Around 760 days ago, I walked into St. Vital mall with a crumpled resume, overly filled-in eyebrows, and a very uneven haircut.
A week before, I was being told by my friend’s mother that the retail job I was at was inappropriate for ‘someone like me.’
“You’re selling crappy bags to crappy people, and those stupid frog hats,” she said, nodding to the fluorescent-green, bug-eyed toque I had bought one shift as a joke. “You need to work somewhere better.”
She mentioned high-end places for me to apply at; retail boutiques and designer stores, but I kept saying I was fine. I felt like after quitting my job as a cashier at a grocery store, I had hit the jackpot in finding an overly-chill mall job.
I mean, there was little to no traffic at the location I worked, the bosses and employees were relaxed, and the majority of my shift would be spent playing Magic: The Gathering with a Scottish red-head in stretch-pants, or shooting elastic bands over luggage racks.
And it was fun right out of high school, but after a year of mediocre sales, a shitty secret-shopper on the day after my 18th birthday (guess how that went?) and a move to a more… What’s the word… Sketchyasfuck mall, I decided I had enough of the ‘lax life. I wanted a challenge- a job with structure where I could actually learn something.
The new location I was at was tucked into the corner of a desolate, cavernous maze of unkept faulty fountains and excessive extra security. Someone stole something at least once a day, a woman on the bench outside the store once pulled out her gun in a daze, and I was spit at after being told I needed a ‘facial’ by a giggling teenage girl.
“But you’re creative!” my friend’s mom would say as I sat in denial, thinking about the old bitch who had tried to rip me off the week before with doctored receipts for a $16 handbag. “You need an exciting, fun retail job.”
The next day, I printed off my resume, watched a dozen YouTube makeup tutorials, and mentally prepared myself to drop off my envelope of qualifications at a little black-and-white store in the mall.
They were supposedly hiring.
I stopped in twice the week before handing in my resume, picking up makeup I had read about online (yet having no idea how to use it) and reading about the history of the company in late-night web binges.
Originally founded in 1969, France, by Dominique Mandonnaud, Sephora started off as a small perfumery called Shop 8, but the owner had bigger ideas. Mandonnaud wanted to run a new slice of cosmetic heaven- a store that actually let customers try on products before making a purchase- and that was something that was unheard of at the time.
In 1970, Shop 8 became Sephora, but it wasn’t until 1995 that Sephora began producing its own cosmetics, and it wasn’t until 1997 that Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy (LVMH) purchased the chain from Mandonnaud.
Since being bought by the world’s leading luxury group, Sephora has gone global, operating approximately 1,900 stores in 29 countries worldwide, with an expanding base of over 360 stores across North America.
So you can guess why, around 760 days ago, when I walked into St. Vital mall with a crumpled resume, overly filled-in eyebrows, and a very uneven haircut, I was nervous.
You can guess why, around 760 days ago, when I approached a thin shopgirl in hot-pink lipstick and crisp eyeliner, my voice shook as I asked to speak to a manager.
You can guess why, around 760 days ago, when I sat down for a group interview across from all-black visages and glottal-fried answers, I thought about my responses and tried to reply thoughtfully.
And you can guess why, around 760 days ago, I vomited up my chicken souvlaki pita and cried with excitement when I received a phone call telling me I was hired on to work a seasonal position.
Eager, I moved from cash, to greeting, to late-night restocking. I was a cheese-ball at the register, cracking bad jokes and poking fun at awkward boyfriends who didn’t understand the difference between concealer and foundation (HA. N00bz.)
From the sidelines, I observed the store’s staff dynamic.
There was Josh, who had resting bitch-face so intimidating that I didn’t talk to him for months out of fear. Shayla, the seemingly soft-spoken red-head who reminded me of a sassy Little Mermaid. Becca, my fellow big-boobed, in-your-face, powerhouse, and Shalla, her Kardashian-obsessed mentor and other half (who doubled as the store’s tender mother figure).
In the back, there was Lacey with her inappropriate jokes and toothy grin. In the front, there was Lauren, the tatted-up ~*cool kid*~ beauty, Brooklynn, a fellow newbie (and babe) who went on to be my boss (which reeeally isn’t as awkward as it sounds), Raquel, a yoga-loving party gal’, Alysha, a bubbly, gel-nail princess, and Jess, an out-spoken realist with a personality double her size.
I quickly bonded with Nichole as we talked about Arrested Development and our love for Marc Jacobs, learned plenty from quick-witted fragrance specialist Morgan, shared constant giggle-fits with cheeky Kaela, and got play-by-plays of the day-to-day from fierce, red-headed leader, Trish.
Slowly, I blended with the group, and made my mark as the loud, foul-mouthed, big-haired new chick who tried to watch every brand video in existence, all while learning that primer is actually supposed to go under foundation, and that perfecting liquid liner comes from practice, not selling your soul to some master of a demonic underworld.
Soon I was matching foundation and filling in eyebrows, learning the difference between under and surface tones, and watching in amazement as Josh tacked on pair after pair of false lashes without breaking a sweat.
I delved into a world of lipstick, finding my comfort zone in dark, gothic reds and browns rather than the pinks and corals I had always been told I should wear to look ‘feminine’ and ‘cute’. I started applying bronzer strategically, not all over my face, and repositioned my blush to accentuate my cheekbones rather than flood product across my profile.
I grew into myself, gaining confidence with every educated brushstroke and wand-swipe within the walls of the black-and-white makeup store, forming bonds with employees and clients alike.
On one day, a blue-haired teenage girl in a wheelchair entered the store with her boyfriend.
After helping her pick out some eyeshadow and lipstick, I chirped a lyrical goodbye to them as they moved towards the exit. She paused and stopped her boyfriend, calling me over before lifting the sleeve of her baggy black sweater.
Lining her thin, pale arm, were dozens and dozens of hand-beaded bracelets, each with their own unique patterns and colours. She slipped a purple and green one off her wrist and held it out to me.
The girl explained that she had cancer and that she didn’t have long to live. She wanted to say thank you to all the people in her life, regardless of how long she knew them. To her, I was no more than a shopgirl who helped her with her makeup.
She held my hand as I touched the bracelet and pulled me down for a hug. “You’re so beautiful,” she whispered with a smile as I froze, tears streaking down my face. “Thank you.” I couldn’t respond; I would choke on my words.
I never saw her again after that.
Life at the little black-and-white makeup store prepared me for the challenges that can come with human interaction, and the patience needed for successful, genuine, and thoughtful connections with others.
Life at the little black-and-white makeup store allowed me to grow and learn in a fast-paced, overwhelming environment of constantly updated knick-knacks and techniques, all while keeping me grounded, trained, and set in reality.
Life at the little black-and-white makeup store gave me the chance to meet and interact with some of the most incredible, talented people I know, and whether I knew you for a chapter, a page, or a sentence, your mark on my life has been effective and sincere.
Around 760 days ago, I walked into St. Vital mall with a crumpled resume, overly filled-in eyebrows, and a very uneven haircut. I was looking for a job: something new and challenging, but more importantly, a place where I could fit in and be supported regardless of whatever ridiculous path I decided to follow.
Around 760 days ago, I found that job,
and around 30 days ago, I left it.
Not because I outgrew the fragrance wall, the intricate gold packages of YSL, or the soft melodic crunch of folded red tissue paper, but because I have the chance to grow elsewhere, and follow yet another ridiculous path.
So thank you, Sephora St. Vital.
Thank you for everything.