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Sheika Daley Used to be a Math Major—Now, She’s One of the Biggest Celebrity Makeup Artists

Before working with Oscar-nominated actors, Daley ran a beauty salon out of her dorm room.

Sheika Daley Used to be a Math Major—Now, She’s One of the Biggest Celebrity Makeup Artists
Dalvin Adams

As a child, Sheika Daley’s favorite part about being a dancer was the recitals. One time, when she was seven, her mother came backstage to do her makeup. “I remember she had this one palette from Fashion Fair,” she tells me over the phone. “I’ll never forget it—it had a highlight, a black shade, a red blush, and blue eyeshadow. And she also had one red lipstick.” The transformative power of makeup struck Daley, even at that young age. “I fell in love with color after that.”

Raised by a mother who is a painter and a father with an inclination toward music, it’s as if Daley was destined to be a makeup artist. But it took her a little while and a lot of hard work to get her to where she is today. Before building an impressive resumé, which includes celebrities like Zendaya and Serena Williams, Lancôme’s global makeup artist was a math major at Florida A&M University on a full scholarship. Much to the dismay of her parents, she gave up the scholarship, left school, and started down a career path that had stops at the Victoria’s Secret beauty counter and a Miami strip club, to name a few of the formative experiences she had on the way up.

Ahead, Daley shares the details behind starting a salon in her dorm room, her decision to drop out of school, and more.

Coveteur: Tell me about your childhood. What was it like?

Sheika Daley: “I had a great childhood. My mom was in art, and my weekends consisted of ballerina lessons, and then I would come home and my dad, who also worked in finance, would be DJing. My mom loved to entertain, so she always had people over. I grew up with a lot of love and happiness and the freedom to express that, to a limit.

My dad managed hedge funds, and it was expected that I would take over his business and follow in his footsteps. And that was the path I was actually on. I was straight As, I was in magnet programs, honor society, all the things. Whatever could be achieved, I tried to get it because my dad taught me to try to be the best at whatever it is that I do. I ended up going to college on a full mathematical science scholarship.”

When you were going down that finance path and studying math, were you still doing makeup?

SD: “I was. Before I left for college, that's when I realized that I really enjoy doing makeup. I would do my sister's makeup then make her do photo shoots on our front lawn. I knew makeup was really my calling my first year in college because I was taking what I learned in class and putting it directly into a beauty business at school.

I went to an HBCU—there were a lot of Black girls who had just got their fresh perms, relaxers, and braids. I knew they had six weeks before new growth came in. They were going to need a wash and set, a silk press, or a haircut. So I made these little papers with my phone number, services, and prices. My dorm room turned into a full-on salon to the point where I couldn't even go to class and I was getting in trouble. And I thought, ‘I can do this. I can take what I'm learning and take the artistic ability that I have and mesh the two to turn it into something.’ After that first year, I decided to leave, give up my scholarship, and go home. My parents were looking at me like, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’”

How did you break the news to them?

SD: “Because I wasn’t going to class my freshman year, I had to go to summer school. But summer school at an HBCU is the wackest time ever because nobody is there. You're just there by yourself and it's a college town. So my mom called one time and she was like, ‘Baby, you want to come home?’ In two hours, they were on the road. My parents drove up there to come get me, and we had a meeting in my counselor's office with my parents because my dad wanted to figure out how we could straighten this all out.

At this point, they’ve found out that I've been missing classes—all of this is now being revealed in my counselor's office. And the woman was like, ‘We gave you this full scholarship. Do you not want it?’ And I was like, ‘It's not that I don't want it, but I don't want to do this. This is not making me happy. I want to do makeup.’ My parents didn't know this at the time, but I was going through a serious depression there because my dad taught me to be very independent from 15 years old. So at 15, I had a job, I had my car, I was doing my own thing.

Then my freshman year, they took away my car. He said, ‘You can't have a car your first year. You can't have a job your first year.’ So now I'm dependent on someone sending me money every single month, which was not my life for about four or five years. I'm trying to figure out what I want to do. I'm just going to class and coming back home, and that just wasn't my lifestyle. It really depressed me. I just wanted to work. I remember telling my dad, ‘Daddy, please let me just figure this out. I know you don't understand. It's a whole new path, but I promise you I'm not going to let you down." And that's driven me ever since.”

That's amazing. When would you say your career really started to take off?

SD: “I got a job at Victoria's Secret at their makeup counter. I studied—that’s where I learned about color correcting—and built up my clientele. So at this point, I'm working two jobs. I'm working at a mental health center during the day and Victoria’s Secret at night. During this time, MAC [Cosmetics] launched, and it was this big thing because it was the first makeup line geared towards artists. It was funky, it was fun.

I fell so in love with the brand and I was determined to work there. I tried for a whole year, and then finally they called me back. I got an interview then a job at the MAC counter. I learned a lot there, too—all the different trends and how to achieve them with the products we have. We got to paint and explore and do makeup. They also taught me how to create a portfolio and work with photographers.

So in the midst of that, we used to have freelancers who would work holidays. I hit it off with one of them, her name was Candy, and she told me about how she works at different strip clubs. She was like, "The money we make here in a week, you can make five times that in one night.” I told her to hook me up. It took a few months, but I eventually started, got adjusted to it, and made great money. I ended up working seven days a week and I ended up leaving MAC because it was just too much for my schedule. to try and get down there to work on time.

I was able to learn because I can do the makeup and then see how it wears, how it performs. I was able to build my creative confidence too, because the dancers gave me constant feedback every single day. I decided to work on my portfolio simultaneously, which meant driving down to South Beach and working with photographers. I did editorials during the day and left at 5 p.m. Then I would go to the strip club from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. I did that religiously every single day for about a year, which was crazy because I was barely getting any sleep. I was driving almost two hours every day, back and forth.”

I did editorials during the day and left at 5 p.m. Then I would go to the strip club from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Where did that energy come from?

SD: “I was determined. And because my confidence was being built, I knew I was good at something. I knew that I needed to position myself in the right places so that I could really make a name for myself. I knew I couldn’t stay at the strip club forever. Also, my parents didn’t know I was working there.

Eventually, I opened my own studio in South Beach. It was an eyelash and beauty studio, so the dancers would come in to get their makeup done before they went to the club. I was also assisting. Back in the day for you to book any jobs, you had to be able to do both hair and makeup, so I did. While assisting, I learned set etiquette and I was able to really study the craft. Then I started working with Trina—she and I hit it off and she became my client. At this time, I'm in Chicago working with Ford Models, and I'm in Miami, and I'm also on the road with her on the weekends.

I met Kelly Rowland through a friend, I did her makeup, and we hit it off. I got an opportunity to move to New York—I was able to stay with my uncle until I found a place of my own—and I told her. Within three weeks of being in NYC, I got a call from Serena Williams because Kelly had given her my phone number. I did her makeup for her book tour and award shows. And at the same time, I'm still touring with Trina.”

So now you are completely booked.

SD: “Bananas. I just ended up getting more clients through word of mouth—Lala [Anthony], Brandy, Monica. It took off from there.”

What does the next chapter of your career look like for you?

SD: “I think it's being written. I've been privileged to be Lancôme’s global makeup artist. They've been great with taking my feedback and listening to what I'm saying. I'm at a place now where I'm trusting my knowledge in makeup when it comes to being innovative and creative.”

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