Meet sisters Sam and Nic (aka Pixiwoo), blogging stars and the brains behind the brand Real Techniques.
Makeup is not just a hobby for these two, it’s their business and lifestyle. “Our aunt was a makeup artist – it’s a family thing," says Sam. “We used to assist her on shoots. We would clean her brushes and watch her work with famous people like Janet Jackson and we loved it.”
Nic adds: “We were very lucky to have her, because when I left school people were going on to work in offices and I didn’t have those skills. I was into makeup and art – it was great to have someone to look up to."
Looking at the sisters, you know straight away they're in the business of beauty. Their makeup is flawless and they have the most stunning skin – thanks, they say, to drinking lots of water and removing their makeup every night. (When I asked how they kept their skin so glorious, I wanted the answer to be a magical product. But nope, it's just beauty basics.)
With so much knowledge on makeup and the beauty industry, becoming beauty bloggers made sense. But how did they go from being beauty bloggers on YouTube to creating makeup brushes that are among the most Instagrammed beauty products ever – and which were featured in Rihanna’s "BBHMM" video?
“Brushes seemed like the perfect fit for us – we are makeup artists and we know that the first rule of makeup artistry is using the right tools,” says Sam. “It’s been very gradual and steady. We had a lot of opportunities thrown at us and we took the right one, it was something we felt 100% about. But it didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a slow process."
The Real Techniques brush collection launched in 2011, and with its cheap price point and amazing quality, it was always going to go down well. A Real Techniques Foundation Brush is £9.99, compared with a similar MAC Foundation Brush that's £34.50.
“We were the first social talent deal to ever happen," says Nic. "There is an element of luck, but we have also worked really, really hard.”
Of course luck has played its role for the sisters, but if you’ve ever used a Real Techniques brush, you know why it’s so popular. The range is so versatile, the bristles so soft, and the brushes so well-built – just read reviews of them and you'll see people complimenting their durability.
“The quality of the brushes is so important to us – we both have to be happy with the product before it goes out," says Nic. "If one of us is not happy with a product, we don’t put it out. We both respect each other and we don’t feel more powerful than the other, so if Sam doesn’t like a product or an idea we are not doing it, and it goes both ways.”
That doesn’t mean there’s never any tension between them, however. Nic adds: “Yes, we do respect each other, but we [also] argue, we argue a lot. I mean, we are sisters, so we don’t hold back.”
This prompts them to tell me about a huge argument they had in Australia. Sam, the elder sister, says: “We’ve been sisters since forever and been working together for years now, so of course we are going to annoy each other – I posted our first YouTube video in 2008, when I was heavily pregnant and wanted something to do. Nic got involved and it went from there."
Eight years later, the Pixiwoo channel has over 2 million subscribers – it’s one of the UK’s biggest beauty blogs, and rightly so. The tutorials are friendly and very easy to follow. It’s like watching your bestie teach you how to wear makeup, if your best friend happened to be a qualified makeup artist with her own brush line and over 20 years' experience.
“YouTube is great – being a blogger is a new form of talent,” Nic says when I ask what they think about the increasing number of bloggers. “Until recently people had not seen social talent. I don’t think it’s different to actors, dancers, and singers. It will soon become something that is just an accepted form of talent.”
“I would advise anyone that wants to blog to do it," Sam says. "So many talent agencies are looking for the next big Tanya Burr" – who was trained by Sam and Nic and is married to their younger brother Jim. "It’s all about being tenacious, being consistent with content, and not selling out. You have to have an X-factor on camera that’s going to make people want to watch you, and you have to be willing to be open with the audience.”
Being open is something Sam and Nic do very well. They keep it very real on their channel and social media platforms, where, as well as the tutorials, the pair share personal highs and lows such as the births of their children and the sadness of Nic’s two miscarriages.
“Your life is so social, which can be a downside to all of this," Nic says. "Everyone has the right to judge you, because you put so much out there. And that’s tricky when you have a family and kids and whatnot. Yes, as much as we love being open, we get days where we don’t want to be social. But we can’t complain too much – we are very lucky, we get to work around our kids, and we work with amazing people. It’s all about training ourselves to not to feel guilty about not being social every minute of every day.”
The Pixiwoo channel has over 2 million subscribers. A previous version of this article said it was 20 million.