To call the events in the tumultuous life Cece Meadows has lived so far ‘ups and downs’ is making a molehill out of a mountain. In fact, her story is so incredible that, when Cece shares it with us, she is the first to point out that it is almost beyond belief that one person could endure so much hardship, and also give and receive so much love and support. To any beauty lover, though, the fact that a woman with such rich life experience – from living the high life with a career in finance, to surviving domestic violence, cancer and homelessness, to settling into a happy marriage with four children – would go on to create a makeup range all about expressing oneself with vibrant colour is entirely poetic. Over a phone call during a work trip to Ohio (even the more conservative Midwest is embracing her call for colour), Cece spoke about how essential education, formal and otherwise, has been in her own journey, the joy to be had in finding your community, the power of a good makeover, and why using certain skincare feels like home.
“I come from very humble beginnings.
I am the oldest of four kids, and we grew up in Roll, Arizona in a farming community. Our mother and father got married and became parents when they were very young, 15 and 17. They were high school dropouts, they didn’t make a lot of money, and they had a whole bunch of kids at a very young age, so their lives weren’t easy. Thankfully, both my grandmothers were very prominent figures in my life, and it felt like what our family lacked in money we made up for in love. My parents got divorced when I was 11, as they had really been struggling, and our mum ended up leaving us with our dad. So I had to step up and grow up and help him. I was resentful of this for a long time, as I just wanted to be a kid.
I feel so blessed that we went to a wonderful elementary school which was always a source of comfort, as well as an escape from our tumultuous home life.
We were the first kids at the school to ever have parents who got divorced, and they were wonderful about it – they even brought in counsellors for us after our mum left. The whole community really rallied behind us. I was an athlete, and a creative writer, so I just loved everything about my time there.
I always knew that if I wanted to change my life and future, I needed to excel in school. It was my happy place, my shelter. A lot of people don’t think of school as an escape, but when you grow up not always having food, even knowing it was a place I could get two meals a day made it special. My siblings going to school meant I could ensure everyone was going to be fed. One of my grandmothers was an educator; she was the area director for a program called Head Start in Arizona, and she actually worked at our school. (She didn’t always agree with my parents’ life choices, that’s for sure!) It was wonderful to have someone I could look up to and count on to be there for me.
My life continued to have its challenges once I reached adulthood. I really struggled until at least my mid-twenties.
I was trying to better myself and get into college, but I wasn’t able to get financial aid because my parents didn’t know how to do all the paperwork. I had these huge school loans that were crippling, and I was homeless for a while, living in my car and showering in the gym after softball practice. Somehow I still managed to hang onto my sense of optimism, that maybe one day things would be better.
I don’t often share a lot of these parts of my life, because I think maybe it doesn’t seem believable, or that when you see people who seem to have really made their way in life, you don’t think their path could have been that hard, but it was.
I think sometimes it’s tempting look at someone who seems really happy, especially on social media (where we can all just share the parts of ourselves that we want people to see), and think things must have come easily to them.
So I like to be very transparent, and I believe that’s what made me and my brand what it is today. Sharing struggles and advice and words of wisdom with our community matters. Life isn’t easy; sometimes it sucks! What we make of it depends on our attitudes and our outlook, and what we want the outcome to be. We need role models to show us what’s possible. I think having grandmothers who were pillars I could look to, and see in them what I wanted for myself, helped me hugely. I hold onto their teachings and guidance and words. Maybe I wasn’t always listening then and there, haha, but eventually I learned to put what they taught me into practice and things started falling into place. I want people to know that even though life is challenging, there’s a resiliency that comes with being a woman, or being a woman of colour, or being a woman from a diverse cultural background. You can have every reason in the world as to why you don’t think you can make it, but if you can tap into that inherent resilience and drive and hope, maybe you’ll be the first one in your family to change things, or the second or the third, and help make it easier for those who come next.
I identify as Xicana and indigenous (Yaqui and Comanche). I always say that on my dad’s side, I can trace back my roots hundreds of years, all in the same little town. Whereas my mother is Native American, so it’s more that they’ve always been here!
As an indigenous person, knowing where your ancestors’ bones are, or where their blood has been spilled in battles they have been in, helps to inform a sense of resilience. I recently asked my 13-year-old daughter, “what about our family do you think has had the most impact on you?” and she said to me, straight out, “we survived genocide”. Sometimes those are conversations people aren’t ready for, but as a community we are slowly building a platform that highlights the beauty of these conversations instead of shying away from it. I want Xicana people to see what we are and what we can be. There are a lot of us who are successful, and when we highlight and celebrate that, it helps change the narrative.
