Suzie O’Neill is on a one-woman mission to arm the women of Ireland with mascara wands and the perfect winged eyeliner – and it’s not something to be glossed over.
he Kildare businesswoman is the genius behind Irish make-up company Ayu.
Starting with a range of affordable, premium-quality brushes in 2015, the brand now boasts everything from concealers to radiance cream, and easy-to-use brow pencils. But beyond the palette, the mum-of-two is selling confidence on a foundation of female empowerment.
Inspired by her own journey back to self-love, Suzie says: “I think make-up is one of the most powerful tools we have. When I first started the business, I had just given birth to Ollie, and 18 months later I had Chloe. I had no help with the kids and I was at home trying to start the business.
“It got to a point where I wasn’t putting my make-up on every day, or I was constantly in tracksuits, which there’s nothing wrong with, but it just wasn’t the person I was before the kids. It got to the stage where I would be going to the supermarket and if I saw somebody’s car I knew I would drive back out again. If I saw someone, I’d have my head down and go down another aisle. I lost who I was completely.
“I remember saying to my husband, ‘I just can’t live like this. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to do my face and I’m going to get dressed as if I was going to the office’. And I did that even though I work from home and I’ve done it every day since.
“And the transformation was ridiculous. I went back to myself. My confidence grew and with that the business grew, and the following grew. Everything got better when I started looking after myself. And that’s why I think make-up is so much more than just beauty, it’s really about how we feel and it’s about empowering women.
“So many women who have kids or who are carers think of themselves as second. I just think that you can do so much more for everyone else if you are happy within yourself. If it takes a bit of concealer and a bit of mascara, then why not?”
With an Instagram following of 60,000, and rising, the campaign of empowering woman has truly taken hold.
Suzie says: “Our demographic is women aged 27 and over but we have women in their 60s, 70s and 80s who have never worn make-up before, and now they have started to wear concealer and a bit of cream blush.
“It is so important to me that anyone we show made-up in our videos are not just models – they don’t just have perfect skin. We want people with all different skin types and all different ages and face shapes, because that’s a true reflection of the people who are buying the products.”
It’s the filter-free mantra that the Kildare woman practices in real life too, both on and offline.
“I never try to show a life of perfection online. I would be as open if I was having a really bad day in work, or if I was having a hard time, because I think there’s too much false perfection out there and it’s really damaging to people.”
As far as juggling work and home life, she credits teamwork for allowing her to grow her burgeoning empire.
“I don’t ever pretend that I do it all. A year ago my husband actually changed his hours with work which has allowed me more flexibility. He does so much, it’s a total team effort.”
Refreshingly candid, Suzie is adamant that her brand was built to transform the lives of women, and not to roll in the cash.
She adds: “It’s never been about the money, I just think if you were chasing money all the time, you would lead a very empty life. I was out for dinner recently and I got stopped on the way out of the restaurant by a couple of women saying that they were all wearing my make-up, and that they felt great and it was so simple to use. That for me, hands down, is why I do what I do.”
Selling exclusively online at ayu.ie, the brand has customers worldwide, a stark comparison to its humble kitchen table beginnings. “There was two of us a year ago compared to 10 of us now which means I now have more time to concentrate on new product development. Before I was everything. I was renting an office and it was just one big room with a little kitchenette. Now we have a 7,500sq ft premises. It was a big risk and a big undertaking but it has been so worth it.
“We have fulfilment centres in Australia and the USA and we’ve got a big customer base in America and Canada.”
But the burning question is: how do Irish women fare when it comes to our make-up skills? Suzie says: “I think women are so much more savvy with their make-up these days. I think what people find difficult is shade matching foundation. Once the base is right, everything else comes together.
“I love that so many women are not wearing super heavy make-up. They’re just doing make-up that enhances their features – that’s beautiful.”