A few years ago, Angela Demaree, owner of the handmade makeup line Ilicosmetics, found herself in financial dire straits. “I didn’t have anything,” she says, “I didn’t have a car, I didn’t have a job, and I didn’t have a place to stay.” She moved in with her adult daughter in Kansas, where Demaree had grown up. “I asked myself, ‘how am I going to make it?’” she says.
Since her daughter was already concocting homemade cosmetics, in 2014, Demaree, who had experience making skincare products herself, decided to invest in a few raw materials for crafting cosmetics of her own that she could then sell online. “I literally started with eight colors, and then I’d have a sample sale or something,” says Demaree. “And then I’d keep that money and buy a new pigment. After about a year, it became fully able to take care of itself.”
Today, Ilicosmetics offers affordable, loose-powder eye shadows in deep, highly pigmented shades that are often shimmery, and more celestial, than everyday makeup. Her products carry names like Kidnapped, Resistance, and Mean Right Hook, influenced by everything from her favorite movies (there’s a Beetlejuice collection featuring shades with names like “Recently Deceased”) to her Potawatomi Native American heritage. Other color combos, like “Bird Turd,” were named by Demaree’s teenage son.
“I’ll just sit and binge-watch movies,” says Demaree, “and I’ll think ‘how would I build colors from this or that [movie]? How would I make those colors come out?’”
To keep her products fresh, she says, “I keep it pretty small batch. I make enough for maybe 100 or so samples, and then when it sells out I’ll make more. Then I jar orders as they come, I don’t pre-jar anything.” She uses high-quality ingredients, a complete list of which can be found for each product on her Etsy page, where her store has more than 4,000 reviews and an average five-star rating. Beyond that, Demaree doesn’t want to give too much away about how she makes them. There are a lot of other online makeup sellers, making it a competitive market, and “everyone does it a little differently,” she says.
Demaree’s makeup line has its own serious devotees and thousands of sales, but hers isn’t some miracle overnight rags-to-riches story—on top of Ilicosmetics, she now has a regular day job at an engineering firm and is in her final semester of university studying interior design. Her income from the makeup company is still “wildly sporadic,” and there are “some months where it’s $1,000, some months when it’s $1,500, and then there are some months when it’s less.”
For better or worse, this kind of “side hustle,” whether that be driving nights on a ride-share cab app or selling homemade pickles at a local flea market, has become a piece of the financial puzzle for at least a quarter of American workers. At a time when only about half the country feels satisfied with their jobs, wage growth is mostly flat, and even those working full time struggle to make ends meet, it’s not surprising to see a bloom of manageable small businesses where people can find pride and creative fulfillment generating a chunk of extra income.
Demaree is proud of her business, which “is like my little baby, though I neglect it quite often,” she jokes. It’s also how she expresses herself, through her color combinations, experiments with ingredients, and product names. “I have some ‘pretty princess’ cosmetics, but I also have quirky, weird stuff, and some trendy stuff” says Demaree, and “that’s just my personality slapped onto the makeup.”
Many of her pop-culture inspired collections and offbeat shade names come from her kids or reflect the movies they watch together, or conversations they have at home. “The kids are just always around,” she says. When she has trouble coming up with names, she says, “I grab [my son] like ‘Hey! Come over here and look at this color, what do you think?’ And usually he gives me a bogus name first, like ‘tree.’ And I’m like ‘come on son. Dig a little deeper.’ And then he comes up with something good. He’s 19.”
She says her six-year-old daughter isn’t really that involved yet, “other than wanting me to put the makeup on her.”
Demaree is also a Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal member, and occasionally draws on that culture and history when creating new cosmetics. She says that while some of her family members “are deep into the history and culture and learning,” she sees herself as “just a normal person who has that heritage.” As a Muslim Native American though, she points out wryly, she’s “like a superminority.”
“I have a few colors, like Water Spirit and Old Man Winter that were Native American inspired,” she says. “‘Water Spirit’ or ‘Nibinabe’ in Potawatomi language, is a deep teal, peacock blue-green eyeshadow pigment with purple and blue sparkles,” reads the product’s description on Etsy. Demaree has also said in the past that she’s interested in creating a Native-inspired collection that draws on different tribal colors, though, like a lot of other color ideas, she hasn’t had a chance to move forward with it. The number of ideas she comes up with can be “overwhelming” she says, and she sometimes feels guilty she can’t pursue them all more quickly.
Still, Demaree keeps more than 150 colors in stock, a considerable inventory for a business of Ilicosmetics’ size, though she points out, even with all those pigments and little jars, the entire operation fits into a single closet.
She says even if Ilicosmetics kept growing, she would keep other jobs and pursue other creative professional goals. “I can’t focus on one thing. I work best having a full plate of different stuff. … If the company started to get big, I would just hire help,” she says. “I’m in an online group with quite a few other indie cosmetics companies, and most started out like me, just a part-time gig for extra income.” Some of them though, have “become so huge they had to quit their day jobs, just to maintain them,” says Demaree.
Her customers and small base of devoted fans, who she says await every new shade, are another big motivator for Demaree. “I take care of my customers … I try to always let them know that they matter,” she says. Over time she says, she began to see “the same names pop up again and again, and they’d start leaving messages like ‘wow I love this color have you ever thought about this combination, or that color.’” Many of them, like her, are small online business owners or craftspeople. (A regular customer Demaree developed a rapport with now administers the llicosmetics Facebook page.)
She says if there’s one thing she’s learned in her experience with her business that she’d want to share with people, it’s the real-life benefits of buying from independent operators, rather than chains or big box stores. “When you support a small business, you are supporting someone’s family, a particular family, and you’re supporting their everyday needs, their bills or their soccer lessons,” says Demaree. “In my case, my small business was buying diapers and it was really supporting my little family. I would suggest my customers seek out other indie businesses to purchase from. Not only makeup—there are so many great people out there selling all kinds of different things.”