Cosmetics Picasso


A trip to Bunnings will never be the same for Indigenous entrepreneur Shahna Smith, 24, founder and CEO of Amplified Beauty Australia.
Key Takeaways
  • International interest, with buyers keen to launch Amplified Beauty products globally
  • Indigenous-founded cosmetics business is one of the first to be in market
  • Hustle, drive, and funding from Indigenous Business Australia helped make dream a reality
Shahna Smith CEO of Amplified Beauty pulling her hair off her face
Shahna Smith, CEO at Amplified Beauty; Makeup artist Lucy Smith created this look | Image source: Supplied

Shahna Smith, founder of Amplified Beauty, could not quite produce the colour she wanted for her latest shades of lipsticks. She was in Adelaide; her lab was in Queensland. What could she do?

“I went to Bunnings. I said, I’m not your regular customer. I’m not painting my house today, but I am starting a cosmetics line, can you help me? I want to mix paints, undertones.

“The guy at Bunnings was amazing. He knew the undertones I could mix. He knew the theory. He said, I’ll be your Picasso. I said, Let’s go Picasso, we’ve got work to do.

“It took a few hours, but I got my shades. The only one I didn’t do at Bunnings was the Tracey [created in honour of her mother]. For the Tracey, I had inspiration from a dress. I saw it and said: That’s the orange.”

Smith is determined to get things right. Born in Broken Hill, Smith’s mother named the company two weeks before she passed away and she credits losing her mum at 16 as the experience that drives her to reach her goals.

“I told Mum when I was about 14 that I was going to run an empire one day,” she recalls.

“By the time she got sick I asked her to name the company and she said, Amplified Beauty. I registered the business name with no idea where I was going to take it and she passed away two weeks later. I left school to work four jobs. Dad wasn’t in the picture and my sister lived in Adelaide. I had house payments and electricity bills and I was 16.

“I got my first fulltime job at a shoe store, waitressed at night and in lunch breaks and at night I would do spray tans. That was my (first) own business. I was at Best & Less on the weekends as a casual.

“I just hustle, hustled and saved. I had enough to move to Melbourne by the time I was 17. I did my diploma at Academy of Makeup, South Yarra. Three months later I worked for Sephora. I progressed through three positions in six months. I flourished in Melbourne,” Smith says.

She moved to Adelaide and started her own makeup artistry business at 18.

“It was hard. I had to work for free. I got photo content in return for my work and built a name for myself. I was showcasing everything I could do, including special effects, and I built my clientele.”

By 2019, a relationship breakdown meant she was couch surfing, while working fulltime at Westpac. When lockdowns hit as the covid pandemic took over the country, Smith turned to creating product and developing the Amplified Beauty business.

Amplified Beauty lipsticks
Amplified Beauty products | Image source: Supplied

“I worked full time, while building this business. I started getting samples and within a year I had my own apartment, I was back on my feet.”

Her big dreams made her decide to ask for help and she went looking for financial backing.

“I had never used my Indigenous background to get help, but I thought I would ask. I rang Indigenous Business Australia and Natalie Fishlock answered. She said I’d need a five-year business plan and I said, I’ve already got one. I was 22 and she wanted to meet me.

“I had huge folders that I slid across the table. I said, This is my research. I’m in the industry. I know the gaps. Diversity and inclusion is a huge issue. I have a lot of technology. I need $100,000.”

Indigenous Business Australia suggested two mentors in Melbourne that they organised for Smith to work with.

“We didn’t change a thing. They validated me and if anything, we increased the price.

“I signed with Indigenous Business Australia about 12 months later and that kick started everything. I quit my fulltime job. My dreams were coming true and on Valentine’s Day this year 2022 is when we launched.”

Since then, so much has happened, Smith says. Exhibiting at Beauty Expo Australia in Sydney in August brought interest from Canada, the Netherlands and there is potential to distribute to Japan.

Smith has been selected to attend the World Indigenous Business Forum in Colombia in late October.

