Most children of Indian immigrants know that when it comes to choosing a career path — one that gives parents lifelong bragging rights — there are really only two acceptable options: doctor or engineer. Stray from this and you better be prepared to prove yourself over and over again.
Deepica Mutyala is no stranger to this. At age 16, she told her parents she wanted to create her own makeup brand for people “who look like us.”
“They were like, ‘OK, great. Go study for the SATs,'" Mutyala told TODAY. "They saw it as like a cute hobby.”
At 32, Mutyala has more than made good on her hobby. She is the founder and CEO of Live Tinted, a beauty brand and digital platform focused on multicultural beauty. One of Live Tinted’s main goals is inclusivity — to serve “every shade in between” by creating products for people underrepresented in the beauty industry. It’s a philosophy Mutyala has espoused ever since her own childhood experience of feeling like an outsider.
As a brown-skinned, dark-haired teenager growing up in Sugar Land, Texas, Mutyala was surrounded by a beauty ideal she didn’t fit into. “It was a world where blond hair and blue eyes was all around me and I would walk down the makeup aisle and I would turn on the TV and see the exact same standard of beauty across the board,” said Mutyala, who admits she used to put blond highlights in her hair and sometimes wore blue contacts to defy her Indian heritage.
Any way that I can spotlight our culture, it’s important to me that I do.
“I think back to the decisions I made in high school … because I wanted the cool white boy to like me or I wanted the cool girl at the lunch table to let me sit next to her. And I would go home crying because a lot of times they didn’t,” Mutyala said. Eventually, she had an epiphany: “I’m going to be the person who changes this narrative. And so, yeah, everything I did from that point to now is to launch this brand.”
Viral video leads to leaving corporate America
After graduating from the University of Texas with a business marketing degree, Mutyala headed to New York City for an internship with L’Oreal. She says it was another way of making her career choice palatable to her parents. She knew they would not understand her working as a makeup artist or wanting to start a makeup brand. “But, working for the largest beauty company in the world, which happens to be a Fortune 500 company? L’Oreal was something … they could feel comfortable knowing that their daughter was doing. So that’s kind of how I played it,” Mutyala said.
I do have a seat at many tables I'd never expected to, and I do what I can with that seat ... I feel this responsibility to elevate and amplify all of our voices.
After the internship, L’Oreal didn't offer her a job. An opportunity at Limited Brands was also short-lived. The rejections fueled Mutyala’s motivation. “L’Oreal told me I wasn’t a strong marketer. Victoria’s Secret told me I didn’t understand beauty trends," she recalled. "So then I just had to keep pivoting from these big companies that told me I wasn’t supposed to do what I knew I was meant to do.”
In 2015, Mutyala made a YouTube video that went viral and led to an appearance on TODAY. The video showed her demonstrating a beauty hack using red lipstick to color-correct dark pigmentation under the eyes. (It’s the magic of science! Applying the bright red color neutralizes the dark color you want to cover.)
The video, which today has amassed nearly 11 million views, gave Mutyala the courage to quit her corporate job (she was then at Birchbox) to be a You Tube influencer, which also got her repeat appearances on TODAY as a beauty expert.
“The TODAY show thing was really great for me because telling my parents I was going to be a YouTuber made negative sense, but being able to say I’m on television — again, bragging rights to the aunties and uncles — gave them (a feeling) she’s going to be OK, it looks like she is doing fine. She’s on TV,” Mutyala said.
Making products that tell a 'cultural narrative'
In 2018, Mutyala launched Live Tinted as a digital platform where women of color could share their voices and stories of beauty, culture and identity. Creating beauty products was always the goal, and a year later, the Huestick was born, based on the Live Tinted community's feedback that their No. 1 beauty issue was dealing with hyperpigmentation.
The Huestick is described on the company website as “an eye, lip and cheek multistick that balances dark circles, dark spots and hyper-pigmentation.” The orangey-red Huestick, named Origin, is ultimately an homage to Mutyala’s red lipstick viral video, since it works in the same way. As Live Tinted’s CEO, Mutyala raised $3 million from investors, one of whom is famed beauty mogul Bobbi Brown.
Live Tinted has continued to introduce new products — there are now Huesticks in 12 shades — and all of them are inspired to tell some kind of cultural narrative. The Legacy hue stick (in black) is a nod to kajal, the creamy black powder Indian women have historically used to line their eyes. Hueguard is a mineral SPF 30 moisturizer but has its own cultural nod: It blends into dark skin and doesn’t leave a white cast. (If you’re a woman of color, you know how hard it is to find sunscreen that accomplishes this.)
The Free hue stick (in bright berry) is Live Tinted’s brightest creation so far and it reminds Mutyala of the Indian festival of colors, Holi.
“We call it ‘Free’ because I felt like wearing a bright, vibrant color on our skin tone made me feel free with who I am,” Mutyala said. “Any way that I can spotlight our culture, it’s important to me that I do.”
Success in the boardroom leads to ... a Barbie
Mutyala no longer worries about her career path. In the past year, she was named to Time’s 2022 list of Next Generation Leaders and received a 2022 Female Founder Award from CEW (Cosmetic Executive Women). She co-hosted — with Mindy Kaling — a Diwali Hollywood party attended by the who’s who of South Asian celebrities, including Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Lilly Singh and Meena Harris. And Mattel created its first South Asian CEO Barbie in her likeness. (The doll channels Mutyala's style, wearing a red power pantsuit with Indian jhumka earrings and bangles.)
To finally be a player in an industry that does not have a lot of multicultural representation is something Mutyala says she doesn't take lightly.
"I do have a seat at many tables I'd never expected to, and I do what I can with that seat," she said. "Those tables, those platforms are where I feel this responsibility to elevate and amplify all of our voices."
If you watch any of the videos Mutyala shares on social media of her parents, Raja and Padmasri Mutyala, it's clear they are good in the bragging rights department. In one Instagram post, they are excited to see a Live Tinted display in an Ulta Beauty store for the first time. Mutyala's caption for the post: "It's the immigrant parents' pride for me."
Mutyala, too, is proud of what she has accomplished and has plenty of advice for her 16-year-old self.
"I would say be kind to yourself ... the sooner you realize the unique features of you are and what make you beautiful, the sooner you will find happiness with yourself and impact the world," Mutyala said.
"I feel like the second that I was like — 'I love my big eyes, my bold brows ... my hyperpigmentation is who I am' — I was then able to create this brand that centers around all of it. And I wish I knew that at that age, but the big goal of Live Tinted is to hopefully make it so that the next generation of young people don't go through that."