Exclusive Q&A: Tanzanian Blogger and MUA Maya Mia on Her Truly Inspiring Rise to the Top


Soft corals on the cheeks, lids, and lips let Maya’s mega lashes take center stage in this look / photo courtesy of @maya_mia_y

Of all the beauty bloggers and makeup artists in all the world, Maya Janeska’s story is a true inspiration. Maya—best known as Maya Mia—is not only self-taught, but also made a global name for herself from a place not typically known for makeup artistry: Tanzania. She’s the first to admit that East Africa is somewhat of a makeup desert. “There’s little to no availability of beauty brands and products, which makes it a challenge for the local artists...but where there’s a will there’s a way,” she says.

Will is something Maya has in spades. Even a quick visit to her Instagram feed (@maya_mia_y) or YouTube channel will quickly tell you not only how talented she is, but also how charismatic—and her stats speak volumes. As of this writing, Maya has racked up 1.1 million+ followers on Instagram and 2.6 million+ video views. And by the miracle that is today’s internet beauty community, Maya’s work also caught the attention of Anastasia Soare (of Anastasia Beverly Hills fame). After admiring the budding entrepreneur from across oceans and continents, Anastasia—a big supporter of the blogging community and an Instagram star in her own right—reached out. The rest is history.

Later this month, the Anastasia Beverly Hills Maya Mia Palette, will be available right here on Beautylish! Inside are ten gorgeous, highly pigmented eye shadows, inspired by Maya’s home; in particular “the crystal turquoise waters, tropical beaches, and sunsets of the Spice Island of Zanzibar,” she says. To celebrate the launch, we chatted with Maya (via keyboard and mouse, naturally) about the state of the Tanzanian beauty industry, her advice to budding makeup artists, and how humility and hard work can help you accomplish all of your dreams—even when the odds are against you.

Do you remember your first experience with makeup?

I started using makeup at the age of 16, when I started my modeling career in Macedonia. I was competing in a beauty pageant and once my makeup artist was done working, he handed me the mirror. I was shocked by how my eye color popped, and how the makeup enhanced my features. That was the day I fell in love with makeup and what it can do to enhance one’s natural beauty and features.

Maya is a known master of graphic cat-eye liner, a look she constantly re-imagines / photos courtesy of @maya_mia_y

Have you always known that makeup is what you wanted to do?

I come from a family of artists—my father is an artist and so is my brother. Throughout my childhood my father would teach us how to paint, carve, and sculpt. Art was part of my everyday life. I knew that when I grew up I would be an artist. I just didn’t realize that I would be a makeup artist. My mother hardly used any cosmetics. When I started my modeling career and was exposed to the world of beauty, I instantly fell in love with the art of makeup, and how it could transform a woman’s confidence. That’s when I knew what I wanted my career to be, so I stopped modeling and started a career as a makeup artist. I’ve been doing it ever since.

You have more than a million followers on Instagram! Did you ever expect that to happen when you first joined?

I never expected to reach a million followers! I still can’t believe that there are so many lovers of makeup interested in my work. It’s such a humbling experience. I thank god every day and I’m so thankful for everyone’s support through daily comments, likes, and requests for new looks. It truly gives me inspiration and motivation to keep going.

Was there a certain point when your following really blew up?

Once my pictures were published on the explore/popular page, my following rapidly grew due to the exposure to so many Instagram users. After this, many brands, users, and accounts shared my work and I’m so grateful.

Maya’s followers love her step-by-step photo tutorials, like this blue smoky eye how-to / photo courtesy of @maya_mia_y

How has Instagram helped propel your career?

Instagram has really boosted my career and opened up a whole world of opportunities. I’ve received such a demand for makeup tutorials and videos, I launched a YouTube channel which has greatly assisted me in sharing my work and tips with viewers all over the world. That’s also brought me together with numerous makeup brands that I currently work with on different projects. The biggest joys are the friendships I’ve had the pleasure of making with so many wonderful people from the beauty and fashion industries.

You get thousands of likes on all of your posts. But are there certain types that seem to get more of a response from your fans?

I try to to mix up the content as much as possible. I’m always driving toward keeping followers entertained with tutorials, different eye looks, and short video tutorials—which are the most popular. I also post wildlife and nature pictures. Photography is a hobby of mine, and I take full advantage of the beautiful East African landscape. My favorite posts are the humorous, silly ones; I’m a comedian at heart and love to keep people entertained.

And you’re self-taught, right?

I am self-taught, and believe that if you’re born with the talent, you can practice, get better, and pursue a career regardless of whether you’re certified or not. Living in Africa (Tanzania, specifically) and coming from humble beginnings has taught me that a lot of people don’t have the means to attend a school or a course. Also the lack of schools in a region can be an obstacle for many talented young artists trying to pursue their dream career.

The Anastasia Beverly Hills Maya Mia Palette: 10 shadows inspired by the colorful Tanzanian landscape / photo by Beautylish

You’re launching an exclusive eye palette with Anastasia. How did you meet Anastasia? And how did the collaboration come to be?

I was fortunate enough to be noticed and contacted by Anastasia and her lovely daughter Claudia through the great powers of Instagram, and I’ve since collaborated with them on a number of projects. We’ve established such a great working and personal relationship which led to us taking our creativity to the next level by creating a joint palette made with love.