She visits schools to talk to students to empower and encourage them to follow their dreams, with the understanding that while things might be difficult for them at school or home, it is worth the effort to try.

“I also do #WokeWednesday on social media. One Wednesday a month, I shed light on issues that women have around the world … for example, endometriosis. We want women and girls to come to the platform and feel they have a voice. I’ve decided to be the controversial brand and do it for them.”

She believes that ideas around what is a business and who can run a business are shifting.

“You need drive and you need to back yourself.”

– Shahna Smith, Amplified Beauty

“There are so many stigmas around being a female CEO, but a CEO can look like anything. I have large investors and it’s a government business and I have meetings with people in suits, but I am a strong character, and I will put myself forward.

“Authenticity will always shine brighter. You need to be strategic, but you need to be yourself.

“Keep learning. Sometimes, things don’t go to plan. Sometimes, you have to make really hard decisions,” she says.

“I’m only learning about my Indigenous background now. I wasn’t traditionally grown up like that. What I am learning is there is a stereotype of Aboriginal brands, and I am breaking it. They expect earthy tones and the black, white, yellow and red, with some white and browns. We don’t have to be that. We don’t have to be earthy all the time. We want to break the stereotype.

“I’ve found some incredible Indigenous brands and I’m building a subscription box that I am launching in October. It’s just not Amplified Beauty. I’m helping other brands. I want to help other companies, other brands.”

Smith’s enthusiastic advice for anyone wanting to start their own business: “You need drive and you need to back yourself.”

Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to own a home, start or grow a business, and invest in their future. Sean Armistead, Executive Director at IBA, talks about the impact of investing in First Nations people.

“Our vision is for a nation in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are economically independent and an integral part of the economy – and we all have a part to play in this outcome.

“Strengthening the First Nations business sector will build a better future for all of Australia. Entrepreneurship and business skills provide a clear path to achieving economic independence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We know that First Nations businesses hire and work with their community which further expands their financial success.

“From the big ideas through to making them happen, IBA can provide the right mix of support that entrepreneurs and business owners seek.

“Together, we look at the resources and assistance they need to reach their business goals. This could involve anything from assessing a business idea to chatting about capabilities, personal attributes, their research and the steps already taken.

“Our Business Solutions team work with an entrepreneur or business owner to review where they are at in their journey so we can see how to best support them – and most of the time that’s not just with finance.

“IBA provide a variety of business essentials workshops, as well as capability building resources in addition to our finance support like our Start-Up Finance Package, Invoice Finance, and Performance Bonds.

“Shahna presented a well-researched and strategised plan. She had done a significant amount of work around her market opportunity, the gaps and her vision for building the business. IBA worked with her to validate and question her assumptions around all aspects of her business plan before considering finance.

“Like any business, there are mistakes along the way, however Shahna continues to develop and learn as a business owner and operator – her drive, enthusiasm, and willingness to develop and learn all illustrated her to be truly entrepreneurial. She is a determined and hardworking individual, and that will only help her succeed.

“It’s not always easy, in fact running your own business is hard work, but put in the work, and IBA is here to help.”

Statistics for FY 2021-22
  • $68 million invested into business finance
  • 250 business customers financed
  • $1.35 million in value of business support
  • 529 customers provided with business support
  • Breakdown of industries of business finance provided:
    • 22.4% Construction
    • 14.0% Other Services
    • 10.0% Retail Trade
    • 7.6% Accommodation & Food Services
    • 7.2% Transport, Postal & Warehousing
    • 6.0% Education & Training
    • 5.6% Information Media & Telecommunications     
    • 4.4% Manufacturing      
    • 4.0% Mining     
    • 4.0% Professional, Scientific & Technical Services          
    • 3.6% Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing             
    • 3.6% Administrative & Support Services             
    • 2.8% Health Care & Social Assistance             
    • 2.8% Arts & Recreation Services
    • 2.0% Rental, Hiring & Real Estate Services