Nadiya Fernando has a very specific addiction. “When a client comes to you and they get their make-up and hair done, then look into the mirror, and smile to themselves — I’m kind of addicted to seeing that,” she tells me, laughing at herself. We’re seated outside You by The Wax Museum, the salon Nadiya founded and runs, and I had asked her why she does what she does. The answer is something Nadiya knows a lot about: the potential for transformation.
Having graduated with a degree in Law and Management, the fashion industry seemed an unexpected place to end up. But after a brief stint in the tax department at KPMG, that’s exactly where Nadiya found herself. She completed a course at the Academy of Design, worked in Bangkok for a year while completing a degree there, and then stayed in fashion for a good 4 years after that. “And then I got into the beauty industry — bit of a rollercoaster,” she admits. As for why she left the fashion industry, she says, “I think I mistook my passion for fashion as a career path. In hindsight, I realise that I always should have been in the beauty industry.”
“When I was in school, whenever there were dramas and stuff like that, I was always called upon to do the make-up and hair. And I remember doing my cousin’s hair for one of her wedding functions. So I guess I always had the knack for it, it just didn’t seem like it was a career,” she shrugs. At the same time, Nadiya rarely wore make-up herself. “My mum used to always tell me that you should have flawless skin,” she says. “And I thought that make-up makes your skin bad.” There was some validity to her reasoning — at the time, even outside of Sri Lanka, women with darker skin tones struggled to find matching make-up. So, Nadiya says, “It looked better not to wear make-up than to wear it.”
Inclusivity in the beauty industry is a relatively modern trend. While brands like MAC and Bobbi Brown have offered a wide range of foundation shades since the mid-2010s, Rihanna’s Fenty make-up line was the first to make that inclusivity a focal selling point of their brand in 2017, inspiring other make-up giants to expand their foundation ranges to upwards of 40 shades. Seeing these products slowly trickle into the market piqued Nadiya’s interest: “I thought, ‘Yeah, I just want to get into this, and maybe be a change in the industry’, because it’s also very personal to me.”
What followed were courses in make-up and hair in London, split up and completed over the course of 2 years so that she didn’t have to spend too much time away from her son. She moved back and did some freelance work before opening The Wax Museum in August 2014, which she admits required a lot of learning on the job. “When I opened The Wax Museum, I wanted a different salon, where we use good products, it’s quite reasonable, and we cater to a different audience — an audience that aspires to natural beauty.”
One of Colombo’s most-cited make-up artists, Nadiya is known for her expertise with skin. Her Instagram features clients with flawless, glossy, I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-a-filter skin, and the eventual result is something she believes happens from the inside out. “Good food, nutrients, exercise, it’s the whole package. And I want to promote that.” The Wax Museum has recently partnered with Saaraketha Organics, an organic produce delivery service, and a skincare line may be on the horizon, but not just yet. “I’m not getting into that right now, because I want to perfect it,” she says.
As for Nadiya, she’s just going with the flow. “It’s what has worked for me — you can probably tell, with my history of career changes,” she laughs. “Improvise, take it as you go. I’ve always done that, and I guess I might just continue to do that.”
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.