Umbreen Sheikh of Wink Brow Bar: “Authenticity shines; Be yourself no matter who you meet”

Be yourself no matter who you meet — authenticity shines. I have made so many friends in the Industry, and like to think I try to be honest with people and it’s not always what they want to hear! One time I had an editor of a magazine who wanted me to bleach her eyebrows. […]

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Be yourself no matter who you meet — authenticity shines. I have made so many friends in the Industry, and like to think I try to be honest with people and it’s not always what they want to hear! One time I had an editor of a magazine who wanted me to bleach her eyebrows. Quite honestly I felt that it would not be that great for her. I told her in the nicest way possible, I could see the shock on her face. In the end though, we became good friends because she trusted me everytime!

For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Umbreen Sheikh.

Umbreen Sheikh, Founder of Wink Brow Bar, grew up in London and was heavily influenced by her mother’s passion for beauty growing up. She watched her self-motivated mother start her own salon business in the 1980’s. Umbreen got to experience the world of beauty first-hand and witness the magic of countless brow and eye transformations. With this keen interest in beauty and a background in biomedical sciences from Kings College in London, Umbreen moved to New York City in 2003 where her journey with Wink first began.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in London with my two sisters and my mum and dad, who are originally from Pakistan. Looking back I realise how lucky I was to have parents like them, they were so encouraging and empowering and had such a “can do” attitude with us. I grew up believing everything was possible — a rare occurrence in those days with our cultural background, where mostly this was not the case (luckily things are different nowadays!).

My mother attended Cosmetology and Beauty School, and studied hard. She later went on to open several salons in London, including threading services. I used to see many people arrive to get threaded in her little store, and I learned to do it from her! My mother also loved exploring skincare and was always on the hunt for the best of the best. All this was instilled in me when I developed bad skin in my teens, I was applying all sorts of creams and medications from doctors, and it was my mother that put me on the right path: good brows and good skin! It really worked out well for me today. Moral of the story — start early!

As I was growing up, I spent a lot of my time in my mother’s salons, but I was also encouraged to go to college. I studied at King’s College London in the UK and graduated with a Biomedical Sciences Honors Degree. After this, I wanted to keep exploring and learning so I went on to do my ACA (equivalent to CPA here in the USA) with Deloitte and Touche and trained to be an auditor! While doing all this, I stayed connected to beauty thanks to my mother.

In 2003 I met my now husband and moved to New York. My husband was a banker and I had the itch to try something new again! With his support, I decided to explore PR. I really loved connecting with people, and ended up joining a niche magazine helping out with their PR. I had so much fun!

Then in 2005, we welcomed our son. I chose to stay home with him and our pet dog Chewy! I spent the next few years working on charities that educated girls in Pakistan for free, and being a stay at home mom. In 2011, our daughter came along.

One of the things I always missed when I was in NYC was finding a really great threading place that catered to my needs — clean, professional, and experienced. Somewhere that provided a premium experience in a clean and sanitary environment. I felt like NYC was totally missing this, not to mention that many of the women that were being hired were being paid very little money and were not being taught the proper way, or being told how important it was to get proper licences and proper payslips. In 2014, I decided to concept my own store, including all the elements I thought we were missing… and God bless, here we are!

I developed many different skills through my education, travel, and career paths and I really believe it’s what brings me here today: doing something I ABSOLUTELY LOVE.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

One of the most interesting things for me is how I have added so much to my daily workload, but for some crazy reason, I have more spare time now than I ever had when I was not running Wink Brow Bar. Adding structure to my day has kept me organised, and protected time dedicated to work and time dedicated to family.

I’ve also stopped being the ‘people pleaser’ — it doesn’t always work in business! Along the way, I have learned to ask for what I want and that has helped so much in running the business.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started I was always so busy trying to juggle my kids with the business. One time, while having worked for around 23 hours, I placed an order late in the evening for some cotton. I ordered 10 packs but what I didn’t realise was I had accidentally ordered 100! Needless to say, when they showed up I was shocked — and we didn’t have to buy cotton again for close to a year! Lesson here for me was: put away the credit card when you’re tired and just need to rest, luckily it was just cotton on this occasion!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My company stands out because I don’t believe there is anyone doing what we do. Everyone out there in my industry is focusing on one area of the eyes, but not the “whole eye area”. I believe in skin first, looking at the area as whole, with a focus on threading — pretty unique! I think of ourselves as the Saks Fifth Avenue or Bergdorf for brows, lashes, and total eye zone care.

I also standardised my processes so no matter which location you go to, you will always enjoy the same consistent experience. Our mantra of “many locations, different technicians, but the same treatment every time” is a game-changer in threading.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes we are — several new things coming!

We are launching our first range of beauty products officially, with a focus on skin, because I believe in skin first. People often lean towards great packaging, or get sold on marketing and ads. Our product ranges are made in Germany, with my manufacturer who has produced for huge beauty companies for decades, and the products have soul. I have ingredients in them that I know from my knowledge of good skincare that are safe and great quality. I feel that it is our responsibility from an ethical standpoint to make sure that what we give you is good for you, I do not like the way new brands come out with great packaging and people fall for it; it’s what’s inside that matters.

