Andra Allen-Joseph is a Trinidadian beauty specialist who has decided to settle in St. Lucia. She moved here in 2003 with a degree in analytical chemistry after deciding she wanted to do more with her life. She felt the rat race of Trinidad was no longer for her.
“It just didn’t feel like me. It’s like you get up in the morning, spend endless time in traffic to get to a job you don’t like and then come home exhausted. Then you have to do it all over the next day,” says Andra.
She and her then boyfriend, Gregory now husband, decided that it was time for them to make a change. They are both university graduates. They wanted to move to a place that would benefit them both. Andra had never wandered far from home, so moving out of the Caribbean didn’t feel right. Eventually, she and Gregory set their sights on St. Lucia, and it has been their home ever since. Andra is a professional makeup artist and Eyelash Extensionist. She’s the proprietor of Planet StilettoLash Lounge and Makeup Studio located in Rodney Bay.
Aside from her academic degree, Andra has many talents, including a flair for writing. She loves to write beauty articles and is a contributor to She Caribbean magazine. Andra did us the honour of sitting for an interview, during which she spoke at length about her life and her journey into the challenging world of owning your own business.
Dazzle: Your talents are wide ranging, but what makes you, you?
Andra: My energy. I love what I do, which is why it was important for me to live my best life. When I don’t like what I’m doing, I suck at it and I feel as though it drains me. When I do something that I love I put my all into it, I put my best foot forward and I believe I make people happy.
Dazzle: What is Planet Stiletto all about and what can we expect from your brand?
Andra: Planet Stiletto offers eyelash extensions, which is the mainstay of our business. We also offer makeup artistry, waxing and eyebrow tinting. It’s all about making people — both men and women — the best self that they can be. For women mainly, it’s through the eyelash extensions and makeup. I’m not cookie cutter, I don’t cut and paste. I like to sit and feel what that person is about. I like to feel your energy, everyone is different. What do you like? What’s your comfort zone? I like to make my clients happy. My idea of what makes you happy might not be yours, so I want you comfortable in your own skin. I want you to feel like you’re beautiful because you are. All my clients are. I don’t make them beautiful, I just enhance their beauty. Husbands come to me in search of something special for their wives and I love helping them book their lash extensions and their beats. It makes the husbands feel good too, so we definitely cater for everyone.
Dazzle: How important is professional training in your field of work?
Andra: I believe you need to be trained in what you do. You need to have a basis and know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Every part of my journey has been important. When I got professionally trained in the eyelash extensions I then got professionally trained in makeup and I continue to seek out further training in my current field as well as new and exciting techniques which I think would benefit my clients and compliment my current services.
The school system is very strict, it doesn’t allow much room for self-discovery. At UWI, St. Augustine, I did the sciences — chemistry, biology and so on. I also wanted to do social sciences but it didn’t work out like that. Still, I was glad because I did analytical chemistry and it’s more than just mixing chemicals. It teaches you to think critically and that has helped me. I was a brand manager at Brydens St. Lucia for seven years. That helped me because I was able to adapt what I had learned to my business. If you’re in it for the long haul, you need to operate like a business and market yourself. You must also know how to manage your expenses. I was lucky enough that my prior professional history has given me these business skills needed but I still seek little online courses in business management specifically related to the beauty industry. Many makeup artists, hairdressers etc., don’t function like a business and I think that’s why some of them don’t last. They come and go.
Dazzle: What prompted you to get into this line of business?
Andra: My journey started when I learned about and got certified in, eyelash extensions. I’d always loved makeup. In my downtime I’d sit and watch YouTube videos; that was my kryptonite. I started doing makeup on myself and then people began asking me to do it for them. I don’t do things halfway. I do everything to the best of my ability, so I went and got certified in makeup. I really believe that to master anything, you can’t figure you know everything. You have to keep learning. I keep training and use it as an excuse to go places I’ve never been. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in, you need continuous knowledge to be the best at it.
Dazzle: What’s the most difficult and exciting parts of the job?
Andra: Dealing with troubled clients. I love what I do, and I love a challenge. A difficult set of lashes — it’s a challenge but when someone comes in with negative energy, I feel stressed. It drains me. That’s basically the hardest part of the job, dealing with people who have terrible energy. I pray in order to cope with the bad days. I’m not perfect but I learn to control me. When I get up on a morning, I pray and I read some motivational stuff.
The most exciting part is…wow! The other day, a client came in to purchase carnival stockings. We got to speaking and by the time she left she was excited to go searching for gems, boots, Tuesday wear etc. My passion had ignited hers. Then I got some other clients for lashes, and they left so happy. Their reaction was great. Seeing what I can do for my clients, it’s like a high for me.
Dazzle: You feel responsible for how your clients look. What sort of pressure does that put on you?
Andra: The thing is, unless something really major has happened I’m not going to let you leave looking stupid. That’s why we talk. I like to find out what they like. The client comes in, we sit and you tell me if you like a more natural look. What’re you used to? I get inspired while we talk.
Dazzle: Do you feel like you’ve reached your full potential or is there still room for improvement?
Andra: Right now I feel like there’s so much to do. I’m always content but never satisfied, if that makes any sense. I always am on the lookout for more training and travel opportunities. I just opened my studio, so my focus is to make it a beautiful space. I’m always thirsty for more, so I always feel like I need to do more to make my clients happier. If they’re not happy they’re going to go somewhere else. Once they’re happy, I know the money will come in and then I could improve what I need to.