Makeup by Kelli Anne Makes Its Mark on the Beauty Industry
Kelli Anne Sewell on taking her makeup career from Austin to NYC, with 120,000 Instagram followers in tow
By Avery Tanner
Photos courtesy of Makeup by Kelli Anne
A former Austinite and current New Yorker, makeup artist Kelli Anne Sewell is creating her own way in the beauty world — to the tune of more than 120,000 Instagram followers.
After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, Sewell started working in sales at Oracle and quickly learned that corporate life was not for her. She needed a creative outlet. Enter @makeupxka.
Sewell had loved makeup from a young age when she danced competitively and had to wear performance-ready makeup. When she wanted a hobby to express her creativity, makeup became the answer.
She started inviting friends over to do their makeup and posting their looks on her Instagram. “I’d tell them, ‘’We’re going to do a photoshoot,’ and I would do all of their makeup for free then post it because I wanted to get hired,” says Sewell. “It just snowballed from there.”
As she gained more followers, Sewell started working with brides for their weddings, but realized she wanted a more consistent, loyal experience with clients. “I don’t like when makeup feels transactional,” she explains. “It can be a special one-on-one project so I went after the clientele that I wanted relationships with.”
She started sending direct messages to well-known Austin influencers and celebrities, including Courtney Shields, Emily Herren and Becca Tobin. When she first worked with Shields, her follower count grew by more than 10,000 practically overnight.
“The second you get in with one person that has an audience, the more people start to see you, and the more you grow,” says Sewell. “Austin has a really nice bubble of women entrepreneurs. I just wanted to do their makeup.”
Sewell describes her signature look for herself and clients as “natural glowy glam,” something that makes people feel like themselves, but elevated.
On top of being a makeup artist, Sewell has become a content creator, or “influencer,” and takes her connection with her followers seriously. She thinks of her followers as her friends and feels a responsibility to only recommend products she truly loves and give advice that will actually help.
“Influencing is half of my job here, but I’m very much in the service industry, and when I go do a makeup service for someone, I’m in the back seat and the customer is always right,” says Sewell. “Having that perspective and experience always checks me back to remembering who I really am and that it’s important to be a good person.”
Her website is home to a myriad of resources, including four class packages that she recommends to anyone looking to learn more about makeup. Back to Basics is meant for the person who has no idea where to start or has a few beauty products and doesn’t know how to use them. She created this class, which has become her most popular, to answer the frequently asked questions she gets daily, like “How do I figure out my undertones?” or “How do I apply concealer?”
Taking these classes feels like having a one-on-one interaction with the makeup maven herself, as you learn techniques straight from the source. Her top tips include making sure your skin is prepped and moisturized before applying any makeup products and doing your makeup in natural lighting.
Her career highlights include working with celebrity makeup artist Patrick Ta in assisting with Camila Cabello’s makeup and creating looks for celebrities going on television shows, including “Watch What Happens Live” and “The Today Show.”
Sewell also points to a formative experience with influencer and blogger Camila Coelho, who has more than 9 million followers on Instagram. Sewell was invited on a trip to celebrate Coelho’s beauty brand, Elaluz, so she went out on a limb and sent Coelho a voice message asking to do her makeup. They ended up working together on that trip, and again during New York Fashion Week.
“Being around someone like that who’s so successful and so humble is exactly what I have dreamed of,” says Sewell. “To have a client like Camila who’s amazing, treats everyone incredibly well and to just create beautiful stuff together — that’s what I’ve prayed about.”
A bold entrepreneurial spirit is what sets Sewell apart. She has always been independent, and her experience in sales taught her that she did not want to be a replaceable employee at a corporate company, but someone who calls her own shots.
“I always seek to feel very empowered and I feel the best when I’m just on top of my stuff, getting it done for myself,” she explains. “I don’t feel any different than I was a year ago, because I’m not. There’s just more eyes on me.”
Although Sewell now lives in New York City, Austin is still home in many ways. “I find myself coming back to Austin so often just because I have space here, I have friends here. Sometimes, you have to take a break and relax. I get why so many people are moving to Austin!”
Her parents and many of her friends still live in Austin, so visiting is a priority. When she’s back, you can find her with a Knockout Martini and Bob Armstrong Dip at Matt’s El Rancho, or relaxing with her parents, who moved from the Houston area to Austin while Kelli Anne was a student at UT.
“Austin is the place where I changed careers. It really changed my life. I just feel so nostalgic and emotional about it,” says Sewell.
She speaks fondly of all that Austin taught her, although New York is her home base for now.
“The way I treat people and view relationships stems from Austin. I’ll never take that for granted, and I love coming back to that,” explains Sewell. “New York could use a little Texas kindness.”
With all of this success, Sewell is hopeful for what’s to come. Things on her goal list include sharing her online classes more efficiently, holding an in-person makeup class and one day having her very own beauty line. Although she admits to having dream clients like Kylie Jenner and Jennifer Lopez, she explains that her true dream client is someone she can grow with in popularity.
“My dream client is someone who I’ll meet when we’re at the right point in our career paths,” says Sewell. “Whoever that person is at that time, it’s going to be a moment.”
At the end of the day, Sewell is dedicated to making her in-person clients and online friends feel confident, while pursuing a career that pushes her creativity and empowers her independence.
“I’m determined to make every person feel like themselves, but a little enhanced, and I will do whatever it takes to make them feel that way. I just want people to leave me and think, ‘I feel so good.’”