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Aruna Maharaj Making Up the Magic

By Kieran Khan (about.me/ kierancan) Sunday, June 28 2015

The name Madame Maharaj is synonymous with cosmetology in the local fashion and beauty industry. It’s a name that stands as an icon, a woman ahead of her time and now, a woman who serves as an inspiration to her grand-daughter, Aruna, who has taken up the mantle of her legacy, bringing her own sense of purpose and passion to one of the most well-known beauty brands in TT.

“I was 13 years old when my grandmother passed away,” Aruna tells us. “I never understood how amazing of a woman she was and how significant her contribution to the beauty industry was. She became the first cosmetologist in TT and created the first hairdressing school here as well; possibly, one of the first in the Caribbean.” As the story goes, the title Madame was bestowed when the young, simple woman of East Indian descent from the fledgling Borough of San Fernando, made her way to Paris to study cosmetology. At that time, such a journey would have taken weeks by boat.

The younger Maharaj didn’t immediately delve into the field however. “When I left UWI, after pursuing Communications and Spanish, I didn’t think that I would ever end up in a field like the steel manufacturing industry. I worked in the Health, Safety, Environment and Quality Management area for a major global steel manufacturer in Point Lisas. It contributed a lot to learning about how a professional organisation is run.”

On weekends however, Aruna would do some elements of makeup – either teaching or dressing brides using the knowledge from makeup courses she had done in her teenage years. “It was my mother who would always sign me up for courses when I was younger or book clients or students for me. Often, I didn’t want to do it. Who wants to come home on the weekend as a teenager at some hour of the morning and have to be up at 6 am for a course or to work! My first makeup course though was with the makeup artist who did Wendy Fitzwilliam’s makeup when she won!” she adds with a smile. That push by her mother, who inherited the mantle of the Madame Maharaj School of Cosmetology nonetheless benefitted the younger Maharaj. A couple years after doing those courses, she not only earned a great side income, another family member presented her with an opportunity of a lifetime.

“My uncle, who owns Sacha Cosmetics decided to expand the Sacha brand to the US and they needed someone they could trust, someone with managerial experience, familiarity of the brand and someone, who could be an educator for the brand as well. One day I ended up at the famous Toni & Guy Campus, on Santa Monica Boulevard, in Beverly Hills, teaching all these future celebrity stylists. I did my spiel and my demonstrations and then after they would have all these questions and be so impressed; it was a big step for me. At that point, I gained a great measure of confidence; I knew at that point I would be ok. I knew that a Caribbean girl could come show all these LA stylists how to use our product, created right here in TT.” After her time in the US, Aruna returned home, working at the Freeport-based cosmetic empire’s manufacturing facilities; even lead authoring instruction manuals under the name ‘The Sacha Method’ which are also available on Amazon.com. “I do so many different things, from makeup to henna to threading and now even hair styling, I never thought on this journey that I would add author to that list.”

Confidence in her journey has in recent time, taken her another step forward. “After my time with Sacha, which I loved and learnt so much from, I knew that I had to take a leap of faith, take charge of my own destiny and work for myself.” The decision did not come easily she notes, “It was a bit heartbreaking to leave my uncle and Sacha. He is an incredible man. Every formula for every product ever created by Sacha started in his head. He used to mix nail polishes and lipsticks formulas by hand – that’s how he started. Now they have machines that fill thousands at a time. He’s a real brain and a true inspiration! It was hard for me to tell him that I wanted to go build my own dreams now, but he supported me”

Already, Aruna has enrolled in her own course of choice, following in her icon’s footsteps, at a beauty academy in Paris. “I also just started a colouring and cutting course, right at my own school knowing that the standards are of an international level as our programmes are certified with UK accreditation body City & Guilds and even regional accreditation with the National Training Agency (NTA) Being in the student’s chair has shown me some opportunities for improvement and ways that we can make the first school of its kind in TT even better.” While her mother remains active in the business, Aruna is poised to add her own passion and purpose, but not just yet she adds. “There’s a lot you can get from education, but those little things in the day-to-day running, those things from trial and error, I am learning from my mother. When it comes right down to experience, she has it and I’m still learning from her everyday.”

The information age has obviously impacted on where students can now learn makeup and other hairdressing skills online and everyone seems to be an expert. “It’s easy to sit at home and get certified in anything,” Aruna notes. “That is the reality. Why hurt your head over it! We offer things that you cannot learn just on your own. I think the trick with running a business, is to just focus on your business. I have always maintained that I’m in a competition with no one but myself. Even as a teacher, I am essentially training future makeup artists. I’m teaching my competition! But if you have ever been in my class, you know that I don’t hold back! I believe the same that my grandmother did, that is, if you have knowledge it’s meant to be shared. “

When not travelling for recreation, Aruna enjoys just settling in at home with family and close friends. “The beauty industry is a fickle beast, it can be very fake at times, very ego-driven. And just getting to come home and clean,” she says with a laugh, “or just laying in bed with Netflix is ok with me. I’m already doing what I love everyday.”

Her one piece of advice for the modern man or woman? “Confidence. Not to be confused with bravado or aloofness. Genuine confidence, the kind that’s slightly understated. That’s all you ever need. That, and a great smile.”

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