What are some of your favorite things about the palette?

My absolute favorite thing about it is that it really represents my character through the colors, textures, and the design of the palette itself. It’s very vibrant, happy, and refreshing.

What inspired the colors, formulas, and finishes you included?

The beautiful landscapes and wildlife of Tanzania, the crystal turquoise waters, and sandy tropical beaches and sunsets of the Spice Island of Zanzibar, which is where I’ve spent most of my life. There are earth tones and matte textures that are perfect for creating smoky looks and defining the crease. We also have shimmer textures of yellow gold, which represent the sun, and some gorgeous bronzes for creating perfect goddess looks.

How has your palette fit into your own routine? Do you use it often?

All the time. We have such a combination of earthy matte and shimmer tones combined with pops of color suitable for all occasions. I honestly take my palette everywhere. Photo shoots, travel, work. I create day to evening looks with it—it’s so perfect and compact that it just fits in my purse. Individual products are amazing, however in today’s fast-paced world it’s always a huge benefit to have many complementary colors at our disposal in a single package, so that you can achieve as many looks as possible. I believe that my palette can be used to free your imagination and let your creativity venture beyond the norm by simply adding a bit of color.

Savvy cross-promoter! This post teases a video on highlighting and contouring from Maya’s YouTube channel / photo courtesy of @maya_mia_y

Anastasia is all about brows. What’s your best brow tip?

Never over-pluck them. Always follow your natural shape, cleaning up only the stray hairs. I believe that sporting fuller brows can make you appear more youthful and natural.

What’s the one brow product you couldn’t live without?

Anastasia’s Dipbrow Pomade has changed my life and the lives of many of my clients and friends. You can literally go from no brows to full brows in an instant. It’s waterproof so you can rest assured that your brows will be where they belong on your face and not on somebody’s shirt—ha! Just a little joke.

Maya says Anastasia Dipbrow Pomade (shown above in Ebony) has changed her life, and the lives of many of her clients / photo by Beautylish

Any tips for those who want to incorporate bold colors into their looks, but don’t know where to start?

I would advise them to mix bold colors with earthy matte shades to create a perfect balance of elegance with a dash of daring.

You always have the perfect winged-out eye. How do you get such a perfect shape?

Thank you for the lovely compliment. Practice really makes perfect. I have gone into great detail and a step-by-step demo on how I created this type of look in my YouTube video called Prom Makeup Tutorial.

_Masterfully blended eye looks in unexpected color combos have become Maya’s signature / photo courtesy of @maya_mia_y _

You’re awesome at mixing unexpected colors together. Are there any rules when it comes to color, or tricks for bringing it all together?

The trick of using complementary colors together always works. If you’re just starting out, my advice is to mix bold colors with earthy matte shades; then you get the right balance of elegance with a dash of daring. I also like to experiment with new color combinations. I never pre-plan my looks, I just look at the palette and let my imagination guide me. Don’t be afraid to play with color. It’s only when you do that that you’ll find your perfect combination. 

A lot of people say you should either do a bold eye or lip, but not both. Your looks prove otherwise! Any tips for pulling it off?

I do agree with that rule to a certain extent, but I do like to push the boundaries! If you do it, remember that’s it’s not an everyday look or one for the office. The occasion will definitely determine how much of that creativity to let loose.

_How to balance an eggplant-hued statement lip? A well-defined brow! / photo courtesy of @maya_mia_y _

If you had to choose between doing only a bold lip or only a bold eye, which would you pick?

Bold eye, definitely. Usually, the first thing people notice about us is our eyes. However if your lips are your best asset, I believe the emphasis should be put on the lips—and vice versa.

Who are some of your beauty icons?

Claudia Cardinale, Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Who do you follow online for inspiration?

I respect and admire everyone’s work and creativity. Art is about expressing our individuality. There are so many artists that I absolutely love that the list is endless. Mostly, I Google for inspiration, and I follow a lot of artists on Instagram and YouTube. Some of my favorites are Promise Phan (on YouTube), Miss Jazmina (@missjazminad), Norvina (@norvina), Anastasia (@anastasiabeverlyhills), Emma Pickles (on YouTube), Amrezy (@amrezy), Zukreat (@zukreat), Sanna of Lookamillion (@lookamillion), Nikola Yaneski (@yaneskis), Elyse Reneau (@elysereneau), and so many more…

You live and work in Tanzania. How does your local beauty community differs from the community in, say, North America or Europe?

The local beauty community in Tanzania is very different than the rest of the world as it’s just starting up. We have such a colorful culture and history. But there’s little to no availability of beauty brands and products on the market which makes it a challenge for the local artists to get all the necessary products to execute the daily tasks. However, we all somehow manage to get our hands on all the latest products through various sources. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Ten years ago I was the first makeup artist to start up in Tanzania, and I’m so happy to know that today there are so many amazingly talented artists that pursue the love of that art. There’s only one way for the Tanzanian beauty industry to go, and that’s upward.

What advice would you give to budding makeup artists?

Always follow your dreams and never be afraid to pursue them. Believe in yourself and be confident and daring!

What can we expect from Maya Mia in the future?

There are a lot of projects in the pipeline—and I’m working on a lot of surprises that will be coming up very soon!

Don’t forget to check back to shop the Anastasia Beverly Hills Maya Mia Palette on Beautylish!

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