Austin's Courtney Shields embraces personal beauty with new makeup line DIBS
Courtney Shields grew up looking different from her idols or her friends. The 1990s were a time of popular blondes — Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, the Olsen twins.
They were her beauty icons.
The fourth-generation Lebanese American had darker skin and curly dark brown hair that she tried to straighten.
With adulthood and confidence, the 32-year-old Austinite learned to start embracing her features and "stop trying to look like anyone else."
She created the Courtney Shields brand on Instagram and her website, CourtneyShields.com. She started by dishing out advice on makeup and how to enhance your best features, and then layered on more and more lifestyle topics.
Now Shields has launched her own makeup line, DIBS, which stands for Desert Island Beauty Status. They are the products you would want to take with you on a desert island, Shields says, the products that "give you unbothered confidence."
'Makeup is art on the face'
Shields was born in Manhattan but moved to Austin as an infant. Growing up, she was into sports and music. She played lacrosse and volleyball, but also remembers as early as fifth grade doing friends' makeup and hair.
The 2006 Westlake High School graduate was the girl braiding all her teammates' hair on the bus on the way to the volleyball game. She did other people's makeup during art class. After all, she says, "makeup is art on the face."
In high school, she was the girl who was comfortable being on the sidelines. She lacked confidence.
"I didn't know who I was," she says.
Shields planned to be a musician. She went to Berklee College of Music in Boston and graduated in 2014.
She thought she would play music and write songs, but she realized "I didn't want that lifestyle," she says. "I didn't want to be up until 4 a.m. on a Tuesday."
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'I gave myself permission to change my mind'
She found her confidence in her 20s, when she says, "for the first time, I gave myself permission to change my mind."
She realized that she loved helping women feel more beautiful, but didn't know how could she do that on a bigger scale and turn it into a career.
She worked at Nordstrom's makeup counter and thought she could be a celebrity makeup artist.
She's self-taught, which she says "is the new way of the world."
For years, she had been offering beauty advice to friends and then friends of friends, often by long group texts. Her circle of influence began expanding.
Women would ask her what to wear or which makeup products to use. What people wanted, she says, was a beauty prescription: what to buy and how to use it.
She turned what she was doing by text into a website seven years ago, offering personal beauty advice and showing ways to use new products.
She focused on quality of her posts, not quantity, and putting her authentic self into it.
Having her daughter, Kinsley, four years ago gave her another way to relate to her audience, she says.
She didn't make any money from the website during the first two years. She taught music lessons to kids to pay the rent.
"I never had a viral moment," she says. "It was slow and steady for a long time."
Creating her own makeup line was an unexpected experience for Shields. She had been trying dozens of beauty products each year.
"Unless you're adding something to people's life, you shouldn't do a new brand," Shields says.
Then she was approached by DIBS co-founder and CEO Jeff Lee, who had done product brands for baseball star Alex Rodriguez and musician/actress Jennifer Lopez.
"I've always been a person who tried anything," she says.
They spent a year meeting by Zoom creating DIBS.
"We weren't going to be like other beauty brands," Lee says.
All of Shields' ideas are in a series of black spiral notebooks with thick paper and written in thin Sharpie black ink.
For her line, she wanted something that was high quality. DIBS' uses mango seed butter as its base with additional oils including avocado and jojoba. Vanilla is used for the fragrance. DIBS' products are vegan and allergy tested.
Shields says while she never really thought about the ingredients she was putting on her face, she began thinking about the ingredients her daughter would be touching every time she held her or played with her.
They hired known product developers, and they own their formulas and the equipment used to make the their line, which they say sets DIBS apart.
"We didn't want to do it unless it was perfect," Shields says.
Launching and selling out products
DIBS launched with two products: The Status Stick, $32, in bronze, gold and champagne, can be used as a highlighter, foundation or redness reducer all over the body. The Desert Island Duo, $32, has a bronzer on one end and a blush on the other end and has six color combinations. It can be used on the eyes and lips. All of it can be layered and blended to create unique tones.
They come in stick form, which makes them compact and easy for travel. They've been tested at extreme temperatures, including Texas heat, and extreme cold to make sure they don't melt or break.
The founders say they knew they had something when each of their mothers, who don't often wear makeup, liked the products. Shields' mother tried to steal it. Lee's mother used a duo stick as lipstick.
Within hours of launching on Sept. 15, DIBS had sold out of three shades of its products. DIBS is sold online at DIBSBeauty.com.
"We had hopes, but this is incredible," Lee says.
DIBS is trying to reach an eclectic group of women and features women of different skin tones using the products on the website.
People also have sent selfies to Shields, and she's offered tips on which sticks and duos to use, but she says it's about playing and creating your own look.
"It works on everyone's face and body," Shields says.