Yara Shahidi speaks to Beautycon CEO Moj Mahdara about feeling like an outsider and shaking up the industry

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Our guest editor speaks to Beautycon CEO Moj Mahdara about changing the face of the beauty industry.

When Stylist asked guest editor Yara Shahidi who inspired her, one name immediately sprang to mind: Moj Mahdara. The Iranian-American businesswoman is the CEO of Beautycon, a multi-city festival celebrating all things beauty that brings together celebrities, influencers, brands and fans. 

Since its launch in 2012, Beautycon has seriously shaken up the industry, with its emphasis on inclusivity and Mahdara’s determination – through content, conferences and Q&A sessions with Hillary Clinton – to bring social issues, politics and diversity to the make-up counter. Yara got on the line with Moj to find out how she made space for herself and others in beauty.

Yara: You entered beauty from a very different perspective. Why did you choose this space?

Moj: The space chose me. My entire life I felt like an outsider. I was very moved by the empathy and connectivity of the influencers online and how they interacted with their audiences: I’d never seen different body types, skintones, ethnicities. I was especially moved when I saw people with disabilities or hijabi women doing beauty tutorials. 

Y: What is your mission statement?

M: Beauty was about people wanting to go to a make-up counter because they felt there was something wrong with them. I want beauty to be an expression of power and creativity. 

Y: What has been the most surprising element of entering this space?

M: That the beauty industry would be so open-armed to me. Institutions like Estée Lauder, L’Oréal and Unilever should be threatened by what I’m proposing, but have been intensely welcoming and collaborative. 

Y: How did you build an inclusive team?

M: It’s hard. I’ve learned a lot about women’s confidence. I’ve promoted people from different backgrounds into positions of power but what’s amazing to me is how much doubt we bring to the table. People I’ve promoted will tell me within six weeks that they’re not doing the job right, but it takes about a year to get comfortable. We need to work as a society on how to make women feel comfortable with being ambitious. 

Y: On a lighter note, what brings you joy?

M: My family – they’re my faith, the centrepiece of everything. I can’t explain how much having a family has filled a void in me; I feel loved and accepted regardless of who I am outside. That gives me joy. 

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