What advice would you give to other female leaders. to help their team to thrive?

Trust your team, but don’t follow advice all the time. Find your instinct — it’s usually right;

Give feedback in a way that builds people up;

Emotional wellness is important in your team — focus on it, and you will have happier staff;

Create women empowering environments, so we can do our bit toward the empowerment of women!

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I think once your team gets larger, it’s crucial to put into place information streams and systems in place to keep organised. As for me, I am so basic when it comes to staying organised! I am a ‘to-do’ list kind of gal, and proud to say a huge multi tasker! I found earlier on that as my team grew, it was getting harder and harder to communicate. Because I really wanted to control my vision, it became obvious at one point that not having structure was damaging things. I learned the power of needing to delegate, as I tried to take on too much. I wanted to do everything myself and things began to fall through the cracks. I find that I am not stuck in the weeds, and can look over the company as a whole much better, which leads to a healthier environment and less turnaround of staff!

At work, I am a boss lady. When I get home, I switch gears and I am “mom” — and I absolutely love it. When I am out with my friends, boy do I enjoy it too!

As your team grows, it is important to remain approachable. We may not get time to hang around and talk for a long time to our team, but you certainly should have an open door policy for everyone to feel important and valued in the company. When the CEO of a company is a far distant memory, someone you just shook hands with for one minute, the commitment for the company may dwindle.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am blessed to have a strong support system and for that I am truly grateful. Everyone from my mother, sisters, children, friends and staff have played a part in making me believe I can do it. I believe in the cliche “it takes a village”, and there is a whole lineup of people in my life that I can say are helping me on my journey. My sisters who I can talk to in the middle of the night when I am stressed or need to talk, my husband who, despite also being very busy in his career, has always been there to support me and our children — always ready to do homework with our kids’ when needed! My mother who is my constant pillar of strength and wisdom, and my staff who are always giving it their best!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Even before starting Wink Brow Bar, I have always been into social empowerment. From a young age, both my mother and father told me that I was able to achieve anything I wanted to and gave me the “can do” attitude. I am grateful for that, given in our cultures, this is not something that is commonplace. On a trip to Pakistan once in my younger years, I noticed a girl around 5 years old carrying a tray into the living room of the house she worked in. I saw her look in her eyes when she saw the kids of the house playing with their toys — she looked so sad. That experience pretty much shaped my view for life. I realised that not everyone has what I had, and I always knew that no matter what I did, giving back would be an integral part of my life and business.

I currently sit on the committee of a charity that educates 27,000 girls in Pakistan, which I have done for over 10 years.

I am also a Lotus Circle Advisor for the Asia Foundation — a non -profit international development organisation that works across Asia in 18 countries, advancing the rights and opportunities for women through the women’s empowerment program. Most recently my husband and I are in the process of launching our own Embrowerment® foundation to help people achieve happiness and success in their lives, where we committed to give a portion of our profits to charitable organisations.

We also just partnered with Look Good Feel Better to donate 100% of our profits to them for the month of October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

It’s very satisfying and I hope as we grow we are able to just keep doing more and more!

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Delegate, even if you think you can do it better! When you have a passion, you sometimes feel like you know what is needed best. At one point in my business, I was going crazy trying to do everything because I really wanted it done the way I wanted to maintain the quality. It became too much to handle and with delegation and learning to let go, I realised it made things run smoother, and in the end and things worked out just fine!

Be yourself no matter who you meet — authenticity shines. I have made so many friends in the Industry, and like to think I try to be honest with people and it’s not always what they want to hear! One time I had an editor of a magazine who wanted me to bleach her eyebrows. Quite honestly I felt that it would not be that great for her. I told her in the nicest way possible, I could see the shock on her face. In the end though, we became good friends because she trusted me everytime!

Hire people who share your vision and do not babysit! I spent countless hours and days and years trying to coach people into being the best they could be for themselves and my company. In the end I realized that people need to try just as hard as you to get somewhere and at times you have to let go, even if you would have done everything for them.

Not giving up when things get tough. 2020 being the best example. We have just been through so much, but I am determined to get through it, despite it being so tough!

Know your business from the ground up! I enjoy talking to everyone in my company when I can. It’s so great to hear different perspectives and I really get a feel for the “real” company and what’s going on.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement. that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I know there are currently very important movements happening, and for that I am encouraged that we can make this world a better place. My personal movement if I could influence the world would be to inspire kindness and humanitarianism. It’s one of those things that sets the tone for everything. With people all over the world being worried about saying things in a certain way to each other, I think what’s most important is to dig deep into the layers of feelings and learning to tune into your instincts.

Can you please give us your favorite. “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

To be honest I think there are so many life lessons I’ve learned in the last decade, I wouldn’t know where to start. I think one that comes out to me is “everything in the universe is within you, ask all from yourself”. It’s a quote by Rumi and I think it has helped me to become a better person. I have become thick skinned because of it, and don’t get affected so much or take things so personally. It also gives me strength to believe that I can look inward and better myself everyday so I can help others.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Oprah. She is fascinating to me and I resonate with her philosophy in life. I tend to really think about life deeply at times, I believe in energy and I feel like she is one person that I would love to get alone in a room!

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