Rose: Can you share a little bit about your background?
Azra: I was born and raised in Bosnia and moved to the US when I was twenty years old, following the Bosnian war. Growing up I was just like any other kid—I played outside, rode my BMX bike, and was obsessed with my VCR. The war stripped all of this away and changed my life completely. My family became refugees, living life day by day, trying to find shelters where my mom, dad, sister, and I could all stay together—what mattered most was being together as a family. I’m incredibly close to them and the bond we have through this experience together has always meant so much to me.
Experiencing all of this at a young age shaped the person I am today. I appreciate everything I have. I am flexible in my approach, I pay close attention to what matters in my life, and when things don’t go as planned or as well I imagined they would go, I let it be; I don’t dwell, I enjoy what is there.
How did you find your way to becoming a makeup artist?
While I was studying Fashion Design and Art History in Michigan, I was an intern for a photographer who owned an art, luxury, and design magazine in Detroit. He always commented on my hair and makeup, and one day he took a chance on me and asked me to do the hair and makeup for the models whose comp cards he was shooting—I have always been thankful for that opportunity. In fact, he and his girlfriend gifted me my first set of brushes. That’s how everything started for me. Once I graduated I pursued being a makeup artist instead of going into fashion design. I love to paint and be creative, being a makeup artist allows me to be more of who I really am—it always felt very natural and organic for me.
The beauty industry is competitive and challenging, oftentimes it moves at an unsustainable pace. How do you find balance?
Being a young artist in New York is extremely competitive. At the beginning of my career I assisted amazing hair and makeup artists in the industry and saw glimpses of their lives working everyday for consecutive weeks at a time. At first it was difficult to find a balance. I took every job I could and worked on overdrive, but after experiencing a period of stress and being overworked I made a promise to myself that no matter how much I love what I do, I would not run myself into the ground that way again, that I would always try to maintain a balance in my life.
As a makeup artist, I am responsible for a lot of the energy while on set, so it’s important that the energy I emit is calming. Maintaining a balance in my life that allows time for myself, for travel, to spend time with family, and friends—it adds another layer of value to my work through the energy I create and carry with me. It allows me to look at my work through the lens of ‘Let’s make this fun’ instead of fueling that frenetic energy and stress that can easily overpower the work environment. Being a makeup artist is inherently creative and fun, so it’s important that I am able to embody this light hearted spirit whenever I show up.
Is there a guiding philosophy from your childhood that shaped your focus on sustainability and love for nature?
Growing up, my grandparents took care of me while my parents were at work. They had a cottage, just outside of the small town that we lived in, that had a garden where my grandpa, who was a beekeeper, tended to his beehives. I loved being around my grandpa all the time. He did everything with a smile, no matter how hard the situation was, he always found lightness and cracked jokes. We picked wild mushrooms in the woods, made honey from the bees, and we helped my grandma in the garden. I learned directly from this environment; nature was my classroom, I learned about bees, how honey is made, about the different types of plants in the garden and how to take care of them and the animals that surrounded us. I spent most of my childhood in that garden, in nature and being connected to it.
You created a brand that is born with mindfulness for the earth and our bodies. How did Terra and Co. come to be?
My sister, Amra, thought of the idea while she was pregnant when she learned about the numerous chemicals and ingredients in most tubes of toothpaste that warranted warning labels. The types of sustainable products that were available in the oral care industry, as a whole, was quite limited at the time and it lacked innovation on something that we all use daily. We decided to take this on with Terra and Co. and the first product we created was charcoal toothpaste made with safe and clean ingredients.
How has creating this brand transformed you?
I’ve been in the beauty industry for over eleven years. While this has always been my passion, to be able to create something with my sister has been a new and exciting adventure! As industry leaders, we are constantly thinking of new ways to expand our product offerings through research and innovation, instead of just following what’s currently out there. Since we were offering something new in the industry, we had to create everything from scratch for each part of the business.
Creating a brand has completely changed and challenged the way that I use my mind. It’s transformed me from being just a creative to being a business leader, an innovator, and a brand builder. I’ve been able to flourish as a creative and as a business woman by creating a platform and having a team of people all working towards the same goal; all of which allows me to accomplish more than I could on my own. If someone told me five years ago that I would have an oral care brand, I would have thought it was silly. I never would have thought that this would be part of my journey.
One of Terra and Co.’s missions is supporting organizations in your community. Why is it important for you to not only create products with a purpose, but to also give back?
Giving back and making an impact on communities is a huge part of our Terra and Co’s mission and is tied to our personal story. From the start, we made it one of our priorities to work with organizations that empower women and partnered with the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles and as our company grows, our work with them continues to expand.
