From counter to camera: Kenya Broadnax rises in beauty

By Ashlyn Robinette

a woman with purple eyeshadow and a black hat

It can be hard to stand out in the beauty industry, but Kenya Broadnax does just that. Her GRWM videos, makeup tutorials and satirical POVs have helped her capture more than 460,000 followers on TikTok. The Tampa-based beauty influencer and entrepreneur may have been in business since her early teens, but really she’s just getting started.

The 30-year-old’s love for cosmetics began when she was only 14 years old. Watching her mother paint her cheeks with lipstick and draw on her eyebrows, a mini-Broadnax became enthralled by makeup, stealing her mother’s products whenever she had the chance. As she grew older, Broadnax began watching YouTube videos and learning from different MUAs, her favorites being Jackie Aina, Destiny Godley and Shayla Mitchell. To support Broadnax’s love for beauty, her mother gave her a small makeup allowance every two weeks.

“I would always take my $50 and I would go to Walmart or Target, and I would buy like one powder, one foundation,” Broadnax said. “I would build up my little makeup kit.”

When she turned 19, Broadnax got her first makeup job at Sephora before transitioning to Ulta Beauty, where she worked as a Prestige Manager. She eventually returned to Sephora as a manager, then worked retail at Nordstrom and Macy’s. She has additionally briefly worked for bareMinerals, MAC Cosmetics, and BECCA Cosmetics. Now, she’s at Neiman Marcus.

These work experiences inspired Broadnax’s “Surviving Retail,” “Retail POV” and “The Makeup Store” TikTok series, as well as her beloved “Manager Pookie” character. The videos chronicle problems and situations one may encounter working in beauty retail.

“In that time span, I acquired a lot of knowledge, a lot of product knowledge, a lot of connections with brands, account executives, freelance artists... but my passion for makeup started at a very young age and it took time to acquire my craft and my skill.”

It wasn’t until a co-worker at Macy’s encouraged Broadnax to try her hand at social media that she made her first TikTok in 2020.

“You’re a great artist,” he told her. “You're too big to be at a place like this.”

Broadnax started posting more seriously on TikTok earlier this year.

“I opened up my camera in April and decided to just talk,” Broadnax said. “I'm like, ‘Well, let's just see where this goes.’ People told me all the time to go for it. Over the years, everyone was constantly telling me, ‘You're too big to be here,’ ‘You have too big of a personality,’ ‘You're too great for this,’ ‘You need to be somewhere else.’ I never ever believed it until I actually pursued it. I'm so thankful for all those people. Had they never said those things to me and drilled it into my head that this is where I deserve to be, I don't think that I would be here.”

Although Broadnax has always had a passion for makeup, performing, and the arts, she could have never imagined where she would be today, nor could she have foreseen the impact she has on people of color, especially women.

“I grew up as a darker complexion Black girl in a predominantly white community, so I always kind of wandered through school and social settings. Like, I was never that pretty girl,” she said. “I thought, ‘If I wear makeup, maybe it'll make people be attracted to me. Maybe it’ll make me look nice.’ When I started wearing makeup as a kid, I really liked it but I more so wore it because I didn't think I was pretty. But now it's morphed into my actual career. It's something I love.”

Like so many of the artists she admires, Broadnax came from humble beginnings, transitioning from working the makeup counter to being a beauty inspiration to millions online.

Broadnax is most famous for her bold, glamorous eye looks.

“Eyes are my thing,” Broadnax said. “It’s so crazy, when I was younger I never wore color. I felt crazy wearing color. I used to only do neutrals. I never wore shimmers. I only wore matte eyeshadow. I never wore lashes. Now, I love doing color, full-blown colorful looks, big lashes, glitter, sparkles, rhinestones, it's my thing.”

This passion for colorful, expressive eye makeup inspired Broadnax to start her own brand, The Sugar Cosmetics. Almost four years ago, Broadnax created her cosmetic e-commerce company, which specializes in the sales and distribution of custom cosmetic grade glitter and pigment mixes, because she felt that products in the beauty industry were lackluster at the time.

“Like the shimmers were lackluster, the quality was lackluster, it just wasn't a pop for me,” Broadnax explained. “And so I wanted to find a way where I could add that pop but free of my own individuality. That's why all of my glitter, all of my pigments are custom mixed. I mix everything myself, I name everything myself, I envision everything that I want for a color, and I don't stop mixing until I make that perfect shade.”

It took time before Broadnax felt confident enough to rock color. Around 2016 (the era of cut creases, heavy contouring and liquid lipstick), Broadnax noticed one of her co-workers at Sephora wore beautiful, bold eye makeup. So, Broadnax began replicating looks like hers and those she saw on YouTube.

“Sharp lines and bigger lashes started coming into play and we started to see more bold, colorful looks and so I started trying to recreate them. Of course, it came out terrible. Initially, I looked absolutely psychotic. But, over time, I just got better,” Broadnax said. “I realized, on my complexion, color just looked so great. The color would pop, it would be so beautiful. People always complimented the way that my eyes looked and I just started to feel more and more confident in color. I felt so bland when I would just wear neutral shades. When I started wearing colorful shades it was like an expression of my personality and who I was as a person.”

After experimenting with color, Broadnax never looked back.

“For me, colors felt magical,” she said. “Your color really enhances your mood and enhances your personality. Like, that's just how I treat it. So I'll wake up in the morning and say, ‘You know what, today I feel green.’ ‘Today I feel blue.’ ‘Today I feel purple.’ ‘Today I feel pink.’ There's so much expression behind color and that's why I love it so much. That's why I really started to get into it.”

In the world of beauty influencing, authenticity is key. For Broadnax, her approach to content creation is less structured and more natural. She prioritizes comfortability and relatability in order to build a sense of community with her audience.

“I decided one day I'm just gonna open up my camera, I'm gonna record it super easy on TikTok, just record my steps, talk about it and just do it that way,” she said. “I think that people really value and appreciate your personality and who you are as a person over the quality of your content.”

The fast-paced and personal nature of Broadnax’s videos makes beauty content both enjoyable for Broadnax to create and her followers to watch.

“One comment I get all the time whenever I do my Get Ready With Me (GRWM) videos is, ‘Oh my God, I feel like we're friends, like I'm on FaceTime with you talking.’ That's what I want. I want people to see my background, see that my bed’s not made when I wake up, and that I only have 20 minutes. It's not a facade. Like, this is real life. I work a full-time nine to five job. I'm a regular person just like you, I just record content.”

The best tip Broadnax has for aspiring MUAs and content creators is simple: “Just open up the camera and be yourself.”

She additionally advises creators to maintain a willingness to learn and grow.

“Do your research. Do your homework. It doesn't matter how big you get or how knowledgeable you may be. Everyone can always learn,” she said. “I'm learning new techniques and new things every single day. You are never too big to grow. You are never too big to learn. Always remain humble and be open to education and advice.”

In addition to growing her brand and social media presence, Broadnax hopes to one day find success selling candy and starting a podcast.

To keep up with Broadnax, follow her on TikTok (@kbmakeupme24).

a black woman with blue and purple eye makeup
a woman with purple and purple eyeshadow on her face
a black woman with blue and green eye makeup
a woman with purple eyeshadow and a black hat
a woman with purple and blue eye makeup