Growing up, I didn’t ever think that one day I would own a beauty brand.
I was a huge tomboy, very into softball, volleyball, and basketball. I hardly wore makeup and wasn’t a girly girl at all. Then, at 27, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and a post-chemo makeover some friends gave me at MAC was the start of everything.
I had been working in the finance world for years when I was diagnosed. They caught it very early, finding a cyst in my right ovary that had started to create cancerous cells. They went in and removed it, and then I did one round of chemo. I had always wanted to have kids, and now with four babies I am so thankful for my little warrior ovary! (Since having my kids, I have had a hysterectomy and do all the things I can to stay in remission and stay healthy.) After chemo, I did lose my hair. I think my lowest point was taking a shower with my little girl, who was three at the time, and her seeing chunks of hair fall out of my head. My friends came over and rallied behind me, and gave me the makeover to distract me and help me feel better. I realised then that beauty is therapy – it can help you look how you want to feel.
After I had that wonderful experience with my makeover and falling in love with makeup, things took a difficult turn.
I couldn’t work in banking anymore because of ‘chemo brain’, an intense brain fog, which I describe as like writers’ block but for your whole life. My medical bills were enormous and at the same time I became a survivor of domestic violence and subsequently a single mum; I lost everything. We were homeless, and I had to sleep in my car in Walmart parking lots with my daughter and my newborn son. We’d bounce from couch to couch while I tried to find my footing on this slippery slope. It was absolutely trauma after trauma, and I kept thinking ‘what else can possibly happen?’ It was a dark time.
I became involved in a group that helped survivors of domestic violence get back on their feet, and through them I ended up finding and being accepted into a cosmetology program. The program included aesthetics training (things like waxing, skincare and facials) and makeup application. I had already fallen in love with makeup thanks to my friends, and I just sat there one hour into my course, thinking, ‘I’m so dumb, why didn’t I just do this straight out of school? I love it so much!’ I couldn’t believe how happy it made me. A few months before graduating, I was offered a job, and so I had to drop out of school as I needed to work and support myself and my children. It was always in the back of my head, though, how much I would love to be able to create my own brand and do for others what my friends did for me with their makeover. For a couple of years when I was first working as a makeup artist, I did makeup for cancer patients and for kids at Ronald McDonald House, to give back and help people feel how I felt.
In 2015, I met my now-husband, Daniel. He’s a major in the army, and we got married and ended up moving from California, where I had lived for years, to New York City.
I had my two children from my previous relationship and a brand-new baby with Daniel, and the five of us moving to the city was a major culture shock. I had never been so far away from my family or our home, the south-west, and the weather was very different, without all the sunshine I have had my whole life. I was also suffering badly with post-partum depression. My husband was amazing, and wanted to help in any way he could, so he signed me up for a six-week masterclass with Claire Perez, the owner of The New York Makeup Academy in downtown Manhattan. Claire was so intelligent and quirky, and I learned so much from her and met so many influential people through her. Doing that course and meeting celebrity makeup artists accelerated my artistry to a whole other level. I ended up going to New York Fashion Week as a participant with the Academy, and since then I have been back a few more times as a beauty brand owner and makeup artist in my own right, which is such a full circle experience.
The last time I worked at Fashion Week, my brand headed one of the shows! It was really nice to be able to take my own lashes and my own brushes and fully be a part of it. An unexpected benefit of my profile now was having important conversations with the show’s models. I was wearing a t-shirt that had printed on it ‘Strong. Resilient. Indigenous’, and some of them asked me, “what’s in-dig-inness?” They didn’t know the word indigenous! So this is what’s being taught (or not taught) in school – either incorrect verbiage or it’s just not mentioned at all. That has to change, but in the meantime, I saw it as an opportunity for education, and one that allowed me to amplify who I am as a person and let people know about our amazing culture, who haven’t been exposed to it before.
I didn’t wear a lot of colour as a kid, but I had my tias and aunties and grandmas who loved colourful clothes and makeup.
