With a background in English and Humanities, Safa always wanted, and still wants to, become a faculty member and teach. But her fascination with makeup took off from watching makeup tutorials on YouTube. She was inspired by western techniques of blending makeup and application.
"I was inspired by YouTube makeup artists such as Jaclyn Hill and Kathleen Lights," said Safa Shareef, a self-taught professional makeup artist and one of the most popular makeup artists today.
During her student years, besides tutoring, she would practice on herself in her free time. Soon enough, Safa decided to blog her work, but it was difficult as she was anxious about negative comments.
"People have seen my photographs on Instagram where I had makeup on my face. I liked experimenting on myself because it was my canvas."
Besides posting makeup videos, she would often save money from her job at the time to purchase products and review them. "I did not think I was going to gain something. It was just me posting about my current hobbies on my blog."
As time went by, Safa's interest in makeup grew and people appreciated her skills. "I never had the intention of making it big," Safa said. "But the positive feedback encouraged her to move forward."
During a cousin's wedding she applied makeup on another person for the first time. This gave her some validation of what she was capable of. Gradually, her work gained exposure through her Instagram account and many people would request her to do their makeup.
One thing led to another and Safa started taking on clients. Her studio, Shareef Artistry, took off in 2019.
"It still feels like yesterday. It was an experiment on myself that eventually became a career. When I started, I was still a student. I was taking clients but only a few – barely one to three a month – because I had to tutor, study, and more. Initially, I would go to the client's home for appointments."
"It was hard, especially because I am a girl, and honestly, my relatives did not think it was a wise idea. But as the number of my clients increased, this became serious. It gradually improved my confidence and makeup skills," added Safa.
Most people who learned techniques from foreign YouTubers tend to apply makeup with contemporary styles and western outfits. However, Safa brings in those techniques and blends them with the Bangalee traditional bridal look, keeping things simple with a traditional 'desi' finish.
"I guess that is what is unique about my work. As kids, we have seen makeup on brides being overdone to great extent. I personally love the simple touch on the face, and that is exactly what I apply on my clients. Of course, I also take their opinions and preferences into account. But along with that, I study their face, features, and skin type and do my best."
Even though Safa can easily work well with drugstore makeup, she does not compromise on products with her clients. She uses high-end products to ensure the quality of her work.
"I have entire packages suiting various skin types, from oily to combination and dry skin. This is to guarantee safety and maintain the standard of my services. I use products such as Dior, Charlotte Tilbury, Nars, and so on."
Safa does not shy away from using colours like green, yellow, and orange when it is suitable. Her work reflects the risks she has taken in these few years, and yet she has maintained her growing popularity.
"I never saw a bride with a yellow eye shadow or something bold that stands out. But I experiment on myself first, which allows me to envision the end results before applying it on my client."
However, being the face of her brand and online presence, Safa also often deals with negativity when she cannot answer people on time due to a packed schedule. "I think it is a given that people with an online presence will go through things such as this."
In a growing market where many people have a similar enthusiasm for makeup, Safa understands that she will soon face a more competitive market.
"It is alright, I guess; one day, it will become difficult to stand out. But I am happily enjoying the peak of my career, and I want to make the best of it."