Story by Erik Potter
The day of her high school prom, Teanna Bass sits in her mom’s kitchen. A small parade of friends and acquaintenances come through, sit across from her, and pay $10 for her to do their face makeup.
She takes her makeup with her to Mizzou. Freshman year is hard. Her GPA is poor. Many of her friends who came with her from St. Louis say they won’t return for their sophomore years. “Am I next to go?” she wonders.
Sophomore year, Bass switches majors to textile and apparel management. She has a lot of classes to catch up on. She takes 17 credit hours and works three part-time jobs so she’s not a financial burden on her family.
Feeling drained, Bass knows she needs to connect to a greater sense of purpose. For her, that has always been makeup. Bass loves being creative with color. But even more, she loves helping people feel more secure in how they look. In a culture of personal space, where it’s impolite to stare, she is allowed to draw close and look deeply.
“The best thing I ever did for somebody was make them feel more of themselves,” she says. “As soon as they sit in my chair, I compliment them about whatever I can, whatever you can tell they might be insecure about. You make them feel good in the process of making them up. I’m their therapist in that moment. It’s a pretty intimate moment.”
So she decides to pursue makeup again. She builds a ring light using cardboard, aluminum foil, Christmas lights and a tripod. She buys a folding table and covers it with a table cloth. She lays out her supplies and, for the next two years, works her own makeshift salon from her apartment. At busy times, such as around Homecoming, she earns $1,000.
Junior year, she sees the Missouri Student Unions Entrepreneurship Program is accepting applications for new stores. Despite already owning a successful business, Bass is filled with self-doubt. She puts off the application until the last minute before finally psyching herself up with the adage, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
She creates a business plan and successfully presents her idea to the program selection committee. “It’s still a surprise to me,” Bass says the week before her opening. “I’m pretty sure on the day it opens, it will still be a surprise to me.”
Sweet Tea Cosmetics — named for her twin sister’s sweet tea addiction as well as a shortening of “Teanna” — opened Sept. 12 in the MU Student Center.
Bass held a grand-opening ceremony attended by about 50 family and friends. She toasted them all with a glass of sparkling grape juice.
Bass, now a senior, will offer makeup services and sell her own private-label makeup line, a dream she’s had since she was a freshman.
For the past two years, Bass has researched companies that could produce the exact kind of makeup product she would want to buy, which is the only product she is willing to sell.
“I want it to have the same values as I have,” she says. As such, the Sweet Tea line won’t clog pores. It’s made in North America (Toronto). It’s hypoallergenic, paraben-free and isn’t tested on animals. It also won’t break the bank. “It’s affordable for the college student [and has] college-student values.”
Her mother, watching her daughter interact with the crowd of people, can’t stop smiling.
“I knew this was her dream,” says Tiffany Polk. “I’ve always taught her to help others. This is her way of doing that.”
Bass still has self-doubt. She worries that her makeup won’t sell, that she won’t recoup her investment, that she will fail. The store, however, reminds her of where she’s been — overwhelmed, full of doubt, sitting at a folding table.
“Some people did make fun of the cardboard light,” Bass says. “But it’s all about humbling yourself and continuing the work regardless of what you have. That’s what this store means to me.”