They’d do a big bold red lip with bright blue eyeshadow, really vibrant. Or they’d be matching their lip colour to their blush, so very tonal. I loved to watch them be so beautiful. Culturally, we are very colourful and vibrant people. If I find myself in, say, a purple dress with tiny yellow flower accents, I have to find the brightest yellow shoe I can to match and draw out that tiny pop of colour. I am the same with makeup – even if I have a relatively neutral outfit on, I will draw attention to my eyes with colour.
When I was creating concepts for my first collection, I knew I wanted to use bold colours. I like matching an eyeshadow to beaded earrings, or to my traditional floral tops. I thought, how cool would it be to create a palette that has a lot of bold colour? I remember showing my concepts to a couple of friends and they were like ‘that’s nice, but where are the neutrals, the transition colours, the soft browns?’ and I was just, ‘nope!’ I wanted a full palette of vivid colour. When I am developing a colour story for a palette, I like to push the boundaries of what might conventionally be in a 30 pan palette, by picking mostly the boldest shades you could think. Then I get so excited for the different combinations.
As a brand founder, seeing people create the looks that they do using our colours is magic.
My team and I didn’t have a big marketing and advertising spend, and certainly at the beginning we weren’t able to pay influencers thousands to create looks for social media, but we asked people who bought the products to tag us in their pictures of what they created. When they first started coming in, I would sit for hours in tears looking through them all! I was and am still so grateful that people were buying our products, and that beautiful people of colour who you wouldn’t normally see on PR or influencer lists were creating these looks.
When I was a makeup influencer showcasing my work, before I had my own brand, I was rejected all the time by big companies. So when we created Prados, I wanted to use micro influencers and specifically people of colour, to showcase our inclusivity of brand. We may be a BIPOC brand, but we were created for everyone, not for a specific category of people. We have a huge, diverse team of people on our PR list. We want to showcase artistry for the world, and highlight that individual who created that amazing, bold look. Now, massive influencers like Trixie Mattel and Bailey Sarian use our stuff and amplify our message, and it feels like our brand is what it is because of that allyship, working both ways.
Secwépemc makeup artist Kalei Dixon showing off her creative vision using Prados products
IMAGE: VIA INSTAGRAM @PRADOSBEAUTY
Prados is my last name, Meadows, in Spanish.
This one day I was playing around with names and brand ideas, and my husband was holding our newborn, and it just clicked. I thought how cool it was that we were building something for our children and their future. As well as Prados Beauty, Daniel and I created the Prados Life Foundation, which gives a lot of donations (both time and monetary) to indigenous communities, students, veterans and children with special needs. You can know that when you support us, we’re not going out and getting butt injections with your hard-earned money! We definitely use profits to boot strap; we are still independently owned, so we put just about everything we make back into the business, but we allocate funds to these important causes and use our socials to help smaller creatives. We are very much a community-based, grass roots brand.
Most of my go-to makeup products are all my own! My absolute favourites at the moment are our Taos and Mirabelle lipsticks, and our eyeliner – it’s one of Trixie’s favourites, too. I also love everything from One/Size, and as someone with oily skin, everything from Fenty Beauty works so well for me.
When I was younger, I’d spend summers with my grandparents in our traditional homelands, and they’d teach us about what could help our skin, from taking mud baths to sourcing certain plants that heal wounds.
I still love aloe, and use it from my own plants, but I really don’t like how huge companies have started to use aloe in mass-market products. Those sorts of companies often don’t replant what they take, or they water it down and change its natural consistency, altering its healing abilities. It’s important to pay attention to the ingredients and brands that we use, and see if they’re right for your skin, of course, as well as your ethos.
My friend Sandra makes this amazing brand of body soaps and scrubs called Nopalera; even if she wasn’t my friend, I’d still think the products were great.
Once a week, I try to do a red clay mask made by a brand called Nakawe [Ed. note: clay mask not available online], which uses clay that comes from traditional indigenous lands. When I use that on my skin, it feels like I am going back to my roots, using what we have available to us and not robbing the earth. It feels like I’m putting a piece of home on your face.
Generally, I try to embrace the skin I have. Mine is oily, and I think even though it’s tempting to ‘control’ your oil, when you rely too much on products designed for that, it can take away from your natural glow. Don’t forget, there are long-term benefits to having oilier skin, too – my ancestors in their eighties and nineties look decades younger than they are, so I am looking forward to that!”
Interview and story by Zoe Briggs. Imagery supplied by Prados Beauty, and select images from Instagram @cecemeadows and @pradosbeauty.