Although Kiley Russell may have Oprah Winfrey to thank for jump-starting her business Big Girl Cosmetics, the self-described diehard Chicagoan from Hyde Park has put in the hard work and determination to build a thriving company that officially launched a collection at Macy's and macys.com June 24.
Started in 2005, the Big Girl Cosmetics brand has grown to encompass mineral-based cosmetics, soaps and skin-care product lines, as well as a Big Girl Makeup Bar & Spa in Russell's Hyde Park hometown.
It all started that fateful day when Oprah Winfrey decided to surprise the 276 guests at the taping of her 19th season premiere with brand new Pontiac G6s.
"You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!" she exclaimed while jumping up and down on stage, making history as one of the talk show host's most memorable moments.
For Russell, the moment fueled a spark that would change her life forever.
As an assistant principal battling lupus and struggling with lifestyle changes affecting her career, Russell never imagined that seven years later she would be running a successful cosmetics company and salon spa.
"On the show she [Oprah] said, 'We are not only giving away cars here, we are changing the way people live their lives,'" Russell said. "I thought: BAM there it is! Go for it! So I decided to sell the car and use the profit as seed money to start Big Girl Cosmetics."
Russell was making soaps and body butters for friends and family members based on recipes she learned from her grandmother Louise. Her love for makeup and beauty products lead to a side job as a makeup artist long before she created a beauty empire of her own.
"Although I loved what I did, I just wasn't sure I could do it for a living," Russell said.
But oh, she's done it.
Just as Oprah empowered her to start Big Girl Cosmetics, Russell now seeks to empower other women with her products by giving them the confidence to take control of their bodies and create their own definition of beauty. Her favorite Big Girl products include the ginger almond body butter and shine lipgloss collection.
"They are like me 'easy, but pack a punch!' " she said.
Russell hopes to continue expanding to Nordstrom, Sephora and Macy's stores nationwide.