At some point in our teenage lives, we all sit down and think about what our lives will be like in the years to come.
This period usually comes with a lot of depressing thoughts about the reality of life. At the age of 19, MJ Thomas experienced this phase of self-reflection and, in her own case, she had someone else to think about, her baby.
MJ was a single mom at 19 and was at a point in her life where she was questioning whether she had the guts to move on. In this exclusive interview with MJ, we’ll learn how 12 years later, MJ is the super-successful entrepreneur she is today.
tell us how you started and when you decided to create your own business.
I was 19 years old when I had my first daughter. She didn’t have a clear direction in life, but she was in my freshman year of college, she was running a sporting goods store at the time and she lived alone, and she did all the stuff.
From the outside, it seemed like I was a responsible young adult, but I was just doing what I felt I was “supposed” to do. I decided to have a daughter at that age and therefore I was going to be responsible for everything that came with it, including being a single mother.
I kept working, going to school and, at the same time, I was a bartender on the weekends when my daughter was with her dad. I remember looking at my life and my schedule and wondering, “how am I going to get by?”
I come from a very hard-working family; my mother finished her master’s degree the same year she completed her chemotherapy treatments while she was a nurse. My father was a near-professional basketball player in the Philippines and he gave it all up for a chance to come to America. I mean, there were no complaints in my house about any of the decisions and responsibilities that we had. “Cry your river elsewhere; this house is made for humble swindlers”, was our slogan.
One day, I remember asking my mother if she always knew she wanted to be in the medical field. She told me it was the dream of her life. What happened next, I will never forget.
I said, “I don’t feel that way about what I’m doing…”
She said, “Stay with it, you’ll get used to it.”
Now, there are things we need to SCREAM about, but I defined THIS as SETTLEMENT in the context of my life.
That’s when I asked him what he would do if he didn’t have to sacrifice anything, and he told me he would open a MEDSPA and do facials, lasers, injectables… all the stuff. So I researched it… And as I went further and further down the rabbit hole, I was enrolled in the Esthetics Program at a local beauty school.
That first day of my Aesthetics program was like a hit of the best drug of all. It was the first time that I felt happy and excited about the opportunity. I stayed aligned with that feeling and used it as my compass as I passed my time.
After getting my license I set out to make this my full time career. I added it to my side hustle list and my schedule. So I said to myself when I started earning as much as this job; I’ll drop that and stay with this bartending thing and turn my life around my daughter. Literally two months later I quit all my jobs and for once I only had one. This was also the first year I made six figures.
Now, 12 years later, I have two studios with ten artists in residence. I have helped women quit their day jobs and side jobs to create the life of their dreams. Like me.
Can you talk about some of the challenges you faced starting your business as a single mom?
Weather: Mothers, single or not, can feel that there is no time. We have to do it. Back then, I had to create time to work on my business. I asked for help and hired babysitters. The free time I had, I worked in my company.
It also meant early days and long nights and hatching seasons as this baby was put together.
Financing: I didn’t have the credit to get it, so I had to work to get the cash together and learned that I could build business credit while working. Entrepreneurial financial education saved me AND gave me an opportunity I didn’t know existed.
Mentality: I had to turn my dreams into plans, and that meant tapping into my inner courage. It meant finding the opportunities where they were a challenge. It meant starting things before they were ready. It meant being brave and persistent and not making excuses. Many times, the challenges that are presented to us require mental changes to explore all the options.
Tutoring + Guidance: I made a complete career change. She wasn’t surrounded by people who had already started their own businesses or anyone who was in the beauty industry. The unsolicited advice I was receiving was from people who had successful careers in 9-5. I learned from pure trial and error and everything that Google had to offer (which is literally the world of resources).
Many female caregivers are already short on time, so making a career change or starting your own business can seem impossible. How can you manage your time as a mother and business owner?
Impossible when broken down also says that I am possible. It takes looking at things from a different perspective to see the possibilities. It is very important to have a calendar and a schedule that is broken down throughout the day. I use Google Calendar + the old paper calendar for our command center at home.
I am now married with four children and 4 fur babies. it’s a circus. I can’t tell you if it was easier as a single or married mom (lol), BUT I will tell you that you need a system of organization. We use Google Calendar to sync our schedules and I also use it to block out time on my work days. It’s a color-coded work of art, to say the least. It’s imperative to be organized when juggling all the hats, and it’s absolutely possible.
Blocking out time in my day is very important. I become more intentional with my time. Even social media is locked in time (ever scrolled through your feed and wasted an hour of your life?). Family time is blocked time. Responding to emails/texts/phone calls is locked in time. The most important thing is that my ME time is blocked.
It is also important to know what needs to be done by me and what can be delegated. You may feel like I need to do my best to get it done right (I know a lot of you can relate); however, I am honored that I started this business so that it could help me be with my family when I chose to be. To do that, I had to empower other people to help me run the studio while I wasn’t there. As well as leveraging my parent community to divide and conquer things like ride sharing. It’s okay to build a team in other aspects of your life.
What advice would you give to a woman starting her own business or looking to make a career change?
Hold on to your why. It has to be good, so good that it silences your fears and encourages you to solve everything. Know that it is going to be difficult, very difficult at times. You were created to do difficult things.
Be brave enough to try. For every concern, remember that there is an equal opposite possibility! Bet on yourself and trust that you will solve everything.
Surround yourself with like-minded people or stay alone. Your dreams are fragile while you build them. Reach out to people who have been where you are trying to go; get a coach or mentor if you can. And make sure your social media and the places that catch your eye are aligned with your heart and vision. This building season is so crucial, but the fruits of your labor will be worth it.
What attracted you to the beauty industry and how do you see Malaya Skin + Wax Studio and Malaya Lash + Ink growing over the next five years?
I find the greatest joy in helping people who want to be helped. I thought the medical field was everything, but I realized that as an empath, I had a lot of work to do not to take things home with me! When I started the esthetics program, I realized that I was learning how to help people relax and address their insecurities with the tools and techniques learned.
I realized that I loved empowering women to feel good about themselves. The Malaya Skin + Wax and Malaya Lash + Ink studios are two of many to come. Malaya Studios will have another location in Roseville and anywhere else the team decides they want to take over the next five years. I will support and give life to all of it.
During shelter in place, I gave birth to MalayaMade Pro. It is the online store for lash technicians to purchase our supplies and sign up for lash courses and business coaching. We serve customers, but now we also serve technicians to continue empowering their customers the way we’ve been able to for 12 years and counting. In the next five years, we’ll be doing trade shows and offering lash training all over the country, God willing.
What has been the most rewarding part of launching two businesses in the beauty industry?
Having a business in the beauty industry allowed me to empower women. My goal was never to be the best or to own a franchise. My goal was to be a mother who could go on hikes and stay home with her if she was sick and still provide us both with a beautiful life.
When I started out as a solo entrepreneur, I was helping my clients save time and feel secure. I put my heart into building the client relationships I have now. When I was so busy, I expanded my space so that I could find someone who would help me and would like to do the same. Not only did I find a person to help me, but I helped her quit her day job.
Before I knew it, our little studio was a powerhouse of women (many of whom are now mothers) who quit their day jobs. Now, 12 years later, collectively we have had six babies born and a few fur babies added by our team and they are still growing.
The most rewarding part of having a business in the beauty industry is simply giving women the opportunity to help other women walk with confidence in their skin + helping technicians create their own schedules so they have options to fill their lives. with what is important to them. It is a beautiful cycle.