We had the good fortune of connecting with Tonya Gabriel and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tonya, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I am a first generation Chaldean American. Chaldeans are the original Christian people of Iraq (once known as Babylon). My parents immigrated to the states in the 1970s from North Iraq. My mother was eight years old when her family fled Iraq into Lebanon and ultimately made it to the US. My father was in his early 20s, he was forced to leave his whole family behind and flee to Greece until he was accepted into the states. They met in Detroit where they started their journey for a better life together and eventually had me and my four siblings. My parents constantly spoke of their journeys and past hardships as they raised us and the one thing that always stood out to me was how they were never afraid to take a risk. A risk for a better life and future for themselves and future family. Leaving their country and families to journey across the globe to a foreign place where they had to learn a new language, culture and build a better life from scratch. I was born in Detroit in 1987 and raised there until I was 10. Luckily, there was a large community of Chaldeans and I was surrounded by my culture. My first language growing up was Aramaic and it wasn’t until I started school that I learned English by being in school, listening to music and watching TV. Our family lived on 8 Mile which was not the best neighborhood and we were exposed to a lot of negative things at a young age, which is why my parents decided to move us to Arizona. In Arizona there was a promise of growing up in a safer and more positive environment which would move us forward and give us more opportunities. I value and cherish the first 10 years of my life in Detroit. Growing up there taught me so much about my culture and other cultures around me. The history of the city and love for the land that my family first called home away from their country. Detroit symbolized freedom and opportunity for my people who migrated there and I will never take for granted. When we moved to Phoenix, Arizona, I experienced a bit of culture shock as our Chaldean community barely existed out here. However, living in an immigrant household in America I learned to navigate my way between the two different cultures which helped me adapt quickly. I also took this as an opportunity to educate people on my culture and where my family was from instead of dwelling on the fact that I was different and didn’t belong. In my Chaldean culture no matter where in the world you live, our age old family traditions and morals are taught at a very young age. My siblings and I were consistently taught respect for yourself and elders, loyalty, integrity, honesty and to put everything you have into any job you do. I started working at the age of 12 helping my parents with their house cleaning business. I was taught to do my job thoroughly and with pride, no matter how big or small the task was. Seeing my parents work so hard while supporting five children and starting their business from scratch gave me the craving to be my own boss. My family also comes from generations of beauticians and salon owners back in Iraq and Detroit. I was consistently exposed to beauty and self care and was taught how to wax, tweeze and apply make-up early on. My true passion for makeup really became apparent in high school which led me to esthetics school. I got my esthetician license 10 years ago and started my professional career as a wax specialist. After a couple of years, I scored a job at MAC Cosmetics which was the ultimate accomplishment as a makeup enthusiast. I was so proud to work at my dream company and put everything I had into it which resulted in me becoming a certified MAC artist, Viva Glam Ambassador, Impact Team member, product specialist, published in a training book and a manager leading a team of artists. I was able to develop into the makeup artist I am today and had the opportunity to perfect my craft. I worked for MAC for 9 years when I decided to make a career changing decision to step down from my full-time position to focus on building my own brand and beauty business, Beauty Mark Lounge. It was one of the scariest decisions I made because I worked so hard and dreamed of working there for so long but I was reminded of the stories my parents told me about all the risks they took to get to where they are and how I couldn’t be afraid if I truly believed in what I was doing. Without my family’s journey and grit, I would not have had the courage to take the risks I have taken and land on my feet living my dream of owning my own growing and successful business.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
One of the aspects which sets me apart from other artists is my culture. Coming from a Middle Eastern background, I believe that I cater to other cultures seamlessly and bring different styles and perspectives to each appointment. I have experience working with people of all genders, skin tones and types and have never felt boxed in when it comes to my work. Secondly, I’ve had over 10 years experience in customer service. Throughout my working career I’ve learned to cater to each individual’s needs through listening and communication. My customer service experience has also taught me a great deal of patience and how to make each encounter personable. Lastly, an appointment with me is more than just getting a service, it’s about empowerment and cultivating a relationship. The foundation of my business and artistry are my clients. They are the reason I get to do what I love for a living. Each individual has different needs and I’m here to make them feel comfortable during any service I provide for them. My focus is not just the beauty on the outside but making each client feel beautiful and empowered from the inside out. Creating bonds and memories with my clients is the best part of my job and it is what I look forward to the most. I strive to become more than just my client’s esthetician by creating a fun, safe space for them while we work together to reach their beauty goals.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would start the week off by a couple of days in Sedona to hike, meditate and enjoy the breathtaking views. Back in Phoenix, we would enjoy a spa/pool day at one of AZ’s famous resorts. My favorites are Mountain Shadows and Montalucia. Hiking Camelback Mountain is also a must and would be on the list of things to do. I’m a big foodie so we would get dinner, drinks and enjoy a fun atmosphere at Maple & Ash, partake in an all day happy hour at Sushiholic and I would definitely not let her leave without having an authentic Mexican burrito from Filibertos. For some live music, wine, whiskey and a chill vibe we’d go to one of my favorite spots, Kazimierz. Old Town Scottsdale also has a lot to offer. I love to dance so we would surely go out for a night of drinks and dancing. Followed by a bottomless Mimosa and Bloody Mary’s Sunday Funday at Hash Kitchen. As far as activities, I would make sure we caught a fun comedy show, concert, festival or sports game depending on what time of year it is. I love to golf but Top Golf is the more affordable option and offers fun for everyone. Another must do is a boat day on Lake Pleasant and that would be on the itinerary too. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My parents & God, obviously. MAC Cosmetics – Where I started my makeup career. These are the women that supported me from the beginning until the day I decided to work for myself. Each woman saw something in me as an artist & leader that I didn’t recognize on my own: -Priscilla Alkais, Manager -Bryana Nichols, Trainer -Stefanie Trosko, Nordstrom Manager, Amanda Davis- My best friend/cousin who always has my back in life & business. She’s my go to when I’m in need of the tech side of things in the business. She always reminds me of everything I’ve worked hard towards on my off days. Kelley Greene- Friend/co-worker: We used to work together at a wax center and now we’re both business owners working alongside each other in the same salon space. We have the same vision & support for one another in our business development. Most importantly, MY CLIENTS! I literally wouldn’t be anything without the support of my clients & their referrals. They’re the consistency that keeps my passion and drive alive! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
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