Cover photo by @videoprince
Born in Cameroon, Darleen Yaya’s interest in makeup started around the age of 13. Wanting to hide her acne scars and boost her self-confidence, Yaya started teaching herself how to do makeup. After moving to Japan and starting her own YouTube channel to express her own artistic looks, Yaya’s artistry bloomed into a freelance makeup business, Yaya_Ultd. Her client base exclusively consists of Black and Brown women, who often find that makeup options in Japan simply don’t cater to darker skin tones.
When Yaya isn’t working as a teacher, she’s busy growing her business and making a name for herself in the Black community and the Japanese entertainment scene. Metropolis spoke with Yaya on growing her business in Japan and working with the diverse Black creatives who call here home.
How did Yaya_Ultd start out?
Yaya: I didn’t start doing makeup professionally until about 2019 when a friend reached out to me and asked me to do her makeup for her pregnancy photos. At the time I didn’t ask her to pay me since it was my first time doing makeup for someone else, but she was really confident in my skills and encouraged me to start a business. Sometime after that, someone posted in the Black Women in Japan Group (BWIJ) looking for a makeup artist for a dinner party. I reached out to her and offered my services and she was officially my first paid client.
From there I started investing in my business and set up an online portfolio on Instagram to showcase my work. I only work on Black and Brown women and I’ve done makeup for dancers, singers, models and designers.
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Since there aren’t a lot of options for dark-skinned people in Japan, how do you source your products?
I do use some basic drug store items like eyeliner or mascara from Japan, but for foundation and palettes, I prefer to ship products from overseas. The stores in Japan have some brown shades but the colors often don’t run deep enough for my clients. I ship a lot of products from Sephora since they carry the most products and they allow you to find alternatives of different foundation shades. Juvia’s Place is also a good place to buy from as well. They have a lot of Black and Brown foundation shades and concealers to use.
What was the hardest challenge when beginning your makeup business in Japan?
I think the hardest thing in the beginning stages was being confident in the quality of my work. I’m completely self-taught but I think I do a good job and I deserve to be paid what my work is worth. Getting the pricing right is something I still struggle with today. Some jobs take longer than others, and not everyone wants the same style for every event, so I have to consider those things when pricing my clients.
Would you encourage other people to start a makeup business in Japan?
Doing makeup in Japan has been a great experience for me, so I honestly would encourage other people to start their own makeup business in Japan, but they need to find their own lane out here. People might think it’s a little niche because I only do makeup for Black and Brown people, but that’s what I know. Like I said, I didn’t have any formal training and when I practice new styles I practice them on myself. A lot of my clients are in the entertainment world and there’s a huge need there for people who know how to do makeup for Black and Brown people in entertainment.
For White and Japanese people, they can come on set and there will be someone there with a kit full of matching foundation, concealers and eyeshadows to do their makeup. However, Black and Brown people are expected to show up on set with their makeup already done, or they’re expected to do it themselves while they’re getting ready.
Elsewhere on Metropolis:
- At the Forefront: Conversations with a Black Trans Activist Juniper Alexander
- Viral TikToker Teaches Anti-Racism in Japan’s Classrooms
- Morenx in Japan: ‘Respect My Identity and Respect My Culture’
What resources or advice can you offer to people who are interested in starting their own makeup business in Japan?
If you want to get into the makeup business, remember that YouTube is your friend. There are so many artists and influencers on there from different backgrounds, and I always start there for resources and guides. The next thing you need to do is network and build a client base. Reach out to people on Facebook, Instagram, etc. Black Women In Japan, Foreigners in Tokyo, and Black Creatives Japan always have people who are looking for someone’s services or maybe even a collaboration.
As a makeup artist, people want to see your work, so when you go out to events do your makeup so people can see first-hand what kind of work you do. Starting an online portfolio is useful as well. Either a TikTok, Instagram, YouTube channel, etc. There are so many creative ways people are displaying their talent and it’s another way for potential clients to see your work and contact you.
Follow Yaya online
YouTube: Queen Yaya
An interest group for Black women who are living or having ties to Japan to offer support, collaboration, and bonds of sisterhood abroad.
Interest groups for Black creative artists who are living or have ties to Japan for collaboration, support for everyone’s artistic ventures.
Online retailer offering makeup for Black and Brown women all over the world.
Elsewhere on Metropolis:
Based in Japan: Ria Scott
“Do you want fear or freedom?”
Based in Japan: Axel Deroubaix on Bringing Japan to the World
How the French entrepreneur teamed up with regional makers to create Peko Peko Box
Based in Japan: Is Beeswax the Answer to Japan’s Love of Single-Use Plastic?
Eco Hachi Living’s Reusable Beeswax