We lived through the Bosnian War in the nineties as kids. We were under siege in Sarajevo for four years without water, electricity, or food. We know that the reason we are here in the US, why we made it while so many of our friends lost their lives, is because of the help we received along the way. Humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross, the Soros Foundation and UNICEF were so important for us growing up; providing us with an education, clothes, and food. Through the help we received we were able to have a second chance in life, come to the US, get an education, and now have jobs we never dreamed of. It is important for the both of us to use all that we’ve earned and worked for with this second chance and create something that would make a difference, and to pay it forward.
What have you learned in the process?
Patience with myself, with others, and with the process. If something isn’t working right away or matching my expectations, I’ve learned how valuable it is to take a deep breath, take a step back, and come back to it with a clear mind—things will naturally work themselves out.
On listening to your intuition…
My intuition is connected to my roots, my lineage, and my grandpa. There’s a funny story that I think ties back to all of this that happened last year. I planted some flowers at my boyfriend’s house upstate where we spend our weekends. One day while I was watering the plants, I was thinking of how happy my grandpa would be to know that I have a way to escape the city the same way he and my grandma escaped their small town to their cottage in the woods. Having the opportunity to go upstate on the weekends to be in nature, to this house in the woods, brought that connection full circle. As I watered the flowers thinking about my grandpa, a queen bee landed on the flower I was watering. Queen bee was my Grandpa’s nickname for me growing up. I stood there frozen surrounded by his presence. I felt like he was there with me, and felt how proud he is of me. I was filled with so many emotions.
"It’s allowing the energy and positive influence of those around me to guide and teach me along the way, recognizing that all of this contributes to my success and creativity."
Is there a core principle that guides you?
Adopting my dog Belly eight years ago changed my life. She’s given me the perspective to live my life in the present. Dog’s aren’t worried or anxious about the future and they aren’t attached to the past, all they know is the present, the moment they are in. Having Belly has given me the mindset to enjoy my life, where I am living fully in the present.
What does success mean to you?
Happiness. It is the idea that I can create something and enjoy the beauty of it. It’s allowing the energy and positive influence of those around me to guide and teach me along the way and recognizing that all of this contributes to my success and creativity.
How do you find ways to continue to push your growth?
Whenever I feel too comfortable, it means that I’m not growing so I always think of new ways to push myself to see what’s possible. Exploring was always part of my childhood, while in nature with my grandpa and being forced to do so because of the war. I find ways to explore and push my comfort through my travels, by experiencing different events like Burning Man, going to Ayahuasca retreats upstate, and through meeting other people. It’s these moments where the spirit of adventure lies, where the magic happens that energizes me and gives me the drive to do more and live.
Who inspires you?
My dog Belly (laughs), my friends, my family, and my cousins who are like sisters to me. There’s also a close group of women I am surrounded by who I connect with daily, on some level in our chat group, where we share our ideas and words with each other. We all have different backgrounds and perspectives and we challenge ourselves and each other’s point of view with the utmost respect; they truly inspire me. We support each other and I know they are there whenever I need them. They are strong women who are connected to who they are, their families, communities, and they are a source of joy in my life.
What do you think is next for you?
Continue to work with my sister on growing our brand and expanding our vision of working with communities in need. We have a foundation that allows us to work with women and children in need and it gives me purpose and moves me forward each day. It creates this energy, this empowerment and drive of wanting to do more because I can see our goals clearly.
Chasing Sunshine is defined as a state of being; an embodiment of courage, grace and joy. How does this manifest this in your life?
Listening to my intuition, following it, and being more in tune with my true self. It has guided me to moments of growth by nudging me to step out of my comfort zone and has given me the insight to know that it’s the moments along the journey that are my sunshine.
Is there an image that immediately comes to mind that encompasses chasing sunshine for you?
I was in a taxi on the way to the airport in Morocco when we passed by this tree filled with goats. We were already running late, but I asked the taxi driver to immediately stop. Something from within just told me to get closer to them and be in the moment. I got out of the taxi, started walking on this desert terrain towards the tree with the goats, and as I got closer this baby goat ran towards me. I put my hand down as I would have done with my dog Belly, and the goat nudged my hand wanting me to pick her up like a baby. When I did, she placed her head on my shoulder and neck, and it was this moment where I felt like I had to be there, to do this, and I knew the baby goat felt the same. It was just such a beautiful precious moment. If I didn’t follow my intuition, this moment would have been missed.
Words for those who are in the midst of self-discovery and in pursuit of their sunshine.
Step out of your comfort zone as much as you can in big and small ways. Give yourself a chance to be able to grow. Open yourself to ideas and ways of thinking that make you excited about life.