James Vincent: Bringing his passion for education, opportunity, and equality to the beauty industry

With a passion for education and giving back through the work he does, makeup artist, educator, business owner, and activist, James Vincent, has crafted his life in a way that allows him to help others. He is on a mission toward opportunity and equality, whether that’s within the beauty industry, in which he has been making his mark for the past 20+ years, or through his allyship with charities and organizations close to his heart.

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“Hopefully, my legacy will be helping someone figure out their dreams,” says James. “That’s the thing I love most about what I do.”

As a quiet boy growing up in Providence, Rhode Island, it wasn’t until James began doing community outreach and working with skin care and makeup for The Body Shop that he felt like he had finally found his tribe.

“All of a sudden the things that made me weird or awkward in other communities, the makeup community embraced,” James recalls.

Today he works with organizations like The Makeup Show and The Powder Group, as well as artists and brands at all levels of the industry, in hopes of elevating and educating others while creating a space for inclusion and representation. Together with his husband, Jeremy, he runs a company called Rebels and Outlaws, which focuses on the use of candles and fragrances to help people bring a sense of energy to their workspace, wherever that may be.

BELLA sat down with the talented artist for a deeper dive into his life within the beauty industry along with his steadfast commitment to community and social activism.

What led you to a career in beauty?

I grew up in a great family—very large, very loud Catholic—that was blue collar in its ideologies and very work-oriented; there wasn’t a lot of glamour. There was also a lot of diversity in my family, which I didn’t see on TV and anything that felt glamorous I was drawn to.

I loved the idea of giving back and being active in a community, and as I became more aware of what the world was like, the idea of being part of the community and having a job that made some impact was my motivator.

When I came into the beauty industry, there wasn’t a lot of representation or inclusion; people were afraid of sharing information. I wanted to create a space where it was more about community than completion and where education and access are available for people who don’t come from privilege.

How did you actually get started?

As a teenager I didn’t talk a lot—I was really quiet—but I became a part of CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) and they hosted a haunted house where I would do the character makeup, and that gave me a taste for it. It wasn’t until college, when Anita Roddick, who created The Body Shop, came in and spoke to our class, that I started working with the company. From there, I found my tribe.

A headhunter for MAC Cosmetics then found me, and at the time it was a new brand—a whole new world, really—all ages, races, sexes, everything I wanted makeup to be. I didn’t even finish my master’s degree; I started doing makeup.

When creating, where do you find your inspiration?

My first sense of inspiration is the person in front of me—bringing them forward. My makeup isn’t about hiding or covering, it’s about celebrating the person and the face; that’s where I start my inspiration.

As far as inspiration overall, aesthetically, music plays a big part. I look to the elements of art, line, texture, color, form, and the world around me. I love culture, meeting new people, and hearing their stories. There’s also a rock and roll element to what I do. I love street style, new movements from the models of the 60’s to the LA punk scene of the 70’s to the CBGB scene of New York City. I like to see what’s happening with creators and take that into my inspiration.

As the director of education and artistry for The Makeup Show, how are you helping to elevate artists?

The Makeup Show is the largest pro makeup event in the U.S. for those in the beauty industry. The show was created 17 years ago by Shelly Taggar to bring education and artistry to the forefront at a time when that wasn’t happening. Artists at every level can learn from masters in the industry; it’s a place for inspiration.

It’s also a place for amplification: We want to celebrate new talent and make sure we are giving people opportunities. The Makeup Show has worked to decolonize beauty by focusing on female-owned brands, queer-owned brands, and brands by artists of color. It’s important to us that we bring a global face to beauty. We want to talk about what’s now and what’s next, not what was.

Can you talk a bit about The Powder Group, another strong organization you’re a part of that celebrates artists and brands?

Created by Michael DeVellis 18 years ago, it was the really the first program to look at makeup education. They put together different programs and events where artists could come together and learn. Michael is the OG in creating makeup events and education and is a great mentor for so many people.

As a passionate advocate, how have you been using your voice to bring awareness to social causes?

I think allyship has to be multi-tiered and involvement has to be multi-sectional, so what I try and do is look at what I have available and how I can use it to support the people and causes I believe in.

My company, Rebels and Outlaws, makes candles and conjurings to help people protect their space, but we’re also an active grassroots organization out in the streets at rallies and protests, marching for causes we believe in. Both my husband and I donate both personally, as well as from the products we develop. We have a new candle called “Faith,” and 20% goes to Sloane Kettering Memorial Hospital for female cancer research and support.

We also do fundraisers for organizations like the Trans Beauty Clinic and Hetrick-Martin to raise money and awareness. Another one of my favorites is the Lower East Side Girls Club.

There are many different things people can do to give back. If you don’t have the money, give your time; if you can’t buy a friend’s product, talk them up. It doesn’t always have to be major actions, sometimes it’s small moments of mindfulness that make major changes in the world.

How are you bringing representation to the forefront of the beauty industry?

With The Makeup Show, we have a lot of different programs; one is called “Girl Interrupting.” It looks at how we can build female bosses within the industry. We also have a session called, “We Need to Have a Conversation.” It’s a panel of artists who share real opinions and experiences.

Any community we go into, we do three to five days of mentorship in beauty schools, trade schools, tech schools, and we bring in artists and education—not just for makeup but for career, marketing, and social media—to try and give them a leg up in addition to what they’re learning to pass their state boards.

The Powder Group also does a scholarship every year, the Kelly Gleason Scholarship, named after the former president of our union who passed away.

The biggest thing with inclusion and representation is that we’ve been told our whole lives that there is no space for us. I’ve spent my career creating events, opportunities, and experiences that feel safe for people who have never felt included in the conversation; these are the things I hope make an impact.

Would you say the industry has made great strides when it comes to inclusivity, or is there more work to do?

As an optimist, I would say yes, it’s much better than it was for many people. I think we have come further from the days of seeing a lack of diversity of beauty, but I think there is always more we can do.

My hope is that Black Lives Matter and all of the support for the AAPI communities will help our Latin communities step forward and demand equal representation. The Latin community is global and such an important community for beauty, but it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Indigenous beauty from so many countries is appropriated so often for fashion shoots, but we don’t see that represented in the faces on magazines.

Beauty can be empowering and powerful and a great way to unify, but then you see the business side of it and people think the industry is toxic. I think it needs more people working from the inside and outside to demand change until everyone feels they have their seat at the table.

As we enter into a new season, what looks are you excited to create?

I’m finding makeup exciting right now. Even with vaccines, people are going to be wearing masks so the focus is on individuality and on the eyes. Liners and bold shapes, colors, and a return to mind metals. Gold, bronze, and silver work so well with the skin, and as complexion starts to return to looking more like skin, these shades work so well.

The smoky eye is back every season and works for everyone. The return to the 90’s grunge is coming back, along with a vampy lip and smudgy eye. Another trend is wearable product—because we are behind the mask, we need product that is lasting—so wearability and durability are key right now.

What new projects are you working on?

The Makeup Show has a new mentorship program called, iArtist, where we’re helping individual artists define their career for themselves, putting together the tools and the network for them to get there. And Rebels and Outlaws is launching new products to help people set intention and stay focused.

What imprint do you hope to leave on the industry?

I hope I make it a kinder industry, more community driven, and one that allows people to find their own place and make their own space…an industry where opportunity is based on talent and not on who you know, along with being a fun industry that is also mindful and manages to make people feel included.

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