MJ Thomas is the founder of Malaya Studios + founder and lead educator of MalayaMade Pro Lash Academy serving lash artists + estheticians to build profitable businesses. From solo entrepreneurship to now 2 locations and 10 resident artists and growing MJ is dedicated to helping other women unlock their potential and find their freedom in the beauty industry.
Q: What's your background, and what are you working on?
I was 19 years old when I had my first daughter. I didn’t have a clear life direction, but I was in my first year of college and managing a sporting goods store at the time. Living on my own and doing all the things. From the outside, it looked like I was a responsible young adult but I was just doing what I felt like I was “supposed” to do. I decided to become a mother at that age and therefore, I was going to be responsible for everything that came with it. During my pregnancy, I also became a single mother.
I kept working, going to school, and bartended on the weekends when my daughter was with her dad. I burned the candle not only on both sides but also in the middle … and with a torch. I remember looking at my life and my schedule and wondering, “how the F am I ever going to get ahead.”
I come from a very hard-working family… my mother finished her Masters the same year she finished her chemo treatments while being a nurse. My dad was an almost pro basketball player in the Philippines and dropped it all for a chance to come to America. I mean, there was no complaining in my house about any of the decisions and responsibilities we had. Cry your river somewhere else, this house is made for humble hustlers.
One day- I remember asking my mother if she always knew she wanted to be a nurse in the medical field. She told me it was her life’s dream. What happened next, I will never forget.
I said, “ I don’t feel that way about what I’m doing…”
She said, “Stick with it, you’ll get use to it.”
Now, there are things that we need to STICK with, but I defined THIS as SETTLING in the context of my life.
It was then that I asked her what she would do if she didn’t have to sacrifice anything, and she told me she would open a MEDSPA and do facials, lasers, injectables… all the things. So I looked into it…. And as I spiraled deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, I emerged calling a local beauty school to enroll in their esthetician program.
I’m the founder of Malaya Studios with two locations in Pacifica (Malaya Skin + Wax , Malaya Lash + Ink) + the founder and lead educator of MalayaMade Pro Academy teaching aspiring lash artists and new estheticians to master their service skills and build profitable businesses.
With 12 years experience as a bootstrapping entrepreneur to growing a team in the service industry, I am now offering products and trainings to help support other service professionals do the same. To support that I’ve created our own product line and more importantly, the blue print to becoming a profitable beauty entrepreneur.
Q: What motivated you to get started with Malaya Studios?
When I started Esthetics I had no idea what I was doing or what my “plan” was. I was still juggling a bunch of side jobs just so I could have the schedule I needed and live within those means…
On the first day of school, the teacher says,” Ok we’re going to take the new students downstairs and give them facials… and when we’re done we’re going to wahh wah wahh wahh.” I literally was stuck at, “I’m getting a facial?”.
I woke up from my facial, and thought that there was no way in hell I could be in “school”. I was happy, interested, and open to all the possibilities.
After getting my license, I went on a mission to make this my full-time thing. I introduced it to my other side hustles and schedule and told myself when I started making as much as this job, I’ll quit that and just keep this bartending one and just shuffled my life around always around my daughter. Literally, 2 months later, I’m quitting all my jobs and for once, had just one. I was also making the most I had ever made.
That first day of my Esthetics program was like a hit of the best drug ever. It was the first time I felt happy and excited about the opportunity. I stayed aligned with that feeling and used that as my compass when spending my time.
Now 12 years later, I have two studios with 10 resident artists. I have helped women quit their day jobs and side hustles to create the life of their dreams.
After 1 long year of being shut down during the Pandemic, I felt the familiar hopelessness I felt before having that life-changing conversation with my mother.
I realized that I have 12 years of beauty business experience and helping women dive into their freedoms by being in the beauty industry. So 2020 birthed MalayaMade- the Pro Academy teaching women how to build profitable businesses through service training and beauty business coaching.
Q: How have you attracted clients and grown your firm?
Now emerging from the closures due to Covid, attracting clients is different now. I would have spoken at events, used to the beauty business event platforms… and now that things are still ahybrid version of in person events, social media has been GAME CHANGING in out reach. We utilize Instagram for the studios as well as Facebook for more outreach within our beauty industry. We also find CLubhouse to be very impactful. PR is HUGE and I’ve been working with a PR coach + her agency to gain visibility more creatively.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
Which ones should I mention? My 3, 5 10 year goals? Or next week!? So many goals… but ultimately spend my time enjoying my family and the fruits or labor and have tremndous impact on beautypreneurs and their lives by teaching them how to build and scale their businesses.
MalayaMade will reach beautypreneurs worldwide. We will specialize in small batch, highest quality training, and help women around the world claim their independence by building their own practices to help serve their communities.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you've faced so far?
My mind. There will always be challenges in business that will require more creativity, more out of the box thinking, more perspective. The greatest challenge is my mind and what I allow it to believe. After surviving the shut downs here in California with both businesses still in tact and thriving more than ever before, I’ve realized that mindset is everything and it can be anyones biggest asset or buggest challenge.
Q: What's your advice for female founders who are just starting out?
Focus on being GRITTY not PRETTY. Be brave, be POSITIVE. When you start anything, expect rejection but stand strong in your vision. Ready is a lie and as long as you start, you have the choice to make it work for you. There are no failures, just lessons on how to be better. So you beautiful, strong, capable, intelligent, ambitious woman… go be great.