stylist, even if they do do makeup. Sometimes I get booked and I still have clients who email me asking for other makeup artists. They really value my word and my referral, so I'll send them to other makeup artists I trust and have built a relationship with. I think it's important to still establish community.

For sure. I'm so glad that turned more into a mentorship. I'm glad that you brought up the community over competition thing though because I think that it's an incredible movement, which started with Natalie Franke and The Rising Tide Society. There's still so many people in our area that are still die-hard #CommunityOverCompetition, and I completely subscribe to that way of thinking, BUT I do think some people use that phrase and preach that message without walking the walk. But I so subscribe to the idea of lifting each other up. There's truly room for all of us at the top.

Throughout the wedding industry, I do think it's predominantly women who are entrepreneurs. Probably just because it's a very stereotypically emotional female thing, right? Like we're supposed to be dreaming of this day since we were little girls, but guys are literally told, "Just listen to what she wants," if it's a groom and a bride. I think that's more misogyny than we really care to dismantle right now, but what are your thoughts on this being a women-led industry?

I think more power to it. I'm all about empowering women, and like you said a lot of these women are entrepreneurs. Women entrepreneurs in general have to work ten times harder to be shown, but in the wedding industry it feels like everyone is women and that's not the case anymore. It feels safe and secure being in this industry, and there's mutual respect among all of us. I really love that. Everyone is independent, they started from somewhere.

You don't really go to college thinking like, "I'm going to become a makeup artist!" At least I didn't. There's a lot of careers like that - florists, photographers - that started out more as a hobby, and then people realize, "Wow, I'm actually passionate about this. I love making people happy with my work." I think everyone has that commonality of... finding that passion, and then being able to make it work into their own business, and then conquering that business.

I love that you brought that up because it's true. I feel like with the wedding industry in particular people sort of stumble into it. At least most of the stories I've heard, people don't plan on doing it on full time, or they don't plan on doing it at all. They just do it, and then turn it into a business. I think that's so interesting. I honestly don't meet a lot of people who are like, "I always knew I wanted to be a wedding planner." It's just sort of like, "Well, I was good at planning things for my family and then someone said I should do their wedding, and I did!"

Maybe that also speaks to the fact that men get told they can do whatever they want when they grow up, and it's a little more ambiguous for women. And so, when we find a hobby that we love, turning it into a business is probably not our initial reaction.

Yeah, I mean I think at least in makeup in particular, it's very risky. Especially growing up in an Asian household and being first gen, it wasn't an industry that was very highly respected, to put it lightly. It was really risky when I told my parents, "Hey, I think I can actually become a makeup artist and make something for myself." I don't think they respected that choice until they started seeing me make additional income from it, and seeing people post about it, and me getting clients that found me strictly through Instagram. Now it's become part of my identity, and like you said I just kind of stumbled across it.

I almost feel like I came a little bit late because a lot of makeup and hair stylists go to cosmetology school. Going to a four-year college I just thought, "I'm going to get a job right away, forget about makeup." It wasn't until my senior year of college that I realized, "People are taking pictures for grad photos and they want their makeup done. What if I just charged them like $15 to do some eyeshadow?" I found there was a demand for it, eventually I got better, and then I got proper training working at Sephora. It was all so coincidental, and it was very scary at first, but I'm so glad that I decided to stick with that passion.

With your background you were probably very much aware of the difference between being in a male-dominated field and now a female-dominated field. I've been doing video for about six years, but I feel like my "rebirth" was in the summer of 2019, so I've been full time since then. For a long time I did treat it as a hobby, but at the same time I was not aware of the fact that videography in particular is a very male-dominated field. It just never really crossed my mind. I don't know if that would have changed anything, but I think everyone comes into their role a little bit differently, and there are some roles in the wedding world that are dominated and some that are balanced. One that comes to mind is DJs. I've worked almost exclusively with male DJs. But I don't think I've ever worked with a male wedding planner. So it's just really interesting how the roles can divide. I also want to acknowledge that we're speaking very much in binary terms, and from my own personal experience.

Most of the videographers I do know and refer to are men, but I always prefer working alongside a female photographer because they're usually a little bit more flexible, and a little bit less aggressive. But I've also worked with great male photographers. We could probably talk about this forever, but it's a little different for everybody.

Yeah. I definitely think not all men are these A, B, C stereotypes, but the same goes for women. I think a lot of people have stereotypes about a woman-dominated industry. Some of those stereotypes - like that we're super supportive and compliment each other and talk about our emotions - I think are true, but it's not a negative.

Yeah! I definitely think it's a positive thing. There are a couple well-known male videographers in the industry that often talk about how there's probably an edge that female photo and video people have, in relating to a bride getting ready, and sticking around for moments that men may have to step out of the room for. But on another side of things, they believe that women, when shooting and editing, look at the wedding day from a more emotional standpoint, which usually ends up benefitting the end result because that's what you want to bring out of a couple when they see their photos and videos, you want them to feel all those emotions again. I think it's an interesting take. It doesn't - I don't know if "bother" is the right word - it doesn't bother me, but I do think it's kind of silly to say that females are better at the job because they're emotional. And I know that's not exactly what they're saying, but there are plenty of sensitive men out there doing the same work who can look at it from that angle instead of a clear, cut, precise, logical kind of deal.

I think that's so interesting. You know, I haven't heard that side because I'm not in videography or photography.