Felicita Ovadje describes herself as the artsy one in a family of overachievers. When the founder of Felicheeta Artistry was plugging her way through her final year of law school, she found herself in desperate need of a creative outlet.
“I was having a really hard time emotionally,” Ovadje recalls. “All I wanted to do was paint and draw.”
She found herself drawn to the world of beauty, but not one to throw herself into anything without research, she started exploring potential ventures and educational programs.
She came across the story of Tara Fela-Durotoye, a lawyer-turned-beauty entrepreneur who operates 20 stores across Africa. “I was really inspired,” Ovadje says.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know where this journey is going to lead me, but I want to keep exploring.’”
Ovadje squeezed beauty school into the month before graduation, then began freelancing as a makeup artist on the side as her law career progressed (she still family law to this day).
“As I was freelancing, I noticed that we didn’t have a lot of products that really catered to the way Black women do their makeup,” she said.
That went for local makeup artists, too: “I hired an assistant, a new grad from beauty school, and she couldn’t do women of colour. We went to work on someone, and she was shaking.”
Gradually, she realized there was a gap in the market. “There were a lot of Black-owned brands, but they weren’t mainstream – everyone’s kind of selling from their website.” A central distribution channel, she realized, could go a long way.
“Plus, as an immigrant myself, I realized a lot of people were moving here. I’m using a foundation from back home, but here, how easy is it for people to get it?”
While exploring avenues for launching a business, she came across Futurpreneur and applied for the program in 2019. “Futurpreneur came in when I was going to convert from freelance to retail, because I definitely wanted that mentorship and that guidance. It’s one thing to have good ideas in your head, but it’s another to have the tools and resources to effectively execute these ideas. That was one of the things I really wanted from Futurpreneur – help to execute my ideas, go above and beyond.” The staff she worked with were “instrumental, very encouraging, very supportive,” she adds.
Just a year or so later, Felicheeta Artistry opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Winnipeg’s Grant Park Shopping Centre.
“It’s amazing how it’s grown since last year,” Ovadje says. “You know, there’s the regular, modest thing to do – first we start online, then popups, then maybe after a year, we open a store. But as I started the journey, the opportunities that just dropped in my lap led us to do everything we planned to do in a four-year plan immediately.
“I’m a believer in, when the opportunities show themselves, taking advantage of them.”
The physical location of launched in September 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. That might seem like a potentially fraught time to open a storefront, but Ovadje says having the shop has been a useful complement to online sales: “With the type of business I run – if people are unfamiliar with a product, they’ll seek it in person,” she says.
In the meantime, much of Felicheeta’s programming has moved online. Currently, Ovadje is developing a class with a local beauty school, teaching students how to not only apply products on different skin tones, but how to work with products that are formulated for women of colour.
“Our skin soaks up a lot of colour, so most brands owned by people of colour are thicker in consistency for that reason,” Ovadje explains. On top of that, brands from different parts of the world are often formulated to stay put all day, even in warmer climates, and tend to cater to local consumers’ demands for a more full-coverage, done-up look.
“I was used to using products formulated lighter and building them up – but with these, a little goes a long way,” she says. “It was just one thing to bring in brands – but my goal was also to teach people how to use those brands.”
On the product side, Ovadje says she particularly likes to stock companies that make culture central to their brands: for example, Hegai & Esther’s products include descriptions of sites and attractions in Nigeria, while Felicheeta also stocks palettes named after important historical and cultural figures. It’s a way of keeping far-flung people connected to their culture, she says.
“That’s why we look for brands that aren’t very superficial – they have a lot more than makeup to give to their audience. … I guess that’s the geek in me – that education component. I believe that when you learn, you teach.”
Between running and promoting a retail brand, developing educational programming and continuing a law career, there are a lot of demands on Ovadje’s time – but she seems to take it all in stride.
“The truth is, when you’re so passionate about what you’re doing, you never feel like you’re working,” she says. “Because I feel like I haven’t reached my end goal, or the project isn’t complete, it feels like, ‘Did I even work today?’ But that’s because I enjoy the process, whether I’m working on a client file, setting up the store, marketing, planning–all those things. It never really feels like work.
“I feel like I’m not chasing money at this point. I’m chasing impact.”
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