Araceli Ledesma, founder and CEO of Araceli Beauty, is a master at building a successful business from the ground up while staying true to her culture and values.

As a freelance makeup artist, Ledesma launched Araceli Beauty, a “Mexicana-inspired” beauty and cosmetics brand, in 2018 as a side hustle.

“I learned a lot from my clients [about makeup],” she shares with CNBC Make It. “I learned how they were confused, why they were confused, and what could make their lives easier. And that’s what gave me the idea to create something a little bit more universal and easy for everyone to use.”

Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Ledesma, who prefers not to share her age, and her family relocated to California for a better life when she was just 5 years old. Even then, she had an immense love for makeup. 

“When I was very young, I got a little sample of lipstick. And I would take the bus home,” Ledesma shares. “I remember I put it on and as soon as I got home, I just threw it out the window because I was scared that I would get in trouble with my mom for wearing lipstick, but I’ve always loved makeup.”

Now, four years after starting her company, has made over $2 million in revenue and amassed a following of over 160,000 people across Araceli Beauty’s social platforms. 

A girl and a dream

During Ledesma’s high school years, she began to get serious about her love for beauty and wanted to take her school’s extracurricular cosmetology class. Unfortunately, it came with a hefty price tag.

“I was in 11th grade and I begged my mom to let me do this cosmetology program. It was a little bit pricey for us because we were low-income. But I begged my mom to let me borrow $600 so I could pay for it. And for a high schooler, that was a fortune. But my mom still lent me the cash.” 

Ledesma then spent the next couple of years working at Taco Bell to pay off her debt, while still taking cosmetology classes. By the age of 18, she obtained her license and knew she wanted to pursue beauty long-term. She got a job working in a salon as a hairstylist, which later “evolved into doing makeup within the salon as well.”

Staying true to her roots

Many experts agree that the beauty and cosmetics industry has become oversaturated in recent years, making it difficult for brands to set themselves apart from others. According to Grand View Research, a U.S.-based research and consulting company, the global cosmetics market size was valued at $254.08 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow 5.3% from 2022 to 2028. But Ledesma says this isn’t “particularly a problem, but a challenge” that allows her to think outside the box.

Drawing inspiration from her hometown of Jalisco, Ledesma pays homage to her Mexican roots by incorporating regionally sourced ingredients in her formulas. 

“Jalisco is the largest tequila producer in the world, and I thought it was necessary to tap into that when creating Araceli Beauty,” Ledesma says on her website. “We pour a little piece of Mexico into all of our products, from our packaging design to our formulas. For example, Araceli Beauty Eyeshadow Palettes, Tequila Highlighters, and Las Flores Blushes include tequila leaf extract from the agave plant.”

Ledesma’s products also use ingredients like avocado, prickly pear and cactus oil, all sourced from Mexico. Her mascara, Monarca Mascara, was also inspired by the monarch butterfly migration to Central Mexico. She says these opportunities for “storytelling” have helped her be “unique and innovative in a very saturated market.”

Trials to Triumph

Araceli Beauty has garnered immense success since its launch, but it wasn’t an easy task. During the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Ledesma’s makeup products were still a side hustle for her.

“I was still working at a salon… My brand wasn’t my full-time job. I always had my hairdressing to fall back on.”

However, due to Covid-related regulations, the hair salon was forced to close. Ledesma says, however, that she now looks at this as a “blessing in disguise.”

“I had no other option. It was my time to cut the cord and go full-time. I was really scared because of the pandemic and everybody losing their jobs. But during all of the craziness going on, we did well.”

Ledesma used this opportunity to push her products online even more, bringing in an influx of new customers. Her small team of about five family members and friends helped her fulfill orders and grow the brand into what it is today.

Looking back, Ledesma says there are several things she would have done differently when starting her business.

“I already had my cosmetology license so I didn’t pursue a college degree. And for a long time, it was something that weighed heavy on me. As an immigrant, I should have got it done and made my parents proud.”

“I wish I would have taken more business classes,” Ledesma says. ” This experience has been more like building the plane as you’re flying it, which is the beauty of entrepreneurship. You learn as you go, make mistakes, fall, and get back up. But I wish I would have been a little more prepared for the business side of things.”

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