At first glance, beauty is a superficial industry, Alley Gage admitted, her reflection showing in a nearby mirror as she spoke about her decade-long career in cosmetics. The truth she’s learned about the industry — well, it’s a reality she isn’t willing to gloss over.
“I’ve always loved the concept that a tiny jar of something — or a tube of lipstick that you swipe on, could change how you felt,” Gage said, detailing her own, deeply personal experience with beauty.
“It gives you armor … a mask of confidence. You can fake it until you make it with makeup.”
Faking it, however, has another meaning for predators in the industry — the people and companies who want to capitalize on customers with low self-esteem, lack of knowledge, or those chasing the fountain of youth, she added, revealing her mission to unmask them through entrepreneurship.
“The beauty and cosmetic industry can get really frustrating. You can spend some serious coin trying to find [products that are] the winners and you end up with a lot of half-used stuff — nobody likes that,” Gage said, noting an alarming amount of professionals in the beauty industry don’t care to offer advice or guidance to those experiencing cosmetic struggles that leave their confidence shaken.
“In the beauty community, there’s a spirit of cattiness sometimes and intimidation and a little bit of anxiety,” she continued. “People don’t necessarily know what they need or know who to ask. They want help and they don’t know where to turn.”
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Earlier this year, Gage used experience gained working in Los Angeles to return home to Kansas City where she established a space in Midtown, offering Kansas Citians advice free of judgment and cosmetic con. She opened Alley Gage Beauty — a labor of glam, glitter, and giving back — as a studio space within an existing operation at 3100 Gillham Plaza.
“I want to be everyone’s beauty bestie,” she joked. “I want to help people. I want people to feel great.”
Gage’s goals are accomplished through services that include the likes of skincare and facials, makeup artistry, and private lessons that see her coaching clients on skincare dos and don’ts and providing tailored makeup and styling tips. The business is also one of only two beauty spots in the Kansas City area to stock dermatologist created skin care products by Dr. Dennis Gross — a major win for Gage on the entrepreneurial front, she noted, adding the New York City-based beauty brand saw great potential in the Kansas City market and what her business could accomplish within it.
“For me, the adventure of entrepreneurship is figuring out how to tap into the Midwestern person [and understand,] ‘Do you see the value in committing or investing in your own beauty routine or skillset and learning these things that make you feel empowered?’,” Gage explained.
“I wanted to come back to my roots and bring that knowledge and insight to a place that I really love. But makeup is not quite as up to speed here as it is in some of the other major cities,” she joked, noting she took time to really understand the needs of the market and figure out how to best plant her flag in the City of Fountains.
“On the coast, people are really ready to throw down some cash on a facial or a makeup artist. But here it’s a little different. I think we’re a little more conservative in that. And so figuring out how to make it marketable and something that people understand and see the investment in [takes time].”
By adding an educational approach to her work, Gage believes she can better reach Kansas Citians with her message and in turn innovate the beauty space as a whole, making it more valuable and removing age-old stigmas and stereotypes that surround it.
“When I started my career, I just wanted to be a makeup artist. I never realized I was good at teaching and training people and imparting knowledge,” she laughed. “I love giving away my wisdom and have over 10 years of experience doing that for people.”
A key part of doing so, she added, is making sure people know and love their authentic (and beautiful) self.
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“It doesn’t have to mean looking like me — I’m full glam all the time, but like that can look different for every person,” Gage said, referencing photos of Dolly Parton hanging throughout her space and the country music icon’s approach to beauty and self-love.
“I’ve loved her all my life because she breaks the mold of being super glamorous and beautiful … but also kind and sweet and generous. She is the best example of loving people,” she said, recalling her own upbringing in the metro and teenage flair for unconventional beauty choices.
Click here to read more about Gage’s love for Parton and thoughts on her role in reshaping the workplace in favor of women.
“I don’t think people always understood me having a purple smokey eye when I was in high school,” Gage laughed, noting additional sources of inspiration include entertainers Trixie Mattel and Kesha, as well as the unconditional acceptance she’s experienced from the LGBTQIA+ community.
“I don’t care who you are. I just want you to come in here and feel like I’m your friend and like I’m here to do what’s best for you. I’m here to make you comfortable and I’m here to send you back out into the world feeling like you are dynamite. … I’m excited to offer that to this area,” she said.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.