Name: Sheena Yaitanes
Profession: Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Kosas
Current location: Malibu
Personal mantra: Find your philosophy and live by it, especially when no one is watching.
Sheena Yaitanes, founder and chief creative officer of Kosas, was destined for a career in beauty. Makeup obsessed since childhood, she often spent hours playing with her mother’s makeup. She later studied chemistry and biology at UC Irvine and dabbled in fine art to further explore her passion for all things color. Here, Yaitanes explains why lipsticks were her perfect launching pad, her obsession with “good body skin” and what she feels most proud of.
What first attracted you to the beauty industry and what prompted you to start Kosas?
I didn’t really think of the industry necessarily, but I’ve always been in love with makeup as a medium. I have really sensitive and reactive skin and I thought there must be a different way to approach makeup that was actually good for me and that used ingredients from nature to create products that were more comfortable to wear and looked prettier.
What was the first product you created?
The first thing I created was lipstick. It is a product that tells a lot of story - it can be a lipstick or a magic wand depending on how you look at it. My first four lipsticks were designed to look really human and like they belonged on your skin. I have an art background but even before that, and why I pursued art, was because I’ve always had an emotional connection to color. My first words were around color, and even as a three year old I always talked in shades - green was never just green. Lipsticks were a way to show my point of view on texture and color.
What was one of the biggest challenges you faced when you launched?
Everything was a monumental challenge - the industry isn’t designed for smaller businesses. Everything from manufacturing to creative is very expensive and requires relationships that are forged over a long period of time, so a significant investment is required to participate at a real level. In the early days I just couldn’t see what the path forward would be, but I knew there would be one and it would be worth it.
When did you know you “made it” as a brand and what has been your proudest moment?
I don’t know if it has hit me yet - it took me 10 years to become an overnight success. But we are currently building our headquarters and walking into that space as it was under construction was a surreal moment. Any time I see the total Kosas team come together, I feel really proud. When people see a product they forget that people’s careers are involved in creating it. I feel the most responsibility for that.
If you could tell yourself in 2015 (when the brand launched) anything, what would it be?
This is going to get very hard and very emotional at times. Remember that you are here by choice and you can change direction at any time.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received? The best?
The obsession with running after capital and measuring your success against how much money has been raised I think is a bad message in entrepreneurship in general. Growth at all costs is not great advice.
One of my favorite pieces of advice is that you need to get better at knowing how much to react. Not to overreact or underreact, but gauge the appropriate reaction. That, and you need to continuously ask yourself why you are in this business.
What were you insecure about growing up, and how did you overcome it?
Everything! I had a hard childhood, so not having enough resources was always a worry. But on a physical basis, being Persian and having super hairy legs in a predominantly Caucasian school was really hard. Laser hair removal is essential for me. That, and I’ve struggled a ton with my skin.
Do you think makeup reflects big life changes? If so, what is going on in your life and what products are telling that story?
I think it's hard to know without some perspective, which I have. I was in a phase of my life, particularly during the worst times of my marriage, where I felt really abandoned in my femininity. I wanted to make myself more invisible and to hide myself and not necessarily feel my best, both in makeup and how I dressed. Now, I don’t feel like I need to hide myself. My level of fun and vigor for life shows through in the type and amount of makeup that I want to wear, which right now is a little bit more (literally).
Who first taught you about beauty (can be makeup, skincare or self care in general)?
My mom worked at the Clinique counter when I was growing up, and she taught me about makeup and skincare. Her friends worked at all of the different counters so we always had an exorbitant amount of makeup at my house, which I thought was totally normal. Starting at eight years old I had just a crazy deep-dive knowledge of it. She would be at work and I would be in her bathroom playing with everything.
Walk me through your beauty routine starting in the morning.
In the morning I cleanse in the shower with Augustinus Bader Cream Cleansing Gel and give myself a little facial massage. I use the product we are launching in September, a skincare product that works really well under makeup, followed by a sunscreen. For makeup I use Revealer Concealer, and Cloud Set Baked Setting & Smoothing Powder every day. Then I use The Sun Show Moisturizing Baked Bronzer, Brow Pop Pencil, Air Brow Tinted Volumizing Treatment Gel, The Big Clean Mascara, followed by our new Hotliner Hyaluronic Acid Contouring Lip Liner in peak and Wet Lip Oil Treatment Plumping Gloss in unbuttoned.
To take everything off I double cleanse. I like Mara’s Algae Enzyme Cleansing Oil and will follow that with another cleanser. I’ll use Bioderma micellar water as a third cleanse - I could not live without that. I like my skin to be as clean as humanly possible.
At night, I rotate between a tretinoin or Vintner’s Daughter Active Treatment Essence and once a week I’ll use a physical exfoliator.
Once a month on my body I use a white rock that you rub on your skin followed by a wool mitt that just makes your skin come off in sheets. It's a Persian thing that my dad brings back from Iran for me. I’ll also use Goop’s G.Tox Ultimate Dry Brush and a vitamin C serum all over my body, which is sort of obnoxious but I feel like I’m allowed as I’m getting older. I’m also a big fan of Vella’s Women’s Pleasure Serum.
Which Kosas product do you feel is the most underrated?
Our body wash is the best body wash I’ve ever used in my life. I have problem skin on my body, and I don’t anymore. It was always my dream to have good body skin - hence the product name - and with this and the laser hair removal I feel like I have it now.
If you could get a peek into any person’s makeup bag, who would you choose and why?
Luckily with social media, I feel like you can sort of do this now with celebrities. I’m most curious about people not anywhere near the beauty or influencer industry. I want to know what they truly buy with their own money to wear out in the real world.