Microblading is here to stay and Filipino expat Edson Gonzales has turned it into a profitable business.
Edson Gonzales just came back from a holiday, but he was already busy fending off negative reviews online. When I pointed out the negative Google reviews during the interview, he heaved a deep sigh. “Those are fake. I already had one removed and my lawyer sent a demand letter for the others. I suspect that this is from someone I had a tiff with.”
Like any entrepreneur with an online presence, Edson’s Eyebrow Lab Amsterdam is not safe from negative reviews, and fake ones. But through the years, he has learned to ignore the negativity and channel his energy into running the business. That’s why it is no surprise that he was able to survive even the most trying times, including the closure of businesses in the Netherlands due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Gonzales’ life story is a familiar one. He came to Amsterdam as a tourist in 2009 but when his visa expired, his relatives convinced him to stay. He cleaned hotel rooms to earn money, while also dabbling as a make-up artist on the side, the career that he left when he migrated.
He never thought he would become undocumented. In 2014, he went back to the Philippines to apply for another visa, unsure whether he could still come back to the Netherlands. He was granted the proper papers and years later, became an entrepreneur.
“All I wanted to do was earn and do the things that I love,” he declared.
Eyebrow Lab Amsterdam is a clinic specializing in eyebrow microblading, skin rejuvenation and tattoo removal. Located a stone’s throw away from the Amsterdam Central Station, clients come all the way from Switzerland and United Kingdom to avail themselves of his services.
Choosing his own way
Any entrepreneur who needs to take up a lease in any of Amsterdam’s expensive property market knows the burden of exorbitant rent. Monthly rates for small business studio usually start at €2,000 and it takes a good business model to cough up such amount monthly.
But Gonzales did not have to go to the bank or borrow money to pool in a capital for his business. He used the savings he earned from working in a bed and breakfast and microblading gigs to buy materials and pay the deposit and rent for his clinic amounting to more than €5,000. His confidence in the sustainability of his business model made him less worried about revenues.
But his resolve to go on his own was not easy, partly because of his Filipino values of loyalty. Despite already earning a good income and building up a client base from his microblading gigs, Gonzales was also working as a manager for a bed and breakfast owned by a good friend. He was confronted by the guilt of utang na loob, of leaving the people who helped him build a life in the Netherlands.
“It took me two years to quit (my job). It was difficult to leave a job that you had learned to love for a decade, especially when you’re the one they are relying on. They helped me and then suddenly I was going to leave them. So, my biggest challenge was overcoming that guilt, that loyalty. But my heart was not there anymore, so I started making mistakes, and they thought I was not interested anymore. Eventually they let me go,” he narrated.
Learning the skills of micro blading
Gonzales discovered microblading in 2016. But to be able to enroll in a professional training academy, he needed €2,300, an amount he didn’t have at that time. To gain experience, he followed training videos online and practiced on his friends. After six months, he was able to save enough to pay the tuition fee at Elite Beauty Academy, a UK-based microblading and dermo plasma training school.
After completing his training and getting certified, Gonzales offered his expertise to Clinic 63, a high-end aesthetic clinic in Amsterdam, as an additional service to their beauty treatments. He worked on commission and started to build his client base.
In 2018, he scoured the city for a good location and saw a good opportunity when the ground floor of the multi-level canal house in Amsterdam Centrum, where he lives, became available.
To be able to afford the rent in the beginning, he partnered with Groupon, a popular discount website for goods and services.
“I was already earning €200 per client at Clinic 63 but I was worried how to sustain the rent in my own clinic. So, I went to Groupon to get more clients. But working with Groupon is difficult. They give you too many clients for a minimum price. They sold my services for €80, and I only got €40, and they gave me 300 clients. I was working like a horse, and the quality of my work was getting compromised because I had to work fast all the time.”
He hired a Dutch marketing company to get his name across a broader client group through Facebook and Instagram, and eventually managed to get the clients that he wanted.
He also needed to improve his Dutch and work on his accent to effectively communicate with his clients, especially when explaining the technicalities of the procedure.
Microblading is a form of semi-permanent tattooing where a specialist draws a tiny brow hair using a needle and ink to create a thick superficial eyebrow, drawn according to a client’s request. The technique is very delicate because the artist must be careful not to cut too deep in the eyebrow skin to avoid leaving scars but not too shallow that it will be erased easily. The pressure on the artist hand can also influence the final color of the eyebrows. Micro-bladed eyebrows can last up to two years with regular touch ups, so it is a popular choice for women who don’t want to draw their eyebrows every day.
Microblading has been around for 25 years, but it only started to get mainstream in 2016 when actress Bella Thorne posted on her Snapchat account how she managed to transform her light eyebrows to thick, well-defined lines. Since then, it has become popular among celebrities, from popstar royalty Madonna to Grand slam winner Serena Williams.
According to Gonzales, microblading is not suitable to some skin types, like oily skin so he sometimes refuses clients. Before accepting a client, he conducts a 15-minute interview where he clears up expectations with them and explains the procedures as well as the risks. Because of his expertise, Gonzales charges a basic fee of €425 for his services.
His clinic was inspected and approved by the Dutch Municipal Health Authority (or Gemeentelijke Gezondheidsdienst, GGD) and he only uses needles and inks that are approved by the European Union.
Striving to be the best microblading expert
To be able to keep up with new techniques and trends, he continuously attends workshops and trainings from colleagues in different parts of the world. In Amsterdam, Gonzales considers himself among the best microblading experts in Amsterdam, owing to more than five years of experience, his specialist needle knowledge, and his personal touch.
It took him years to earn the trust of his current clients. And despite having constantly worrying that a client would not be happy with the result, he has learned to accept that he cannot please everybody.
This year, Gonzales turned 40, his business is two years old, and he is marking 12 years of living in the Netherlands this month. He is dreaming of a beauty empire in the future but for now, he is building his own Eyebrow Lab Academy, creating modules, and developing trainings for those who also want to learn the trade. So far, he has trained 110 students while his online modules have sold 400 times. He is also launching his live trainings again this month after the Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted in the Netherlands.
Best of all, he does not have to short-change himself anymore just to get clients. Gonzales now receives a minimum of four clients every day, and because eyebrow maintenance is a beauty necessity comparable to a regular haircut, he thinks that his business is recession-proof and will remain profitable in the coming years.
His advice to others who want to venture into the same business?
“Know you worth make your price higher but give the best services.”
The best part of being an entrepreneur?
“Freedom. To go on vacation anytime I want and do the things I really love,” he happily declared.
This article was first published in the Autumn 2021 Issue of the Filipino Expat magazine.
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Dheza Aguilar is the Managing Editor of The Filipino Expat Magazine. She was a former Netherlands correspondent for ABS-CBN, and freelance writer for other publications. She works for a supply company in Rotterdam and is eternally juggling passion and career. She also blogs at www.girlfromthebarrio.com.