If you walked into one of Damone Robert’s salons today, you would not be able to tell that this wasn’t the life he always envisioned for himself. Before becoming a successful entrepreneur and beauty guru to the stars, Damone wanted to be a musician. “I was in two rock/funk bands, Red House and Damone Anthony. You couldn’t tell me that I wasn’t going to be a rock star.
Although he lived for music it was a different kind of art that would eventually make his rock star dreams come true. In high school, Damone won first place in an art competition after he submitted a sketch of Diana Ross. The prize netted him an all-expense paid semester at Rutgers University where he would get to work with some of the most talented people in the art world. It was there that he learned the fundamentals of balance, structure and architectural detail that would suit him well later in life. But a young Damone was not too eager to trade in his canvas or his music to construct beautiful faces just yet.
“I could always look at a face and know how to enhance certain features, while downplaying others. The world of make up and eyebrow design came easy to me, but I was still not interested in the beauty industry and went on to work several different jobs.” One of those jobs was at Costco Wholesale, where he worked in the call center. He hated it. “I was miserable,” he said. “Everyone kept telling me that this was a good job because I had a 401k and full benefits. But I always envisioned more for myself. I knew that I wouldn’t get to the level of success I saw in my dreams by working at Costco.”
Damone didn’t ignore his talents for too much longer, going on to work as a freelance make-up artist at local beauty counters in California. It wasn’t long before he had lines out of the door and private appointments to work weddings and other intimate events. “My make-up station became popular really fast. That was the moment that I stopped fighting it and started working really hard to hone in on what my strengths were. For the first time, I listened to my heart and to the direction that the universe was telling me to go.”
In 2002, Damone opened his flagship salon in Beverly Hills. Almost six years later, he went on to open a second location in New York. In that timeframe, he became a regular contributing beauty editor for Oprah.com, launched ‘Damone Roberts 1968,’ a limited edition nail polish with OPI and an eponymous product line. He was immortalized as a question in Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit and has literally left his mark on the faces of Beyonce, Madonna, Megan Fox, Vanessa Williams, Alicia Keys and Robert Downey Jr.
In 2012 he will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Damone Roberts brand and is very forthcoming about how the journey was not always so glamorous.
“When I first started out, I didn’t know anything about owning a business. The difference between an LLC and an S-Corp, employees versus independent contractors; it was all lost on me, he said. “The learning curve was very steep.”
Damone’s biggest challenges came in the form of adverse and sometimes even hostile circumstances.
“I’ve had to deal with people taking money from the business, owing taxes that I didn’t know I was responsible for and bad business partnerships,” he said. One of those partnerships was with a prominent New York hair salon where he launched his East Coast outpost. Two months after moving Damone Roberts New York into the hair salon, he got a call from his partners telling him that they had just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He immediately hopped on a plane to New York.
“It was devastating and there were moments when I didn’t know if our New York business was going to survive. But, we managed to pull through.”
Having already gone through the highs in lows, Damone encourages anybody interested in starting a business to always be ready to learn and recommends that they never get too comfortable, because “no matter how successful you are there will always be something or someone that’s going to try and take you off course.”
He is also a champion of giving in to your passion and talent because “staying on purpose” will help you achieve your dreams. And although it took him 20 years of hard work, today, Damone Roberts is a rock star.
*A version of this interview was originally published on MadameNoire.com