Hustler of the Month: Youtube Vlogger and Makeup Guru Teanna Willis

BY: KEIRA WAITES

This interview has been edited and condensed.

What’s it like to be a Youtube vlogger? We asked Teanna Willis, a junior in the School of Public Affairs whose Youtube channel has nearly 50,000 subscribers. Most recently, the Bronx native has added the title of entrepreneur to the list after starting her own business, Our Noir.

Blackprint got the chance to catch up with Willis in her apartment, which also happens to double as her YouTube studio.

Keira Waites: Where did your interest in beauty and cosmetics begin?

Teanna Willis: I don’t really know how I discovered YouTube, but I would watch a lot of YouTube videos before I even thought about buying any makeup. I would watch a lot of [makeup] tutorials, and I just thought it was fun. I liked to see them do their skin mainly—I liked to see people put on the foundation and the concealer, and it was always really confusing until I actually started doing it myself. So then, when I started doing my own makeup, I thought of doing my own videos because I found some easier ways to do things than what people were showing on YouTube.

Photo by Keira Waites

Photo by Keira Waites

KW: When did you start vlogging?

TW: I kind of always did it. I would say, like ninth grade when technology was substantial enough to record with the phone you had and iPhones were coming out—because you couldn’t do anything with Blackberry [phones]. I would always record on my iPhone and send videos to my friends. Or, if we had a project in class, I would try to record a video if we had that option. In high school, my teacher had us do a project where we had to make a blog post, and we could do a vlog if we wanted. I did one, but she didn’t like it. She said, ‘All you’re doing is looking in the camera and touching your hair.’ Really, I was showing my friends and things that we were doing, but because I was recording from the front camera, she didn’t like it. But I liked it. So when I got to college I was like, ‘Okay, let me really try this.’

Photo by Keira Waites

Photo by Keira Waites

KW: In addition to your beauty vlogs, what other content do you have on your YouTube channel?

TW: I think I want to start doing commentary. Like, everyday life and social justice-y kind of diary entries. My favorite YouTuber right now is Qaadir Howard—he’s been doing YouTube since like 2008. And he just turns on the camera and says how his day went. He’s way funnier than I could ever be, but that’s what was interesting about it. That he could just turn on the camera, tell a story and have it be really funny. And I want to do that. With makeup videos you need a structure, you want to look better, because you’re going for a certain aesthetic or ideal look. But the content that I like making the most is when I’m telling a story about something that actually happened or sharing something I learned. I want someone to see a black girl that’s in college, sometimes wears her natural hair, sometimes doesn’t, sometimes wears makeup, sometimes wears dramatic makeup in spaces that probably no one would. So, just being an everyday person on YouTube. That’s what I want to show.

KW: You also talk a lot about hair on your channel. What do you think about the natural hair movement for black girls on YouTube?

TW: I think it’s so weird how you don’t see someone like us—that has 4c textured hair—in real life. You only see it on YouTube, and I think that’s so important. That YouTube is a space where you can really dig deep into it and you can see what society really looks like and lacks. You will never see someone with just regular 4c hair, that’s not overly stretched, on a billboard or on TV. Like, Issa Rae is kind of doing it—the way she styles her hair is really nice. Whoever’s styling her hair is doing a great job but when she first started her YouTube series, she had that short hair and it was just her. So, I feel like YouTube is where people get to show themselves in that natural kind of way. Also, you can learn how to take care of your natural hair on YouTube if you’re new to it. You just type in like ‘4c hair’ and you’ll find a whole bunch of girls doing it and you can find and follow what works for you

KW: You recently started a business. Congratulations! How did that come about?

TW: Well, when I saw people selling things [on Youtube], I would know where it came from and I knew the original price and I could see how they were overpricing it. So I thought, ‘Okay how can I do this, how can I try it. I don’t think it’s that hard.’ And at the same time, I was watching a lot of motivational speakers. I can’t remember the guy’s name—it was some guy on a Breakfast Club interview—talking about buying things for cheap and then selling it for a price that’s just a little higher. But my thing is, I don’t have to inflate the price a lot—it could still be affordable.

Photo by Keira Waites

Photo by Keira Waites

I talk to my friends from high school every day in a group chat and I knew I couldn’t just start a business without telling them—I felt like it would just be rude—so I told them my idea and they were interested. We’re all from New York so we went down to the fashion district just to see where people get wholesale stuff. We all met up and planned out how much money we were going to put into it to start.

KW: What do you sell?

TW: First, my idea was to sell chokers, but it took us a while to get the business off the ground. We started planning last August and the website didn’t launch until this July. Because of schoolwork, of course, and also apprehension and realizing we had a lot to get done before everything could go live. So by the time we did put the chokers on the website, the trend was already dying down. Now, we’re introducing makeup brushes, lashes, satin scarves—because black women use that to tie their hair up all the time.

KW: Are black women your target audience?

TW: Yes, I want it to be really centered around black women—that’s why we named the business Our Noir. We were going to name it Afro Envy, but someone else had already taken it. My friend liked the word ‘noir’ and it fit because it means ‘black,’ and a few other bloggers already use it in their name. So I added ‘our’ because it’s our business. So, now it’s ‘Our Noir.’

Photo by Keira Waites

Photo by Keira Waites

KW: Where do you see yourself or your business in 10 years?

TW: In 10 years I’ll be 30. Hmm. I want to be a politician, but I’m always worried about having money, and I feel like this whole e-commerce thing is something that can give me a steady income. Like, maybe if I play my cards right this can turn into something really big. Or like, with YouTube—it can give you money, and an audience, too, which helps because I eventually want my audience to vote for me when I finally run for something. But, I feel like 30 is still pretty young so I probably will be leading campaigns or something like that. In the end, I really want to be a politician in the Bronx, so I think that’s where I’ll be.

KW: Okay, scenario: You’re having a dinner party, and you can invite any five people you want, whether they’re alive or dead. Who would you choose?

TW: Alive or dead? Well, there are people that I really want to know me. I really want Tyra Banks and Kimora Lee Simmons to know how much I appreciate them. Michelle Obama — I really want her to know me, too. And I really want Beyoncé to know me, too, but I feel like a lot of these people are cliché so I’m trying to think outside the box… Oh, Qaadir, my favorite Youtuber. I would love to have him there. He is revolutionary, like, the things that he says on his channel…I feel like he’s someone that people would really learn from. Those are my five—the people that I really want to know when I think about people that move me.  

Feature photo provided by Teanna Willis